Success and Impact

I’ve been on a biography kick recently and, hot on the heels of the Jobs and Musk biographies, just finished Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. My intention when reading biographies was to get an idea of why successful people are successful and what makes some successful people (in)famous. Some interesting themes I thought worth sharing —

Making real change in the world takes time.

This was my biggest take-away. A successful career takes time, learning, self-discovery, and a lot of hard work. Jobs, Musk, and Bourdain all clearly went through some real shit to get to get to a point where they could make the impact they make now, and the reason they can leverage their time so well now is largely because of learnings from those experiences. As a young person in tech (especially working for him) it’s easy to forget that people like Zuckerberg are anomalies.

Being famous takes work.

I used to think that Jobs or Musk-level fame automatically came with their companies’ successes, but the impression I got from their biographies was that both of them craved attention and have spent a lot of time and effort carving out a persona for themselves in the press. Bourdain, of course, as a TV personality, makes this his full-time job. In either case, becoming a household name is not a given and also takes a lot of time and effort.

You need to be a little unstable to have real impact.

Making change in the world, especially via entrepreneurship, is hard. So hard, in fact, that you need something that can keep you going even when things get really shitty. Often this is some deep-seated insecurity, spite for people who said it couldn’t be done, a drive for recognition, or intense competitiveness. Rarely do I meet or read about entrepreneurs who are happy, content, and satisfied with their lives. It seems like having an inordinate impact on the world is at odds with living a satisfied, contented life.

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