Choose Success


As part of my holiday reading curriculum I recently started Peter Thiel’s Zero to One. It has been a fascinating look inside the mind of one of the world’s greatest and most innovative entrepreneurs. Thiel’s core argument is that the world is in desperate need of change and that this change can only be delivered through innovation. He delineates between two types of innovation, Horizontal Innovation and Vertical Innovation. Horizontal Innovation, embodied by globalization, is the act of taking a technology or process that works in one place and bringing it to another geography or sector.  Vertical Innovation is the development of brand new technologies. By creating something new, Vertical Innovation is a movement from ‘zero to one’ and is, in Thiel’s view, the only way that we can continue to evolve and overcome the challenges of an ever more complex world. 

Thiel’s recipe for innovation starts by developing contrarian views. One cannot hope to innovate by treading the well-worn paths of the way things are currently done. He asks the reader “what do you believe that those around you disbelieve?” After some reflection, I have found my answer. 

I believe that success is a choice. 

I believe that every single person has the capacity to lead a successful life and that this outcome is determined solely by someone’s set of priorities and the personal choices they make as a result.

As a key aspect of my contrarian belief, it is important that I define what exactly I am talking about when I say “success.” I define success as: “leading a fulfilling and impactful life.” Success may look very different for different people, but at the end of the day, if someone can find personal fulfillment and make an impact outside of themselves, whether it be on their family, their community, or the world, I believe that you can not classify them as anything less than successful. 

But Erik, what about those for whom life has dealt a bad hand? What about those who cannot help themselves?

We may not have control over the things that happen to us in life, but we do always have control over our reaction. If life hits you hard, get up, dust yourself, and keep moving. When we start blaming life and making excuses for why we cannot be successful, that is when we see self-perpetuating cycles of under achievement form. It is vital that each individual develops a culture of self-responsibility and grit. The most important step someone can take is not the first step, it is the next step.

Not everyone can be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Lebron James, but I do believe that every human being is capable of achieving something important in their life. As long as we broaden our view on what constitutes personal success, anyone has the capacity to be successful. The only question is whether or not they will make the choices necessary to do so.