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A Potent Heuristic to Figure Out Success Courtesy of Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Skimming my Facebook page while eating pancakes and eggs in my hotel room in Orlando, I came across another one of Nassim Nicholas Taleb‘s pearls of wisdom that he felt compelled to share with the world through his updates. Taleb is best known to the mainstream as author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.

While he is far from being engaged with the media and his fans to the point of being a social media advocate (he is not on Twitter, his website is one unformatted page of text with info on his next book and don’t even think about looking him up on LinkedIn or Instagram), Taleb clearly embraces sharing his ideas (usually broad anecdotes to society’s toughest problems) for his Facebook fans to debate.

I was struck by Nassim Taleb’s musings on figuring out your chances of success:

A trivial and potent heuristic to figure out success: a) you are absolutely successful if and only if you don’t envy anyone; b) quite successful if those you envy you don’t know in person; c) miserably unsuccessful if those you envy you encounter or think about daily.

Absolute success is mostly found among ascetic persons.

This isn’t all there is to success, of course. But it’s clear to see that when we take our eye off of our own goals to focus on another person’s success, we undoubtedly, and almost always, fail (and fail miserably). The reason for this is because envy exacerbates or intensifies our own weaknesses and shortcomings. Whatever our weaknesses are compared to another person’s, when we begin to focus on (and envy) another person’s success instead of working on our own shortcomings and goals, we become even weaker. We deny ourselves the opportunity to be great in our own way. And even worse, we begin to believe the lie our inner-demons tell us that we aren’t as good and could never be as good as that person who sits on top of the world because of their success — we believe (and our actions become rooted in) the lie that success is only delegated to a chosen few.

Having said that, we all have shortcomings. Everyone who succeeds has them. As Taleb suggests, one important key in success is to be ascetic (to be in denial — in denial of your weaknesses, in denial of anything the world tells you contrary to you knowing that you will achieve success, in denial of the part of your ego that tells you that you will never be as good as the other person). Entrepreneurs are especially in possession of this success-trait.


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