The Irony of Success and What We Can Do About It
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The Irony of Success and What We Can Do About It


Oprah, Zuckerberg, Bezos, Musk, Branson: My heroes. Ok, well that might be a little dramatic but if I listed Dominic Barton (Mckinsey), Jim Turley (EY), Paul Jacobs (Qualcomm), Richard David (US Bank), you (like me) would probably wonder who these people were.

We’ve come to glorify and exemplify the CEOs of ‘unicorn’ start-ups to be the pinnacle of success.

What do they all have in common? They’re all founders and entrepreneurs, sparking a high interest in starting a company and setting an alternate standard of what it means to be successful.

To add to this, classes teaching entrepreneurship have gone up some 20x since 1985. We’re programmed to think that we need to work in that remote office, ‘hustle’, and be a part of that ‘start-up grind’. Why not? We all want to be successful.

If that is the case though, why is it that entrepreneurship is at a 40-year low? According to the US Census that just over 450,000 firms were founded in 2014, which is way less than the 500,000 to 600,000 new companies founded every year from the late ‘70s to the the time of the Census.

Success is hard to find in entrepreneurship. Consider being 20-something kid that wants to start a small tech shop rather than being a consultant for a major firm after spending four years, racking up an average of $37,000 student debt. The data shows that it takes just over three years to be profitable and statistically, they have a 1 in 10 shot at making a sustainable living at all. The bottom line? Making a living in entrepreneurship is tough, and being among the Zuckerbergs is, well, nearly out of the question.

And hey, it isn’t limited starting a tech company, this is entrepreneurship as a whole. Perhaps that is why the idea of a side-hustle is on the rise too. Forbes reports that more than 1/3 of Millennials are working a side job. But is it possible to fully commit? Well, given the difficulty of becoming not only profitable, but also to make a sustainable living, not likely; well not right away at least.

A fun side-hobby? Sure. Lucrative, maybe, but not likely.

But then comes a new problem: Automation, which is something widely talked about, but perhaps not enough when it comes to entrepreneurship. Time said that ‘Jobs with predictable activities in structured environments are the easiest to replicate with robots, a process known as automation. McKinsey estimates that 51% of all job-related activities in the U.S. economy fit this description, largely in manufacturing, food service and retail trade sectors.’ What does this include? Insurance underwriters, Banking clerks, Accounting technicians and bookeepers. Funny, those are among some of the jobs we in society deem to be among the ones that make us more successful.

The irony in the situation is that some of the jobs that we thought were those that were going to be safe and lucrative in the long-haul are going to be the ones to go, and entrepreneurship, though difficult to make full living off of, isn’t what gets us the most support out of the gate.

So what do we do moving forward?

Well, I predict that there will be a spike in Liberal Arts education so that we can solve problems better. The reality is that the world is moving faster than any of us can keep up with and the definition of success is changing along with it.

What we need to be doing is filtering the ‘noise’ of what society (or Instagram followers) tells us to be successful and learn to understand ourselves and what makes us happy. Try disconnecting for a weekend. See what it is you gravitate to when there isn’t the ‘busyness’ of life.

Success doesn’t look like it used to. It isn’t about the American Dream, so much as it is about the dreams of over 300 million Americans, which all look different. Defining what we need to live a sustainable, happy life is the first key step to determining what success looks like to us. Next step: chase it and don’t look back.

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