221 The Secret Rule For Business Success

riskThe other day I heard a man talk about how his great grandfather had his own business. His grandfather and his father also had their own businesses. Now, he had his own business. Four generations of business owners, including the current generation!

You’re thinking, “What a great family tradition. I wish I had entrepreneurship in my DNA like that.” Wait a minute though. Tap the brakes.

He went on to say that none of them, including him, had experienced financial success. He summed it up by saying, “We’ve all struggled and never broken through.”

Four generations of business ownership seems impressive until you get that last little truth.

In 2012 the median income in America was $51,017. The great grandson figures he’s made more money in a single year – in hard dollars – than his father or grandfather. It was under $50,000. He’s not been able to crack the median income. Struggling with failure is a daily feeling for him. “How can you feel like you’ve broken through simply because you work for yourself?” he asks. Everybody thinks working for yourself is the road to financial and lifestyle freedom.

And it can be, but it’s not an automatic outcome.

You Must Be Willing To Risk It All

We’ve all heard that. Define all. Does “all” mean your family? Your wife? Your kids? Does “all” mean your health? Does “all” mean your convictions and beliefs? Business pundits who tell us how to achieve success may back pedal at these questions, but if ALL doesn’t include these things, then how many other things are excluded? Sounds to me like all doesn’t mean all, or even nearly all. Or does it?

Sacrifice Means Giving Up Some Things So You Can Claim More Valuable Things

I’m not telling you that success – even financial success, if we want to limit our discussion to money – hinges on risking everything. I don’t believe it. For every person who claims to have put everything at risk to make it financially I can show you others who will admit they didn’t risk much at all. Life just isn’t so cut and dried or simple. It’s very complex with more variables than I’m able to quantify.

Here’s what I do know to be true – you must be willing to sacrifice some things if you’re going to have some things of higher value. Fitness is going to require you sacrifice morning donuts, mid-afternoon soft drinks and late night pizza gorge-fests. A successful marriage is going to require self-sacrifice, not hanging with your buddies too much, not spending 80 hours a week working and tons of other sacrifices. Raising children, if you’re going to succeed, is going to demand lots of sacrifices. All kinds.

“Yes, I want all those things…and I want to be rich, too.” I’m not saying that’s impossible, but I am saying it’s improbable. It’s foolish to think you’ll buck the odds and it can happen for you. It might, but you’re likely going to be very disappointed.

If everything is important, then nothing is important.

Yes, making money is important. Yes, having a great marriage is important. Yes, raising good, well-behaved children is important. They’re all important.

Okay, then let me give you a scenario and you tell me how you’re going to handle it.

You’re youngest son is 8. He’s got a school program tonight. It’s been on your calendar for almost 2 weeks. Your wife’s family have come to town to attend. They’ve arrived in town yesterday. Your wife has made plans to go to a restaurant 2 hours before the event. That’s been on your calendar, too. The school program is at 7pm. The restaurant reservation, with the family and in-laws, is set for 5pm. At 3:45pm you get a phone call. A prospect is in town and wants to know if you’re free tonight to discuss your newest products. He knows it’s last minute and hates to impose, but he’s flying out late tonight and would love to talk about your products. He’s potentially a big customer.

What are you gonna do? Which of these is important? I know they all are, but you have to sacrifice something.

Will you:

  1. Sacrifice the family dinner?
  2. Sacrifice the school event?
  3. Sacrifice the business prospect?

These are real world scenarios that many of us face.

In business, if you selected 1 and 2, then congratulations – you’re on the road to financial success. Maybe. There’s no guarantee.

The prospect may spend the evening listening to you, asking you questions and flying home only to have second thoughts and deny you the purchase order. Or, he may go home and write you a million dollar order. Can you risk that?

One dinner missed. One school function missed. That’s not going to wreck anybody’s home. True enough, but we both know it’s not just this one time. It’s priorities and it’s vexing to have to wrestle with these, but it’s how our real lives work. And many of us make a choice one time, then a different choice the next time and we end up wrecked all the way around.

We all know of too many people – maybe it’s US – who tried to have it all only to realize they couldn’t have any of it. Lost their family. Lost their kids. Lost their business or financial success.

Well rounded people aren’t at the top of the hill in financial success. So don’t start shouting that you want to be well-rounded unless you really mean it.

Here’s The Secret Rule: There Are No Rules And There Are No Formulas

We love to focus on outliers. We also love to think we’ll be one of them. It’s just highly unlikely. Just look at the barometer of money, income. Only 3.9% of American’s earn $200,000 a year or more. That means 96.1% of the American population is earning less than that. 80% of Americans earn less than $100,000 a year. Do you still think anybody – or everybody – can make $200,000 a year? They can’t. They won’t. And there’s tons of reasons or explanations on why. The numbers don’t lie. We do. To ourselves.

Can a person be wealthy, have a successful marriage and raise good kids? Of course they can. But again, the odds aren’t favorable. As I type this up we’re experiencing severe weather in Dallas. Some homes have been destroyed. Power is out in some major parts of the city. We’ve had tornado warnings. Tornados are like success in some ways. They’re random. Yes, the atmosphere can produce conditions that enhance the possibility, but that doesn’t mean we’ll get a tornado. Just like financial success, there are no guarantees.

We want guarantees. At least we want a guarantee that there’s a chance. And we’d like it to be a good chance! We want a formula to follow like a cookie recipe. Insert these ingredients, at these quantities, during this point in the process and presto! Success. But there are no formulas or recipes. And there are no rules.

I’m not saying we roam the earth subject 100% to random chance. I’m not saying we shouldn’t assume responsibility for our outcomes. Fact is, I’m fond of the saying I first heard from Jack Welch during his days running GE, “Control your own destiny or somebody else will.” I believe in doing all you can to give yourself the best opportunity, but that doesn’t mean you’ll ever break through. You still may fail. But it beats the alternative to just sit around hoping lightning will strike.

Figuring Out What Matters Most Is Often Harder Than We Imagined

Here’s the reason we can’t make success a formula, recipe or secret. It’s individual. It’s based on our own exploration and discovery. It’s based on our own values, ambitions, skills, talents, connections, choices and behaviors. You have to find your own way. I hope to just supply you a bit of help along the way.


GROW GREAT • Your Leadership Path Forward Begins With Your Own Growth
Exclusive Updates & Content

Grow Great a public sector leadership podcastAbout the hosts: Randy Cantrell brings over 4 decades of experience as a business leader and organization builder. Lisa Norris brings almost 3 decades of experience in HR and all things "people." Their shared passion for leadership and developing high-performing cultures provoked them to focus the Grow Great podcast on city government leadership.

The work is about achieving unprecedented success through accelerated learning in helping leaders and executives "figure it out." 

Scroll to Top