Success and Shortcuts in Life

Unlike many of us believe, success is not common; failure is. However, success most of the times comes only by keep trying – by every time learning from our mistakes and trying harder, smarter, and better.

One of my front line executives at work is a desperate, jumpy, and anxious young man. He wants to get out and be successful, ‘by hook or by crook’ as he phrases it. For the sake of ease in our conversation, let us just call him X. Like other people, X wants to make a lot of money in life, and he wants to do that pretty quickly, almost over night. I do not know whether the “American dream” is possible in America anymore, however, many Pakistanis believe that making a lot of money is piece of cake for those who are making it – thanks to loopholes in our legal and taxation systems as well as rabid corruption and nepotism. I do not also know whether the “American dream” only means legal dreams, however, the “Pakistani dream” is illegal more often than not. So, X finds himself morally pretty justified irrespective of where the success comes from – if everyone is doing it, it is a norm, and every norm is morally and ethically justified, so he believes.

Well, I do not mean to be judging him here, unfortunately, the history of country’s economic and political failures have rendered many Pakistanis seeking shortcuts in life. This is further complicated by the social stigmata and moral dogmas our society continues to struggle with.

X often makes his immediate boss feel uneasy, his boss keeps telling me ‘we need to fix him’. One after another the guy has made several mistakes which has made everyone in the office quite unhappy both by his lacking in professional competence and focus as well as by his behavioural problems. Only recently an official inquiry was initiated against one of his behavioural blunders at work. I was asked by the top management to oversee the inquiry and report a charge sheet against him and recommend solutions including if laying off was necessary. I believe there were two reasons I was asked to see that inquiry done; one because he is directly my subordinate through intermediary supervisors, and two because there were whispers at work that I patronised and defended him on an earlier occasion despite his apparent incompetence and behavioural issues. For me, the latter is only an exaggeration, the truth is I care about my team members and I believe people deserve a second chance.

The reason I started taking an interest in him, when I had to intervene to defend him at an earlier occasion, is because I saw in him some of the anxieties which I had as a young fresh graduate, only that his are much more pronounced. It is also because of the fact that I failed in achieving many things that I wanted to achieve as well. However, most of the reasons of my failures are entirely different, but some are common with him. I believe lack of support, empathy and understanding on the part of people you care most about is one crucial missing link for most of the people. In my case, my father was my crucial missing link – I always wanted my father to understand me. He remains my weakness to this day, but now that I am old enough, and myself a parent, to understand how fathers are in our part of the world, I have consistently tried to bridge the gap between us.

In relationships, whether personal or professional, it is very important to empathise and be emotionally intelligent. In today’s workplace, emotional IQ is more important than ever. I realised from my own failures that people fail, get suicidal, look for shortcuts, because people who they work for, or work with, fail to invest in them empathetically. It is a collective failure, not just a failure of one individual. If X fails in our team, it is a team failure as well. If a person consistently fails, and stays behind, it is not just his failure but somewhere it is also a failure of the entire social network.

One of my MBA professors at University of Management & Technology, Mr. Nizam-ud-Din, used to tell us all the time that “there is no shortcut in life”, and with growing age I have come to appreciate the wisdom of his words. A true, legal and durable success never comes from a shortcut. It comes from consistently trying to do better, to be able to change, try things in a smart way, and be persistent with your goal in life. X comes to me often seeking my counsel, and I tell him that wanting to be rich is not a crime, and there is nothing wrong with not liking a front line ‘clerical’ job. However, success requires a process of change, and the real change begins with your mind, it involves doing and not just dreaming. Real change is not magic, it does not happen over night, and it has no shortcuts. It has to be the hard way instead of the easy way. It is real hard work to teach your mind to be able to see the world differently. And more importantly, it takes time.

As Gandalf had said, “it doesn’t do well to dwell on dreams”, however, dreaming is the beginning of the process only and only a small part of it. The process completes by doing what you dream and that is the real part of it. One step at a time, and doing it right persistently and never being discouraged no matter the odds.

And while you are at it, it is ethically not right to just keep dreaming about the bird in bush, and completely ignoring the one in hand. Focus is an essential characteristic of highly successful people, it is important to focus on the task at hand if you want to do things successfully.