Barcelona, 29th September, 2002. Telefonica World Series by Nissan (pre-F1 racing category). Warm-up session on race day. As I drive past the main finish line, I look up to see how I did on my last lap. I cannot see my car number on the screen, around the P7/P10 section where I had qualified the day before. Strange, I thought the lap was actually good. So I ask through the radio and when my engineer opens the channel I hear cheering. I was P1 for the session. On old tyres.
It had been a terrible season. I started strong that year, qualifying P2 and finishing on the podium on the opening round, but then it all fell apart. I was even out out of a ride for some races mid season. Then I managed to make my way back for the last few races and went from strength to strength, peaking at the Barcelona warm up session.
Coming up to that race, I was starting to feel uneasy, as if my career as a professional racing driver was coming to an end. I had dropped out of university, had left home and antagonised my parents in the process. I was resenting the many hours per day of necessary physical conditioning (which felt like a daily chore), and also living on a track for over 250 days a year. The pain was not worth it anymore, I was not willing to go through the struggle associated with becoming a F1 driver.
So I drove back to the pit lane, jumped out of the car, took the helmet off and decided that at the end of that season I would be retiring. The determination was gone and so I knew that I had to pack my bags and do something else.
Hey! You are entitled to greatness. Just follow these 7.5 steps!
Current traditional and social media sell greatness and exceptionalism to you on a platter. Start by learning the “11 things you should be doing to become a millionaire” and make sure you avoid the “top 14 character traits that are holding you back from being truly successful”. Importantly, pay attention to what “95.8% of great entrepreneurs do in the morning at 3.47am”. Then, after all this important research is done, you will naturally come up with the best industry-disrupting idea, raise some capital like it pours down on you from the sky, grow your company for a while… and there! Company sold and money in the bank. Now you are officially a Guru and you can have your own TED talk.
It is good for business that you believe that everyone is destined to become an exceptional business person, an exceptional artist, an exceptional manager, an exceptional lover or an exceptional [anything]. Whenever we are told that there is an easy way to achieve a difficult task, we, humans, will crave for that bit of knowledge. It is easier to feel entitled to things than to work hard to get results. To make matters worse, our brains prefer instant gratification over longer term achievements. Hello, human nature.
But all of this is a fallacy. Going through these reads and through the social media profiles of perfect people with perfect lives, we are reinforced on the idea that we are not a member of the exceptionalism private club. That we could and should be doing something more with our lives. That we are destined to something else. It frustrates us. It places the definition of success outside of our domain, instead of being a consequence of our principles and our own choices.
Success is not a linear concept, there is no rule of thumb. It depends on which metrics you use to measure it. If all you want is a low stress 9 to 5 job and to raise a loving family, then why should you measure yourself against Steve Jobs, who sacrificed pretty much everything to build his businesses?
You want to become exceptional? Sure. Just be clear about the level of struggle and pain you are ready to take
Acceptance and self-awareness are the key ingredients to making the right personal and professional choices. Anything you want to do in life comes with its own problems to solve, its suffering, frustrations and pain through the journey. Being an employee may bring you a set of struggles, like not having a flexible schedule, not being your own boss, or depending on a salary scale. Being an entrepreneur has a different set of pains, like large risk, financial insecurity or sacrificing other areas of your life. This applies to everything: you suffer because you are a parent. You may also suffer because you cannot be a parent. It is down to your awareness to know which struggles you are ready to live through, which pains you are ready to take, and to accept the path that is consistent with your sacrifice threshold.
I stopped racing at a professional level because I stopped wanting to go through the necessary pain to aim for a F1 drive, vis a vis pursuing other aspirations in my life. It was my choice and my responsibility. I decided that I would rather go through other struggles, that I would be solving other kind of problems in my life. Regrets? None. I learned valuable lessons that I still apply today in business and in life.
Focus on being a little bit better at your chosen path, everyday. That (and not off-the-shelve exceptionalism) is fully available to you
So before feeling like you need to be successful at something, work on your self-awareness. Decide what kind of struggle you are willing to take. How much pain are you ready to go through to get to your ambition? How much of your personal life are you willing to sacrifice? How many less hours of sleep can you bear? How obsessed are you with succeeding at your plan?
Only when you do that you will be able to make a decision consistent with who you are. Your path may be being an employee, working for someone else. It may be writing, or painting. It may be building a small consulting practice, or founding the next Amazon. It may be having a family. Or it may be devoting your life to helping others. Whatever your path may be, make sure that you invest in becoming better on a daily basis, adopting habits that will help you build the right skills, so you can be the best version of yourself at whatever you have decided to do.
Pick your struggle, choose your pain. Choose what problems your want to solve. Take a path that is consistent with those principles. Become better every day, working on your skills and your development. And most importantly, LIVE YOUR OWN LIFE, not someone else’s.