Be Surprised if You Win the Lottery, but Not by Your Success.

from “If You’re Not Making History, You Are History” by Bob MacDonald

If success surprises you, it means you were not in control of the outcome.

There were a lot of people surprised by my personal success and the success of the company – LifeUSA – that I helped bring into being, but I was not one of them.

After flunking out of college I was able (but only barely) to find a job selling life insurance door-to-door. Few could have foretold a successful career path for me, but I could.

From the very start of my career I began to collect and put aside one of every personal business card depicting my climb to the top of the business-ladder. I did this because I visualized a time when those cards would be framed and hanging on the wall in my top-floor executive office.

And that happened 15 years later when I became president and CEO of ITT Life Insurance Company. I mention this, not as some ego trip, but as validation that at least I was not surprised by my success; for me it was anticipated and expected. This confidence in my ultimate success motivated me to chart a winning course and do the things that would make the vision of those cards hanging in my office become a reality.

In 1987, when we were forming LifeUSA, the virtually universal reaction from those outside our group was that because the insurance industry was dominated by huge companies, it would be impossible for a new, start-up company to compete and be successful. My response to anyone who would listen was, “In five years, LifeUSA will be a national company competing effectively against the very largest companies.” Not many believed that, but I did.

Five years later, when LifeUSA was a national company competing effectively against the very largest companies, people constantly came up to me and asked, “Aren’t you surprised by the success of LifeUSA?” My response was always the same, “No! My only surprise is that it did not happen sooner.”

To some, this response may have seemed arrogant, but only because most people are surprised and think it must be an accident when others are successful. Isn’t it interesting that most people are not surprised when they witness or experience failure? And yet when they see success, they assume those who attained it must have been just lucky or at least surprised by it, because they would certainly be.

But have you also noticed that often those who are the most successful are the ones least surprised by their success? That’s because they planned and worked hard for their success. It’s fine to be surprised if you win the lottery, because you have no control over the outcome; if you win it is a random happening that is not likely to be repeated. However, if you are surprised by success it means that you were not in control of your success and it becomes a random happening that is unlikely to be sustained.

The point here is that when you prepare for success – rather than just hope for it – you are more likely to achieve it and when you do, you are not surprised. Nor should you be.

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