Success in America

Education is important to people in the arts and athletics. Most artists, musicians and athletes have taken courses and training in their fields. Furthermore, they have coaches and trainers to help them improve their skills.

In the business community, education is not limited to business school. It often requires technical knowledge to build a product or provide a service. Perhaps most importantly, it requires knowledge of customers, markets and competitors.

Education goes beyond formal education. Success also requires learning on the job so that a person constantly improves skills to add more value to his employer, clients, patients, audience and customers.

Commitment is another ingredient of perspiration. “When times get tough, the tough get going.” Successful people do not let barriers, difficulties or failure discourage them. Commitment requires a positive attitude. Commitment also means putting business, profession obligations, and study before conflicting temptations of pleasure and leisure. A student going to a frat party the night before his medical school exam is probably not committed to being a doctor.

Focus keeps the successful on track. It is rare for a person to be good at everything at the same time. For example very few successful professional athletes can pursue a career in the learned professions at the same time. Successful research scientists are rarely professional actors at the same time. Successful entrepreneurs focus on industries that they know best whether it is computers, software, electronics, real estate or entertainment.

Hard work both literally and metaphorically results in perspiration. The successful athlete must constantly challenge his ability in practice to be successful. A natural boxer who does not practice will lose to the less gifted athlete who practices constantly to hone his strength and skill. Mike Milken, the phenomenally successful junk bond financier of the 1980’s, came to office every day at 4:00 am and left at 8:00 pm. Milken had a sign on his desk: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

While “inspiration” is 10% of success, it is an important element. It is harder to define than perspiration, but you know it when you see it. Inspiration includes the ability to see opportunity. It includes the ability to solve problems and to think outside of the box. It also includes internal motivation and judgment.

Inspired people see under-recognized opportunities and think outside of the box to solve problems. Steve Jobs recognized that exploiting the power of the computer went beyond the typewriter keyboard and developed the computer mouse. Thomas Edison saw the need for improved artificial lighting and invented the light bulb. He did not try to improve the candle. Henry Ford saw the opportunity of providing low cost automobiles to the middle class by perfecting mass production of the automobile. Albert Einstein recognized that Newtonian physics could not explain certain physical phenomenon and developed the theory of relativity.

There is no clear path to success. My personal observation of successful individuals in history and that I have personally known convinces me that perspiration and inspiration are key ingredients. If an American wants to be successful, he or she must look for inspiration and be prepared to sweat.

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