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Tom’s Blog

The Path to Success (with thanks to Tesco)

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Aged 30, I was stacking shelves in a supermarket, having realised I had no interest in my original study path and subsequently failed to get anything else going. So what is the path to success?

Self-belief? Positivity? Planning?

I have been asked to speak to some students who are approaching a cross-roads in life - should they go onto further education, should they get a job, should they find a way to travel and see the world, should they pursue their wildest dreams our get a safe career, etc and so on. 

They are apparently in need of inspiration. Firstly it is massively flattering to have been asked to speak to them but it is also worrying. 

What is the right path to success, happiness, fulfilment when everyone probably defines these things differently. If I think back to what I was like in my late teens I had a very clear idea of what I would be. I was going to University to study law, I would graduate and practice, be married by 25 or 26 and have a couple of children.

Thank you Tesco!

The reality of my life was drastically different. I was woefully immature, intellectually and emotionally at the time and I dropped out of university with no discernible interest in law, did a couple of part time jobs, started studying again, stopped studying again, started a small business with my dad, saw that fail and ended up a few months shy of my 30th birthday stacking shelves at night, in Tesco (thanks Tesco, you helped me pay the bills - no shame there).

Since that time I have drastically changed. I have had a lot more success in my career, in terms of working out what I enjoy, what I am good at and how I should spend my time as well as how to set up a business and make money.

So what was the secret to my personal success and how can I pass this on to others?

Well there wasn’t one was there. I am as fond as anyone of those "5 key things that all geniuses do" type articles and podcasts. I enjoy reading those and I am not saying they are without merit but in truth there is no formula. 

Part of me would love to tell these young people that to be a moderately successful whether it’s in a career or as an entrepreneur or business owner you just have to believe in yourself, back yourself, be positive… just do it (should put that on a t-shirt). But that would be fraudulent.

What Reid Hoffman says:

There is a famous quote by Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn: 

“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late”.

I have always loved this statement which seems to capture an "imagined spirit" of entrepreneurship many of us love to think we espouse. 

But in truth it is not what I am like. I have not lived like this.  

What Richard Branson says:

Richard Branson is often quoted as saying: 

“If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”

Again this perfectly encapsulates the stereotypical bravado of the successful entrepreneur. But it is not for everyone, really. I don’t think I was able to recognise a good opportunity until I was in my mid thirties.

And like many of us I am prone to regular bouts of anxiety, self doubt, often quite overwhelmingly negative thinking and my wife would say: “fatalistic planning”.

So it came as quite a shock the other day to hear that statistically speaking, pessimistic entrepreneurs are more successful than optimistic ones. 

This perked me up no end, made me optimistic even…  which in itself is a concern. 

On a serious note I often think the fact that I dwell on the potential negative outcomes holds me back, perhaps even blocks me from the kind of full-on commitment that is required in order to build something big.

 I feel there is actually some wisdom and truth in the statements from Hoffman and Branson and yet they are totally out of my nature. I want everything to be place. I am terrified of failure, of letting someone down, of messing up. It can be a little crippling at times and I would love to be more carefree.

 So what? Well, I am pretty happy with my lot. I think my progress may be slower than others, but my road may also be a little less bumpy. 

So what can I say to these students? If I could go back and advise myself?

I will never be one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs and perhaps the over-riding thing I will try to convey to those students is this. Success is personal. It can look very different to each one of us, it can be overnight or it can take many, many years.

The road to it might be paved with gold or littered with dog s?*t. The only thing I would say for certain to my younger self is that I should not try to plan out some perfect path.