Can You Succeed Alone? (Spoiler Alert: Not Likely)
Being an entrepreneur is thrilling. It’s fulfilling, lively, and ever-changing. The moment when you see your ideas come to life, feel the power and confidence of being in charge, and finally, notice the fruits of your hard work is unparalleled. There isn’t really anything quite like it.
Despite the thrills of entrepreneurship, it can also be a lonely existence. Have you ever felt that way? Like a lonely entrepreneur? Just so you know, it really is okay to admit it.
After five years of operating alone, I’ve sure noticed it. Entrepreneurship is a lonely career path, particularly if you’re a one-person show. so when I recently came across this quote by Sir Isaac Newton it knocked something loose.
“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”
Until now, I really thought I’d made peace with my loneliness, concluding – perhaps somewhat naively – that loneliness is part of the journey and therefore acceptable. But something about the quote has made me ask myself the question again.
Personally, I’ve always felt that with enough patience, the right mindset, an unbelievable amount of determination and persistence, anyone can succeed at almost anything they set their sights on with minimal input by others.
I can now see how wrong I was. No one person succeeds alone, because successful people do not simply just “arrive” at success, they were “guided” there by the help of others. It’s hard to think of someone famous who is a “self-made man.”
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, had it not been 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 was Richard Branson.
For every Richard Branson we celebrate, there’s an Eve Branson who provided something — money, support, contacts, education, skills — that made that success possible.
The idea that 1. We will never succeed without working our asses off, and 2. We will never succeed without help, really are one of life’s greatest paradoxes. We especially hate the second point, as it doesn’t match our cultural narrative of pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps to beat the odds and achieve success.
Don’t get me wrong, of course it takes an incredible amount of hard work, perseverance, opportunity and much more to reach success in all parts of life. But the truth is that no one makes it alone; there are always others broadening their capabilities and skills.
Alex Haley, the author of Roots, had a picture in his office of a turtle sitting on top of a fence. He kept it there as a reminder that “If you see a turtle on a fence post, you know he had some help.”
Haley remarked, “Anytime I start thinking, ‘Wow, isn’t this marvellous what I’ve done!” I look at that picture and remember how this turtle-me, got up that post.”
Wanting to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and forge your own path is noble but hardly does anyone ever really do it alone. You need other partners, smart hires, advisers, mentors and even stories of people who have already done it before. You can only maximise your strengths, and where you fall short, you need others’ strengths to create something truly amazing.
Nobody fails alone, and nobody succeeds alone. So you really should pay close attention to the people around you and ask yourself who has helped you climb up your fence post, and more importantly, who are you helping climb up theirs?
We should all make a more significant effort to try and help others we perceive might need a helping hand. And for those individuals whose pride is a barrier, don’t give up, the best thing you can do is encourage them to start talking and to simply listen. While you may not feel qualified to offer any advice, letting them get everything off their chest and supporting them in that way is invaluable.
Every single one of us has the means and the opportunity to help someone in this way, so stop making excuses, and gift someone in your life some of your time and undivided attention.
One of the greatest feelings in life is knowing that you’ve succeeded in whatever it is those around you said you couldn’t – and yes, I’m definitely guilty of using this benchmark to measure my success.
But you know what, an even better feeling in life is someone believing you can succeed. Although this does mean that sometimes it requires you to borrow that belief from someone else, there is always someone in our life or network who believes – sometimes even more than we do – that our life will matter to the world.