If you are like most entrepreneurs, you are most likely a lifelong learner. You have a need, not a want, to move your life and your business forward, and are constantly searching for examples and models you can use to help make your path to success quicker and easier. You read books, listen to podcasts and attend seminars, intent on unlocking the secrets that have led other successful entrepreneurs and icons to success.
I'm always seeking knowledge from others who have succeeded. I can thankfully count among my friends some wildly successful entrepreneurs, many who have written bestsellers themselves. There are even a few billionaires in that group, and all of them have given me great advice and strategies. I take what they give me and apply the wisdom to my life, while always being mindful not to measure my success by theirs. Too often, we can get caught up in comparisons, and those comparisons can be dangerous for you and your business.
Many books, seminars, audio programs and the like offer strategies and some excellent examples for how to succeed in business, but in most, the strategies and examples exist in the vacuum of an ideal world, one free of the day-to-day challenges and struggles unique to each of us.
So, if you compare yourself to these ideals, or track your progress according to standards set by someone else, you'll likely end up disappointed in yourself. But should you be?
For me, progress is progress, success is success and the best yardstick to measure either of those things is determined by you and who you are.
Yet I speak to so many entrepreneurs who have developed an obsession with not just success, but perfect success. The challenge is that if you're comparing yourself to this perfect success--the marketed ideal--you'll never be good enough. Why? Because you're unique, and you have your own set of circumstances and challenges to overcome. Your success will simply look and feel differently than what someone's imagined ideal will be. If you base your success on what you read and see--especially in someone's marketing--rather than what you've accomplished, you'll never be satisfied. Think of it in terms of a simple analogy: If you were to start going to the gym after years of inactivity, but taped up a picture of a fitness model to motivate you, chances are after a while you'd get discouraged. What you'd probably miss is that you've achieved a level of success just by getting to the gym regularly after not going at all! You've increased your gym frequency by 100 percent and are likely on your way to a stronger, healthier you, even if you don't look like the model (probably airbrushed) in the picture.
I call that success.
A lot of the content out there today that's focused on achievement tends to idealize the individual. (And rightly so--we like to believe in the authority of those giving us advice.) So what about all those successful entrepreneurs and authors whose advice we seek and who share an ideal way of achieving success? Well, the reality is that they aren't perfect, and neither is the success they've achieved. That's right, even the billionaires. Every bit of success that's come to someone who's highly regarded by entrepreneurs or others carries with it unseen and untold challenges. The difference is that they move beyond their struggles and chase their own success, not someone else's definition of success.
So what can you do to move forward without falling into the trap of blindly chasing an ideal? First, recognize that an ideal is exactly that: ideal. Ideals exist in a perfect world. Unfortunately, we don't. But that doesn't mean the ideal shouldn't motivate you, and you should let it. But try not to be disappointed when you don't seem to be reaching that ideal. Measure yourself against yourself. Do this by asking some simple questions:
"Where was I before I started this entrepreneurial journey?"
"Where am I going?"
"What steps am I taking?"
"What progress have I made?"
Measuring yourself against yourself is the only way to recognize the actual success you've achieved, and in the end, your success is the success that really matters.
Alex Charfen is the CEO of the Charfen Institute.