The Secret to Success

The phone on my desk at work rang.  Looking at the caller ID, a rush of adrenaline hit when my company’s owner’s name appeared.  He really only ever spoke to me in passing, and had never called me directly like this.  Him and I did, however; have a lengthy conversation at our most recent annual Christmas Party during which we discussed free market economic principles, the negative incentives and effects of welfare programs, and governmental hindrances put upon businesses and upon commerce in general.  Afterwards, he remarked to me, “you and I, we’re on the same page.”  It was a proud moment.

When I answered, he asked me to come to his office saying that he had something he wanted my help with.  Sitting down in his office, he began to explain what he was looking for.  The company had recently acquired a new property, and he wanted me to create a spreadsheet that could easily capture costs and predict revenues.

As we were discussing the concept of real estate investment in general, we quickly got off topic.  He mentioned how the company had lost a property they had purchased in Jersey City to eminent domain.  Shaking my head in disgust, he continued, “They stole that property from me.”

“That’s the exact right way to describe what happened – they stole it from you,” I said.  He shrugged, looked a little irritated and said, “Well, they gave me a little money for it, but it was nowhere near what I would have been able to get for the property on the open market.”

I continued his thought saying, “And you would have never voluntarily chosen to sell it in the first place.”

“No, I wouldn’t have.  Certainly not for the amount of money they gave me,” he replied.

Continuing our conversation, something must have triggered a memory in him, because he delved into telling me a story about a time he had been asked for advice.

He was attending a relative’s wedding in Ireland.  While mingling at the reception a younger male relative approached him and asked if he could ask a question.  The two of them walked off to the side where it was less noisy so they could talk.  According to the re-telling of the story that my company’s owner regaled me with, he had no idea what to expect.

“What’s the secret to becoming successful?” the relative asked.  

“He was clearly hoping for some kind of trick, some magical strategy,” he said to me, laughing.  “So I said to him, ‘I’ll tell you exactly where success comes from’,” he continued, “first you wake up everyday at 5 or 6am, and you go to work.  And you work until 6 or 7pm.  And you do this 6 or 7 days a week for 10-15 years.  Then, once you’ve done that, and you’ve built up a little bit of money, and if you’ve been smart with your money – only then will you be able to take a bit of a step back and maybe start having your money work for you.”

Still laughing, he continued, “I’ll never forget the look on his face after I answered his question.  His eyes lowered, he got this dejected look on his face, and he just walked away shaking his head.”

“I guess I didn’t give him the answer he was looking for,” he said to me.  We both laughed and then continued on with the business purposes of our meeting.

As I was driving home later that day, reflecting on the meeting we had had, I couldn’t shake the thought of what good, profound advice this truly was.  Yes, becoming wealthy and successful is extremely difficult.  Yes, it takes a lot of hard work, long hours, persistence, perseverance, smarts, and discipline.

There is no trick or magical strategy to making oneself successful.  No state intervention into the economy can produce prosperity.  No “basic minimum income” or other mystical proposal can produce the advertised results that so many of their proponents push.

If you want success for yourself, or if you want to improve your standing in the world, you’re going to have to work for it.