You Can’t Succeed Alone (and no one ever has)

Will Samson No comments exist

In 1971 a young entrepreneur had already experienced several business failures by his early 20’s. Then, his lack of attention to detail subjected him to penalties and taxes, costs that would have ruined him but for his mother, who mortgaged her home. She gave him the money he needed to get out of legal trouble and keep his small business going. That guy ended up doing okay, I guess, if you consider Richard Branson’s success in life “okay.”

No one succeeds alone. No one ever has. No one ever will. For every Richard Branson we celebrate, there’s an Eve Branson who provided something – money, support, contacts, education – that made that success possible. This is one of the great paradoxes of personal success and self-improvement:

  1. You will never succeed without working your ass off
  2. You will never succeed without help

We generally hate that second part because it doesn’t match our great cultural narrative of pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. And let’s face it – every success story involves someone who went beyond what everyone else was willing to do to reach new heights. Mark Zuckerberg is a hard-working genius who created opportunities few foresaw and became incredibly wealthy and influential in the process. But, he was also the son of two successful professionals from a wealthy NY suburb who had the time to work on startup ideas because his parents were paying his way through Harvard.

We see this pattern repeatedly throughout our world, including in areas that pride themselves on egalitarian opportunity, areas like Silicon Valley. Out of the 95 American-based tech unicorns since 2011, 89 of them were headed by white men. That doesn’t make successful people immoral, and the word “unfair” has been so poorly used it’s generally worthless. What it means is that successful people are able to take advantage of the resources in their networks to shape the world in which they want to live.

You can do that too. So you weren’t born rich. So you weren’t born in a super well-educated household. So you didn’t inherit a name that opens doors. You still have resources. You just need to find them and not be afraid to use them. Here are three things I believe everyone has in their network to help them succeed:

  • A Believer – success in life involves believing you can succeed. Believing you can sometimes requires borrowing that belief from someone else. Who in your life/network believes, sometimes more than you, that your life will matter to the world?
  • A Completer – no one has every skill and ability for personal advancement. What do you lack? Who can bring that to you? And – this is the most important question – are you willing to ask them for their help in that area? The fact that they can help only matters if they will help you because you asked.
  • A Caller – and by “caller” I mean someone who will call you on your BS. This is especially important, ironically, if you weren’t born with advantages. A billionaire’s child has more margin for error. Someone trying to succeed against the odds requires even more that someone in their life/network is willing to tell them when they are deceiving themselves.


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