Do you know what your gifts are? A contrarian view on success, achievement, wealth, goals and why we live

Why people do what they do and the consequences of those decisions and actions is my life’s work.

If there is a theme of this blog then it is about entrepreneurial success – with a slant towards retail/marketing because that is where the people are…

But the majority of faithful readers will know I am fascinated by why people succeed or fail, not just at a technical level of execution (poor product selection) but why people (e.g. the business owner) continues dysfunctional behaviours for instance.

So, in a nutshell, in all the years what have I learned?

First let’s consider these ideas:

On Success:

Success is the freedom to spend your discretionary time the way you want to spend it. Unlike what people say so often success is not about systematically going about achieving goals. Neither is it ‘happiness’ nor is it about ‘following your passion.’

On Wealth:

Wealth is having discretionary time. That is you have to spend as little time as possible to acquire the necessities in life (in order to survive). Your wealth is therefore related to what you deem necessary to live. The easiest way to increase your wealth is to lower your standards of what is necessary. (And it is just a little bit ironical that you can be wealthy but not healthy; since ill-health defeats the purpose of wealth and success.

On Goals:

The worst thing you can do is to be a serial goal setter. The enjoyment of achieving any goal is relatively fleeting and the emotional high that comes from it lasts minutes or at best a day or two. The mental satisfaction fades away too, no matter how hard you cling on to it. In fact, if you are a goal setter and define success in accordance with the achievement of your goals, then you are compelled to set another goal as soon as you achieved one.

This means you are in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction as by definition you are always on the road towards happiness and getting to the top of the mountain reveals another mountain peak just a little bit higher beyond that. That is in my mind no way to live.

Now that we are clear on the definitions and the ideas, the question remains:


There is probably no category of non-fiction books bigger than the genre created in response to that question. Every guru has an answer. Some of the common themes are listed below:

  • Believe and you will achieve

  • Follow your passion

  • Do what [insert celebrity business person here] did

  • Focus

  • Never quit: persevere in the face of adversity

  • Follow your gut

  • Follow the {insert acronym here] process developed by this guru

  • Have a plan

I could go on.

The problem is that for every one of these ‘strategies’, you will find a guru espousing the opposite and citing examples to ‘prove it’.

  • Don’t focus, but open your mind to opportunities.

  • Don’t follow your passion, be passionate about what you do

  • Know when to quit and be adaptable and responsive to the opportunity

  • Live one day at a time

And so on.

The pundits all have a recipe for success. (You are not a guru if you don’t have an answer, so that is only natural.)

But the punters think it largely a matter of luck. (But they worry that taking that approach might be a cop out. And what if they are wrong…?)

The advice in this post of course is no different to any other advice or ‘recipe’. Saying there is no recipe is a recipe; so if you are buying what I am saying - caveat emptor:


ONE: The answer is almost always: ‘both’.

  • Should you focus or relax? Both.

  • Should you follow your passion or be passionate about what you do? Both.

  • Should you persevere or be flexible? Both.

  • Should you have a goal or live in the moment? Both.

So you see the answer is ‘balance’. The answer is about making choices at any given point in time. (Should I quit or stick with it?) Either choice is a valid choice, but only one choice will be right at that point in time. You won’t know in advance which choice is the right one, no matter how much you think about it. Decisions have consequences, but consequences being what they are, they always follow the decision and they can never be unwound.

TWO: The best you can do is to make the decisions and accept the consequences. Doing the best you can is all you can do.

This may or may not make you successful. It is not entirely a matter of luck, but there is large element of fortuitous timing in achieving success.

Success comes most swiftly and completely not to the greatest or perhaps even to the ablest men, but to those whose gifts are most completely in harmony with the taste of their times. (Vox Popoli).

So it is not entirely about being ‘lucky’. You do have gifts and you should exploit your gifts. But you may be ahead or behind the times, or you may be fortuitous in your gift being in demand at the point in time when you are there. But being ready (aware and in a position) to respond and capitalise when that happens has nothing to do with luck.

THREE: Pursue meaning.

Don’t pursue money or happiness. Money is (one of life’s) scoreboards. It is not the game itself. Focus on playing the game and the better you play the more favourable the score line will be. Like money, happiness is a by-product of playing the game well.

There is nothing nobler to pursue than for your life to have meaning; to have counted for something when the time comes to shuffle off this mortal coil.

‘Meaning’ is subjective and each person will have their own idea of what that is. Steve Jobs wanted to make a dent in the universe and he chose a particular path. Mother Theresa chose a different way of making a dent in the universe, but despite the disparities in power, influence, and money you can not argue that she was not successful or that she wasn’t wealthy.

In summary:

1.      You have gifts. (Matthew 25:14-30) Know them. Explore them. Work them. Keep an eye on what the society/market/world wants and make the decisions to align what you do with their ‘tastes’.

2.      Make the best decision that you can at the time and accept the consequences. Some will work out and other won’t. There is no right or wrong except when it comes to morality.

3.      Make the context of your life meaningful. Keep pursuing the activities that will make your life more meaningful every day. If you find meaning in selling frocks, then do so. If you find meaning in caring for animals, do so.

And as you stick by those simple principles, it is important to be conscious of what you should NOT do.

Don’t judge others and don’t judge yourself by any other standard than we are fellow human beings on the third rock from the sun.

Don’t follow anyone else’s path. What worked for them won’t work for you. Your life and times are different. Your gifts are different. You are different. Don’t compare yourself to anyone.

A life well lived is one lived in harmony with who you are.

The starting point is the discovery and exploration and understanding of what your gifts are?

This video concludes with a statement about passion, but I would like to substitute that with ‘gift’.

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