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4 quotes that tell us so much about how to be successful in business

Apr 16, 2016 | Business Success and Challenges

Regular readers may remember my article from a few months back in which I compiled some of my favourite quotes. Because the piece was a big hit (one of our most read to date), I thought I’d once again round up some favourite words from leaders and great minds across different fields, and discuss how they can help inspire the modern entrepreneur in navigating the trying world of business.

There’s in fact a lot more to the power of quotes than we may think. According to research, there’s evidence to suggest that the words of those we look up to or who have achieved great things can affect us on a biological level. According to Scott Sobel, a leading media psychology expert from Washington D.C, “[Humans] want to look up to role models and leaders and follow what they ask… Leaders and their words affect us on a primal level.”

For me, the true value of quotes comes from their application. A slightly deeper look into the words often reveals some great insight that can be applied to our personal or business lives – and in no way just on a superficial level. There are real lessons to be learned, and with a focus on you startup entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs in general, let’s now see what my four chosen quotes for this article have to teach us.

1. Henry David Thoreau: “Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.”

Many people talk about the role of luck in business success, but I like to think that luck favours the hard working and the brave among us. This quote is more in that direction. The words are attributed to the legendary seventeenth-century poet, author and philosopher Henry David Thoreau – a man who knew an awful lot about success. Thoreau mused on everything from natural history and ecology to politics and civil liberties – his writings on the latter were said to be an influence on the likes of Tolstoy, Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

You’ll hear lots of people tell you to “work smart, not hard.” But what an awful saying that is. Sure, you need to work smart and make well-informed decisions as often as you can. That goes without saying – so please let’s stop saying it. But what does it mean to not work hard? Again, awful, seriously, don’t ever let me hear you utter such nonsense. If you want to make it in business, you will, at times, have to work so hard that you will feel you are at breaking point.

Read the biography of any successful person – in the world of business or elsewhere – and it is clear that they demonstrated a level of drive throughout their lives that was well above and beyond that of their peers. And it’s why one of my first questions to would-be entrepreneurs is just how committed they are to the cause. Don’t waste your time on this path if you’re planning on giving anything less than 100%.

2. John D. Rockefeller: “Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.”

Here we have a quote from one of America’s most successful businessmen, who not only revolutionised the petroleum industry but also went on to found both the Rockefeller University and the University of Chicago.

Rockefeller’s words remind us that there is no safe path to success, and that you will in many cases have to leave something secure behind (“the good”) if you want to have any chance of achieving your dreams of entrepreneurial success (“the great”). There really is in fact no way around the risk. Going for it does involve – in some form or another – leaving behind a steady job and a regular paycheck.

And let’s be clear on this – most startups fail, and so as hard a reality as this is to swallow, if we go by the numbers, the odds are stacked against you. Which is why business success stories are so few and far between. But if you are a true entrepreneur, I believe you will find your way, and it all starts with not being able to settle for what you currently have.

3. Tony Hsieh: “Stop chasing the money and start chasing the passion.”

I have known many people throughout the years whose sole driver in life is money. And guess what – they either never get it, or they never feel they have enough. Ultimately, they end up miserable.

Sure money is a huge part of business, and every entrepreneur wants to see the business’s top and bottom lines grow at a steady pace. But if you are going into the business world purely to get rich, then I’m afraid to say the intensity of the entrepreneurial world is simply not for you. Making money from your own business is tough, and in the beginning, when the hours are long and the pots of gold are nowhere to be seen, it is only a passion for your craft that is going to get you through.

Those entrepreneurs who succeed are more often than not the ones who spot a very pressing need in a certain sector (usually a sector very familiar to them and one they have a genuine interest in), and then work tirelessly to bring their product or service to life so that those needs can start being met. They can literally feel that need – as if it were their own – and what that implies is that there is a real passion that is driving the business building.

Again, sure, they are entrepreneurs, so they are likely envisioning the potential financial rewards that will come with success, but they are not chasing a dream of getting rich first and foremost. They are chasing a dream of meeting a need for which they are so certain exists, and for which they want to be the ones to deliver on.

This is certainly true of the man responsible for this quote. Tony Hsieh worked tirelessly to launch his own advertising network, LinkExchange, which he did in 1996 at the tender age of 23. After building his product to greatness and according to his vision and passion, the money suddenly showed up: Microsoft took it off his hands for a cool $265 million.

4. Michael John Bobak: “All progress takes place outside the comfort zone.”

This quote from famed contemporary visual artist Michael John Bobak once again touches on the familiar topic of risk. However, it also serves as a testament to one of the universal truths of entrepreneurship – it is not easy. In fact, as I remind young entrepreneurs often, it is way harder than you think.

The last thing I would ever want to do is warn someone off of realising their dream of becoming an entrepreneur, but there is no point in sugar-coating things: the journey from startup to success can actually be quite a painful one at times – meaning, as per the quote, you will be way outside of your comfort zone. The hours are insane, the challenges at times seem insurmountable, and crying on someone’s shoulder won’t help you much at all.

And so I will wrap up this article with this thought: It is essential that you, the entrepreneur, get comfortable with being uncomfortable. You will likely never reach a point where things are coasting. That would in fact be one big warning sign. Things are always changing, there are always new challenges and things to improve on and new things to build, and you will rarely experience long periods where you are content with the status quo. And that state of constant change and development is in fact where you need to be at all times to achieve and maintain your success, because success, as we always say, is the journey, not the destination.

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