Success: What Does It Take?

Many stories have been told about people achieving success. Simply put, success requires both hard work and luck. Hard work is a cumulative process rather than a one-shot deal. As we continue working, we gain experience and improve our performance.

What is luck? It means being at the right place at the right time. Luck is something we cannot count on because of so many unknowns. However, luck is linked to our actions. All we need is to expose ourselves to it. To illustrate this linkage, if one never buys a lottery ticket, one will never get a chance. If the fisherman does not cast the net, he will never find out that the fish are coming his way.

Quite often in life, we come to a critical juncture for a big decision that has the potential of changing our future and launching us on a new trajectory. Some examples are: choosing a career, getting married, or migrating to another country. All these big decisions may turn out good or bad due to circumstances beyond our control. In retrospect, the result depends mostly on how we want to make it work. When we face the challenge and adapt to the new situation, most things will turn out just fine.

According to the theory of evolution, the early humans made the big decision to walk on two legs. They adapted and employed both hands to make tools. This opened up another possibility for the brain to think about making better tools. The point I want to make is that one big decision will lead to another big one. The key is to adapt and make it happen. This involves continuous adjustments based on trial and error. If the first decision is not made for fear of the unknown, the future will not open up, and possibilities will not arise.

Perhaps the best example is the invention of the semiconductor known as transistor around 1950. The inventors could not have possibly foreseen the tremendous potential of such a device. As they took one brave step after another in connecting, miniaturizing and compacting the transistors to form more complex circuits, they had finally ushered in the computer revolution that changed the world.

Who said that humans could not fly? Almost everybody said so 200 years ago. Only a few dreamers dared to make the decision to try. After many failures and improvements, look at what we have in aviation nowadays.

A big decision can happen to be wrong, but we should not be afraid of making one. When we find out later, we learn from the experience and make amends. It is true that the more we may lose, the greater is the tendency against risk taking. On the other hand, it is also true that the higher the stake, the bigger is the reward. Therefore, the key is to be willing to take risk but making sure that we can recover if the result turns out worse than expected.

Let me cite a few great decisions that have really changed the world:

The Treaty of Rome in 1957 establishing the Common Market represents the first step to integrate Europe into a large trading bloc. Today, the Common Market has evolved into the European Union with 17 member countries using a common currency.

After consolidating power around 1980, Deng Xiao-Ping made the decision to dismantle the communist economic system of China in favor of open-door capitalism. This is generally considered to be the biggest decision of the century. You can see the worldwide impacts without my having to elaborate.

The United States had a dual economy after gaining independence from Great Britain in 1776: the industrializing North and the agricultural South based on slave labor. This came to a head in the American Civil War lasting from 1861 to 1865 when the South was finally defeated. President Lincoln made the big decision to force the South to abandon slavery and integrate its economy with the industrializing North. This launched the US on a new trajectory to becoming a superpower.

In the above examples, whether the consequences are good or bad is beside the point. The fact is, the results are phenomenal and the world has been changed forever.

In conclusion, success has three components: decision, action, and adaptation, which will lead to exposure to more luck despite the risks. Therefore, we can say that success belongs to the person who never stops trying.

(September 2011)

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2 Responses to Success: What Does It Take?

  1. hosting says:

    I heard something about this recently on a global tv channel.

  2. I have wanted to write about something like this on my webpage and you gave me an thought. Cheers.

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