From a distance, some success stories defy logic, but a consistent pattern emerges upon closer examination. This is true for a number of successful entrepreneurs and peak performers of all types.
Let’s see if we can uncover this mystery by dissecting one of these “lucky” individuals. For this experiment, Bill Gates is the perfect specimen.
So, what is the pattern?
Many talk about following your passion but the ultra successful have something closer to obsession. To understand the difference, study the lyrics of the 1980s hit “Every Breath You Take” by The Police:
Every breath you take
And every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take
I’ll be watching you
Every single day
And every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay
I’ll be watching you
Oh can’t you see
You belong to me
How my poor heart aches
With every step you take…
Clearly, this guy needs a restraining order.
A passion is something you love but can do without, while an obsession is something you have to have now and will do almost anything to get. The word obsession carries a negative connotation, but how else would you describe someone like Gates? Judge for yourself.
In interviews, Gates describes his early exposure to programming and how he coded for up to twenty to thirty hours a week in his early teens. While his parents slept, he would sneak out in the middle of the night to code at a nearby university. The fact he did not have permission to use the university computers was not enough to stop him. He needed to code. By the time he was seventeen, Gates logged thousands of hours of programming experience. This during a time when few others had access to computers at all.
Passion? This behavior sounds like something much stronger and puts the next trait on autopilot.
This is not ordinary effort but painstaking, tedious work that would make most people want to yank their eyeballs out. You would think this obsessed group has a special contract with the universe granting them 30 hours in a day. The difference is they steal time where others kill it. Instead of playing Farmville while standing in line at the DMV, they read, research, plan and write. They start the day hours before everyone else and stay up long after their friends enter dreamland.
An obsession is difficult to hide, because the obsessed become so consumed in the activity. If the need arises for someone with his or her skills, everyone knows whom to call.
This happened with Gates during his senior year of high school when he was asked to work on a project with TRW. He jumped at the opportunity to further pursue his obsession. He spent the spring coding under the tutelage of a much older and seasoned programmer, like the young padawan Sky Walker learning at the feet of Yoda.
Surely, those around him marveled over his stroke of “luck,” but he was not lucky. He was ready!
When opportunities come along, there is no need for the obsessed to get ready or prepare. Preparation happens years in advance.
Though this group is anything but balanced, they recognize the need to have others around them who are. Gates started Microsoft with Paul Allen, who was three years older and more mature. He later hired his friend Steve Ballmer to manage the business side of Microsoft. Would Gates have been as successful without his team of balancers? We can never know for sure, but I doubt it.
What’s Luck Got to do With It?
Even Gates describes himself as lucky because of the access he had to computers, but his small group of piers had the same access. What they lacked was the obsession.
We can all learn a lot by studying the lives of the so-called “lucky” instead of attributing their success to the alignment of the planets. Then, we need to analyze ourselves to see how we measure up.
If your obsession involves standing outside of Macy’s for hours watching the girl at the counter, seek professional help. If it is a skill or talent with the potential to provide value or solve problems, go for it. But find some strong personalities who can pull your head out of the weeds and provide you with a balanced focus.
Godspeed and I look forward to seeing you in The Players Lounge.
What do you think, is success dependent on luck, or the right sequence of actions? Please leave your comments below!