The Reality of Success

June 7th, 2011 by CASUDI (Caroline Di Diego)

Success is the driver in our culture; and even though it is always on our minds, we often fail to ask ourselves “what happens if we really become very successful”?

Bentley Front Door

What if success hits you; you’ve worked very hard or very smart, (hopefully both), to make your business very successful; your net worth is tens or even hundreds of millions. You’ve just bought this house or one very like it…..

Where are the guidelines or the manuals on how to deal with this incredible success once achieved? There are volumes written about “fail”, and how to process it, including my June 10 guest post “Is there such as thing as “Successful FAIL?” for the BusinessGrow Blog and another on the cult of failure written by Steven Parker. However, there’s not an awful lot written on success, apart from how to help you spend or invest your money!

The natural assumption is that with financial success comes independence from working for a living, and moreover, “the world is your oyster”, with entitlement to instant gratification in all aspects of your life; ability to buy just about anything that meets your fancy ☺; and the happiness ever after thing…….. In reality, are all your problems over now?

In 2000, this all became very real to me, with the proliferation of instant millionaires, and several requests for help. One came from the wife of a “dotcomer”, who was stressing out over having gone from a life of scrimpy apartments, to a waterfront mansion.

Bentley Lakehouse

Her issue was she had bought the “waterfront image” fully furnished, with hotel-neutral decorator style, and it had no personal style or taste. In fact, she didn’t really know what their taste was …..taste as successful and affluent individuals.

Another request came from a driven 23 year-old in the process of building a “Dynasty”-type compound for his own and extended families. He and his company start up team had been very successful ~ maybe it was a factor of just being in the right place at the right time with the right team; and he really didn’t know the mechanics of how he got there. And now his new construction project was in chaos. There was a total disconnect on managing a company (which supposedly he did well), and managing a “real life” construction situation. He had no clue on how to organize processes or inspire the workers to get anything done. It was no wonder schedules and budgets were outrageously off!

A European friend of mine took on the position of a ‘nanny’ to an “alleged”  billionaire whose new young “trophy wife”, a former “night club dancer” had no idea how to deal with live-in household help. The new wife’s instant affluence was simply a result of the marriage, and she was unprepared in every respect for this type of lifestyle and the responsibilities it would entail. Fortunately my European friend had lots of patience, and a great sense of humor, as she very subtly guided her employer through the realities and responsibilities of her new found ‘success’!

Others I met just wanted to find the ‘secret sauce’ on how to “appear successful” – even though they were ☺

What to do next? My working hours were focused on guiding the business development of early stage companies; so what was I doing getting involved in success counseling? What was it about me that gave the impression that I knew about living “success”, as it certainly wasn’t my bank account!

I asked business associates and friends why; what was it about me, my way of doing business and my lifestyle that spelled out “success”? In essence this is what they came back with:

~ my personal possessions appeared to be top-line expensive: (house, clothes, cars , etc.) Actually this is not so, but I do know how to shop for value; how to put things together, even from different cultures, eras and different price points (Hermes and Ikea). With an understanding and appreciation of design, and creating and sticking to a consistent design philosophy, this is not so hard to do.

~ I had the self-assurance that I knew what I knew (and also what I didn’t know), and was not afraid to admit the latter. Some people call this confidence, others said they liked doing business with me because they knew where they stood!

~ consistency of everything I am and do (image and actions). I knew where I was going and how to get there (or at least I gave that impression!).☺

This feedback helped me realize that in most part these entrepreneurs, with the windfall of success who had asked for help, were having difficulty getting a handle on a clearly defined future path for themselves and their families. Could they have been so focused on achieving success that there was no life after success? They hadn’t thought “what if I am very successful, what about the future?

Car Collection

A future path to some is just buying bigger, better, flashier toys and houses; but my take was, that’s not the real reasoning behind those who sought my help.

My friend Mike Williamson  said to me (when we were both mentoring the same ‘water’ related start-up entrepreneur) “sometime soon I am going to sell my company, and what I’d like to do after I do, is to bring “simple” solutions for clean water to people in developing countries, where I can really make a difference to their quality of life”. (That’s when Bank-On-Rain was conceived). He was quick to add, “I’m not looking for a big legacy foundation thing, I’m not on an ego trip; I want to keep things as small and effective and hands-on as I can”. And so our small and nimble consulting NPO team was created; consulting and helping other less nimble organizations focused on safe  ‘clean drinking water’ accomplish their goals. With a little luck, Mike will be full time in his new endeavor soon. His future path well defined.

Since my earlier experiences I have found there are ‘succession planners’ who focus on the psychological (dealing with success) or life path, as well as the money & investment side of succession planning. However, another problem is sure to arise when a person uses others definitions of success rather than their own…… a sure way to set up “fail”.

Periodically I come across a very real ‘fear of success’ when mentoring both entrepreneurs and CEOs of start-up companies. The ‘fear of success’ can in fact keep them from being successful, in very much the same way as a ‘fear of failure’.

