Are You Only As Good As Your Last Success?

How To

(photo: Jason Pratt)

Ten years ago, Adam West, who played Batman in the 1960s TV series, sued a group of advertising agencies for portraying Batman with another actor who used “gestures, mannerisms and speech patterns” similar to ones he used in the old series. The agencies had paid DC Comics for the right to use the Batman character, but West claimed they owed him money for the way in which he portrayed the character nearly 50 years ago.

Holding on to the past

Just like Gary Coleman, who was doing the “What’chu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” well into adulthood, there are certain actors who achieved some success or fame early in their careers, but then couldn’t let go of it. This need to cling to the success of old is not reserved for diminutive actors and TV superheroes. Anyone who achieves any kind of success, however you want to define it, sometimes can’t let go of it.

We’ve all worked with some executive who likes to remind us of something he did to help the company 20 years ago. But what has he done lately? Is he living for the future?

Last year was a pretty remarkable year for me. The TEDx Talk I did at the end of 2009 was posted on the main site last year and, quite unexpectedly, went viral. The best part was that my message was able to reach many more people much quicker than I’d planned for. My first book did quite well in 2010 and continues to sell steadily. And both the TEDx Talk and the book helped propel my speaking career so that except for the nine clients I choose to take on per year, I could stop consulting — something I really like because I reach many more people speaking than I do consulting.

As I begin 2011, I realize that 2010, as wonderful as it was, has presented me with somewhat of a problem: Almost all of the talks I’m asked to give are about the Golden Circle and the concept of Why. It’s exciting. The movement is growing, and more and more people are helping to spread the Why — but is that it? Am I going to be the “Why” guy for the rest of my life? In 10 years when the term “Why” spreads farther, when companies talk about their Whys openly and employees look to work for companies that complement their Whys, what will I be doing? Will I be trying to get people to remember what I did a decade or two before?

What’s next?

I’m not scared of becoming like Adam West or Gary Coleman, but as this new year begins, the question does cross my mind: What will I do next?

Baz Luhrmann, the director of Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, explains it best. He describes each of his projects like children. He invests all of his energy, time and effort into building them, molding them and turning them into something he can be proud of. But when they are complete, it’s like they leave the house to do their own thing. They enter the world and take on a life of their own. As Luhrmann says, people will come up to him and say how much they love one of his films and, like an adult child who has left the house, he’ll reply: “How is he? I haven’t seen him in ages. What’s he up to? Say ‘hi’ for me when you see him next.”

This is what is happening with Start with Why — it’s growing up, it’s doing things on its own and, unless specifically requested to talk about it, I am not that involved with it anymore.

But that still doesn’t help answer the question: What will I do next?

Push yourself forward

I recently did another TEDx Talk, and people actually asked me, “Aren’t you scared? What are you going to talk about that will be as popular or more popular than the Why?”

“I have no clue,” I would reply. The Why exploded by accident. I didn’t plan on it happening, and I can’t plan on doing it again. The concept of Why took years to come together in my head. I didn’t set out to find it; it sort of found me.

And so 2011 begins a new journey. A journey to I’m not sure where. The path is uncertain, but the destination is clear. No matter what I do, I will work to inspire people to do the things that inspire them. Over 90% of people go home at the end of the day feeling unfulfilled by their work, and I won’t stop working until that statistic is reversed — until over 90% of people go home and can honestly say, “I love what I do.” Last year may in fact be my best year ever, but if I stay focused on where I’m going, I will be able to go home at the end of every day and say, “I love what I do.” And isn’t that the point?

live for the future

My big lesson to start the new year is not to live in the past: live for the future. I don’t want to dwell on what was done: I want to focus on what we can do. If 2010 was a good year for you, I say congratulations. I say take stock of all you did, tell people about it, be proud of it, and move on. The challenge of the unknown future is so much more exciting than the stories of the accomplished past.

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