Everyone wants to be at the top but no one likes to climb.
What makes a person want to be successful? Do we all have it? Are some of us predestined and others of us not? Or do we all want to be excellent and just some have a clearer goal than others about how to get there?
Chris Sacca, billionaire angel investor, said the thing that makes him want to invest in a fledgling company (like he did with Twitter and Uber) is that the founders were so certain of success that they “felt it in their bones.” How many of us feel that way about anything we are doing? And if we do feel that way, how successful are we in those endeavors?
I think deep down, we’re really afraid of failure more than we are afraid of hard work. If we knew what path would make us successful, then we would do it. Or I think we’d try more. In my work as a health coach, once my clients see they can lose the weight with my system, they’re successful in doing it. And it is hard work, but they see the game is winnable.
Judaism provides two fundamental and beautiful insights into the mindset of a champion. The first is that a tsaddik falls seven times, and keeps getting back up. Greatness and excellence are only built by making mistakes, suffering setbacks, and pushing forward. That’s why people who are street smart usually succeed in business more than people who are book smart. Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates—all these guys were brilliant in business specifically because they kept pushing forward and innovating rather than quitting. Our current education system in America punishes failure instead of embracing it. Judaism says not only do you have to embrace your failure, but if you don’t go through it, you’ll never get to the top.
Secondly, Judaism teaches that we need to be open and upfront with our challenges. This is truly revolutionary. What we in the west are trained to see and respect is the final steps of a person’s journey. The huge weight loss, the billion dollar company, the millions of followers, the ‘perfect marriage or children.’ When we accustom ourselves to see this very erroneous perspective of success, we hide our true selves, and get discouraged. What we should be looking at instead is how they got there.
Why do we get discouraged when we just look at the final product? Human greatness is so diverse and impressive that when we compare ourselves to the final product of anyone, we feel bad because we’re so far away. But what we don’t see is what they had to do to get there, or where they started from, or what they lost to get to where they are. So we see only a part of the picture. If we’d see the whole picture suddenly we’d be a lot more inspired. If we understood where people started, we’d understand it doesn’t make sense to compare. If we see how hard people had to work to get to where they are we’d see what we had to do. Bill Gates used to work 18 hour days! The Chazon Ish would learn Torah until he literally collapsed from exhaustion. If we saw what people had to sacrifice for their goals, maybe we’d decide we didn’t want them anymore, or that we’d be ok working a bit harder to get them.
Secondly, by focusing on the final product as indicators of success, we hide our true selves. That means that the things we need to do most are the things we don’t want to do. I always had large biceps and calf muscles, my whole life I needed to lose weight and do sit ups. Guess how often I did abs? 0. Guess how often I did arms? Every day! If we aren’t honest with ourselves, or we are too embarrassed by the accomplishments of others, we only focus on what we do well and not what we need to work on because we’re embarrassed to admit our shortcomings. If we focus on the process that others took to become great, we realize this strange phenomenon: champions focused on improving of their weak spots, not their great areas.
It made such a huge impression when I read that Robert Kiyosaki of Rich Dad, Poor Dad fame realized that if he wanted to be rich, he had to learn how to sell. He was really shy. So he took a job as a salesman specifically because it was his weak area. How many of us would take a major we weren’t good at, or select a subject we needed the most help as to be the focus of our lives? Judaism teaches us that to be a growth oriented person means accepting you aren’t perfect. Be open with your lack of perfection. And WORK on that area that makes you not perfect. If you do that, you can start to feel your inner champion potential in your bones.