My suggestion? Take some rewards along the way; get used to your success in small increments. Just don’t buy the Ferrari when you really need to meet payroll….. ☺

So Please tell me; how are you preparing for your mega-success?

CASUDI aka Caroline Di Diego

Designing Success

Special thanks to Marc Meyer @Marc_Meyer who inspired this post many moons ago, somewhere, sometime & some Chat on twitter. Marc writes an enlightening Blog on Social media, Marketing & Technology. Direct Marketing Observations.

Judith Matheson sold the mansion above, pictured in the first two images, please visit the virtual tour and enjoy!

John Bentley is the photographer for the mansion and anyone who needs a new avatar should check out his headshots, they are really good.

Ferrari garage image ©unknown

This post was updated slightly on 10.10.2013


3 Responses to “The Reality of Success”

  1. Brian Driggs Says:

    You know what’s really cool? In that first picture, there’s a $5MM house with a $50,000 Mercedes and a $5,000 Toyota parked out front. (There also appears to be a Range Rover parked in there, but it didn’t play well with my multiples of five.)

    How am I preparing for mega success? To be honest, I’m not. I see a lot of the mega success out there to be a function of what I consider a warped, greedy system focused on money above all else.

    I see mega banks realize record profits after being bailed out and implementing myriad fee schemes to nickel and dime their customers. Ten years after being repeatedly laid off in the tech sector due to the dotcom “bubble,” I see social media platforms (read: more dotcoms) being valued at ridiculous figures and either going public or preparing to do so. I read about the guy who owned the “master franchise” or whatever for McDonald’s in Central and South America taking his company public and becoming a billionaire overnight. All while seeing that half the new jobs created in the United States in May 2011 (which was of a clearly dismal jobs report) were jobs at McDonald’s.

    For me, success isn’t landing venture capital so I can get my picture in some entrepreneurial publications and buy a BMW (as much as I would enjoy such things). It’s bootstrapping; doing the most good on the resources immediately available to me.

    Notice I said “doing the most GOOD.” I look at the world around me and all I see is mega success built wholly on foundation of convincing those with less to just keep consuming, to just keep one-upping the Joneses next door. It’s parasitic and self-serving. When the market tanks, what do these people have left? Maybe their financial diplomacy will lead to a bailout. Maybe they’ll simply pack up and move on to the next host nation to maximize profits. Who knows.

    So, mega success and doing good. While the current crop of mega successful types seem more interested in going public and/or buying up competitors and protecting their interests to ensure diminishing returns from a market with less and less to invest, I believe the greatest ROI comes from investing in people. True success means helping others to be successful. Anything beyond that is a perk.

    Mega success, then, is seeing the people you’ve helped become successful helping others to be successful and so on. How am I preparing for that? Just trying to help others build high performance machines & lives.

    This was an interesting post, Casudi. Sorry for the longer, glass-half-empty comment, but it’s been on my mind of late and, considering how long it’s been since we’ve spoken, I figured I owed you one. :)

    Thank you for being real and for promoting true success in the world.

  2. CASUDI (Caroline Di Diego) Says:

    Half full or half empty, Brian it’s always a pleasure to get a comment from you. I am perhaps more positive and that is perhaps on account of my recent experience with Bank-On-Rain and our membership into Blue Planet Network and World Water Partners. These groups consist of multiple NPOs, often started and run by as few as two individuals, some more successful than others but all who want to make a “real” difference. They are willing and able to pay back as a sincere expression of their success.

    Yes I also run into the red garage show-offs but it does not have too much impact on me these days. I am far more impressed by someone I met recently who almost single handedly will have put in 30 wells in remote areas of Cambodia by the end of this year. I’ll be doing a Bank-On-Rain post on this sometime soon, or my new summer intern will.

  3. Brian Driggs Says:

    I can’t say I’ve *ever* run into such a garage showoff, but I already know the value of the cars contained therein, to me, would be directly related to the owner and how he or she impacted the world.

    Your comments on these smaller NPOs, as small as just two individuals, making a real difference in the world speaks to me, Casudi. Even as a gearhead, there’s a side of me that would love to spend a month somewhere remote, helping install wells like that. Or traveling with a group of scientists across the Sinai in search of Bedouin to share ideas on conservation – even as just a driver/mechanic!

    Unfortunately, I made some poor decisions in the past (college) and it’s proven to be more a limiting factor in my life (student loans) than blessing. I couldn’t name five courses I took in college, but I could probably give an hour long presentation on you, James, Bank-On-Rain, what you do, and why it matters. Which was more valuable, ya know?

    More often than not, I avoid glass half-emtpy-half-full talk, because I believe the glass is filled just right. It’s really a question of adding ice, or juice, or getting the right glass, or even redesigning the glass! Sometimes, though, I creep up to the edge to consider a leap of faith, only to feel the tension in the leash that is my past financial mistakes.

    Do it yourself, or *do what you can.* I’ll just keep trying to do what I can. :)

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