I was speaking with a good friend recently and she shared with me something that triggered a thought about what makes people successful and happy. If you’re an innovator, pay close attention, this is especially relevant to you.
Stick with me because this is perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned about success and which I can pass on.
I’ve had the great privilege to work with and for some incredibly successful people. From billionaires such as Ross Perot and Larry Ellison, to best selling authors and management icons such as Peter Drucker and Jim Champy, to countless CEOs and founders. Each one was very different as a person but they also shared some common traits. Of course, they were all driven, smart, and charismatic. They were each great leaders in their own right. But above all else there was one thing that was unwavering in every one. I’m going to hold off on sharing that trait because I’d like to first ask you to think about a simple question. But here’s the thing, you need to be brutally honest in answering it, because that’s the only way you’ll gain any insight from what I’m about to share.
How often do you look for external acceptance of your decisions, sometimes even going so far as to allow an important decision to be made by someone else just because you’re unsure of your convictions while they are so persistent in theirs?
I know your initial response is going to be ” Of course not! Me? Never!” But, again, be totally honest with yourself. Nobody will see your answer but you.
Look, I know that all of us have moments of doubt and uncertainty–it’s the human condition. But if you are seeking, perhaps even longing for, external acceptance for the really big decisions you’ve made, or are making, then you really need to understand the root of what’s at play, because otherwise you will be undermining your long term success and happiness in the most insidious way imaginable, by building a fortress within which you will be held hostage by the acceptance of others.
Guess what, great leaders, great innovators, and truly happy people, have already given themselves that acceptance from the inside. I’m not saying that mediocre people who lack the skills and knowledge can make great decisions just by being stubborn. If you’re mediocre, incompetent, and stubborn good luck, I can’t help you. I am saying that brilliant and competent people can abdicate their most critical decisions due to the insecurities that cause them to seek external acceptance.
The single most consistent trait in the most successful and happiest people I’ve known is that they don’t seek acceptance. They do not allow others to hold them and their decision hostage inside a box of promises and assurances of certainty. In short, they are not seeking acceptance because they do not need to go outside for it, instead they have fully accepted themselves, they fully own their actions, and they pick their own path; they don’t need to be sold a path, in fact they can’t be! They are impervious to external pressure and perseverance. Is this a guarantee of success and happiness? Of course not. But in my experience it is absolutely a prerequisite!
The single most consistent trait in the most successful and happiest people I’ve known is that they don’t seek acceptance.
I’m sorry, am I being to harsh? Am I expecting you to be superhuman? Well, that depends on how high a standard you want to set for yourself. What I can tell you is that, like anything else in life, success and happiness are a journey of learning. We will all make mistakes. What’s important is that we own our actions and learn from them; that we accept ourselves and our power to decide rather than let others make those decisions for us in our false quest for acceptance, affection, and validation.
So, what’s the take-away? To be successful acceptance has to come from within. Otherwise it is simply not sustainable. Constantly seeking it from the outside will erode your integrity, happiness, and success. It will make you a lousy leader, innovator, and partner–constantly looking for reassurance, and it will leave you subject to the whims of others, who, by the way, have their own acceptance issues to deal with!
It’s a tough lesson, but it’s ultimately up to each of us to accept it and accept ourselves. I’d like to say the lesson is over; the article may be, but the lesson never is.
This article was originally published on Inc.
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Tom Koulopoulos is the author of 10 books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc. 500 company that focuses on innovation and the future of business. He tweets from @tkspeaks.