The Virtuous Cycle of Work, Achievement and Reward

Everything worthwhile comes at a price. You have material goods, of course, like iPhones and BMWs that cost money. But you can’t make good money without hard work and achievement. And that costs you in terms of blood, sweat and tears. It’s a virtuous cycle that brings rewards for efforts and results.

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Meanwhile, our culture is obsessed with finding quick and easy ways to achieve fame and fortune. Just pick up a Tim Ferris book, go to a Tony Robbins seminar, subscribe to some self-proclaimed productivity guru’s blog, or follow some self-help author’s personal habits, and you’re in business — instant success.

There is a ridiculous amount of content out there on how to make it big. I hate to break it to you, but it’s all a bunch of self-serving BS. There is only one way to reap the riches this world has to offer, and that’s by getting out there, working your butt off, holding yourself accountable and achieving results that employers and customers value. 

You either learn that very important lesson the hard way or spend your entire life looking for an easy way, only to end up bitter and angry or feeling sorry for yourself because things didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped.

I hear all sorts of rationalizations from those who refuse to face the cold hard truth that they blew their one and only chance to live the life of their dreams. They did this by allowing themselves to be played for a fool by shysters whose only accomplishments are getting lots of fools to cough up their money. They whine about not being born with privilege, not having had the opportunities others had or not being lucky.

In reality, they chose the path of least resistance and lost big time. It’s all on them. I know that sounds harsh, but I see it all the time in this digital age where so much of what people perceive as popular knowledge is actually popular myth.   

For example, it’s a common meme that spending your life working for “the man” in a corporation is a sure way to end up broke and miserable. That’s why entrepreneurship is all the rage. So what if it means doing a bunch of gigs like driving an Uber, buying and selling stuff on eBay and generating content for peanuts? 

At least you’re in control of your destiny. That’s got to be better than doing the 9-to-5 grind. Besides, sooner or later, something’s got to pay off, right?  

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Wrong. People are so willing to believe what they want to believe that they rarely stop to think that maybe, just maybe, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. They don’t realize that corporate giants like Microsoft, AT&T, FedEx and Starbucks were all founded by people with talent, experience or a unique and marketable concept they felt passionately about.

There may have been some luck involved, but I would argue that it’s more a matter of smarts, instincts, timing and tenacity. I have a feeling that Bill Gates, Graham Bell, Fred Smith and Howard Schultz would have found a way to make their own luck and succeed one way or another. They certainly weren’t doing a little of this and a little of that.

They didn’t follow some book or blog. They didn’t become entrepreneurs because they read somewhere that they should. They followed their passion and went all in. They focused, worked their tails off, stuck with it and accomplished great things.

The same is true of Apple, Uber, Snapchat and just about every other great, innovative company. And here’s the ironic part: Every big corporation began life as someone’s startup. And yet, corporate America is evil while entrepreneurship is cool. Tell me, in what bizarro world does that make sense?

You would not believe how many famous entrepreneurs and business leaders actually got their start working for “the man” at GE, Procter & Gamble, IBM, McKinsey, Honeywell, American Express, Intel and other great companies that breed exceptional leaders. Scott Cook, Steve Case, Steve Ballmer, Meg Whitman, Jim McNerney, Frank Blake — it’s a long, long list.

Countless people have had wildly successful and fulfilling careers working for companies large and small in dozens of exciting fields and industries — including me. There really is no better way to get that virtuous cycle spinning other than going out, getting a real job, figuring out what you love to do and achieving great things doing it. 

Maybe you’ll end up a successful executive. Maybe you’ll start your own gig after all, after you learn the ropes. In any case, you’ll be exposed to lots of opportunities, ideas and people who will help and inspire you.

If you’ve got a startup or small business, you’re doing the kind of work you love, and your gut tells you that’s the right thing to do, by all means, keep doing it. If not, ask yourself why you’re on the path you’re on. And make sure you’re not just drinking the Kool-Aid served up by self-serving salesmen.

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It’s that virtuous cycle you want. Go out and make it happen. God speed.

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