Survival versus Excellence

About fifteen years ago a thought crossed my mind: To really succeed in life one has to leave the survival mode and live in the Excellence mode. At that time I had just quit my job to start a new venture. I had accumulated a substantial debt because of a car which was financed, and to make it worse I had multiple credit cards which were maxed out. I was young and ambitious. I wanted a decent lifestyle as per my definition. So it was absolutely OK for me to borrow money to buy a car. When I looked at my peers they were either as bad financially as I was, or even worse. So, as per the social standard, I was doing OK. Looking back, it feels a little stupid to have made those financial decisions. But they taught me something and they made me cautious in the future.

Having made my decision of quitting the job put me into the shoes of an entrepreneur. That is when this groundbreaking thought crossed my mind to compare Survival Mode and Excellence Mode. Today I have recovered from the financial mess.

Let us first look at the Excellence Mode that I am talking about. As it says, for anyone to show excellence, they have to be first be excellent at something. If they are not, they have to practise until they get excellent. That takes discipline and commitment. It takes resilience. And above all, almost every endeavour in life costs money in some form. Around the turn of the millenium i.e. aroud the year 2000 I used to live in Sydney. I happened to read an article about  Kerry Packer (he was the richest Australian then). The article mentioned about Kerry talking to his buddy from the billionaire club (I think it was Frank Lowie). Kerry asked the other guy, “how much do you really need to survive?” Together they came to a conclusion that they needed about $200,000 per year to survive. Now remember, they had their private planes, private yachts, their private parties, first class travel, holidays and all that extravaganza! But most of their luxury assets and toys were paid for. They needed just about $200,000 for survival as per the figures of the year 2000 – a small amount for a billionaire. Everything over and above their $200,000 threshold either goes into their savings or investments. I am sure they both earned many times more than $200,000 per year. The Kerry Packers and the Frank Lowies (or the Bill Gates and the Warren Buffetts for that matter) of the world don’t need to worry about money. They can focus on what they really want to do. That is what I call Excellence.

While the billionaires of the world had made it, I was still busy paying my bills month after month, paycheque after paycheque. I was still a survivor. Was my decision to quit a job while having a debt right, or wrong? I cannot answer that question. However, that decision taught me a lot. From my view then, it was the right decision. I was younger, I was frustrated with my job; and I thought I deserved better. But mainly, I was willing to take risks. I had no wife or kids. I was in mid thirties. Now I have crossed fifty. If it was possible, would my older self like to advise my younger self? Would my older self say to the younger me ‘don’t take risks’? Probably not! When I look back, it is when I risked and played bigger than myself that I leaned something. Risks taught me to face failure; and I completely agree that failure is a great teacher. Whoever has said it (I think it is Hellen Keller), has said it right: The biggest risk in life is to not take any risks. But I do wish I had known then what I do know now: Most of the things that I was looking for then don’t matter that much in life.

Back then, my aspirations were high. I wanted to achieve things. My aspirations then were mostly centred around ‘showing it to the world’. I wanted to show the world that I can do it. I wanted to have a nice home, a nice car – mainly a nice lifestyle. I wanted to earn respect. I wanted to be known. I wanted recognition. All these possessions I thought would give me that respect and recognition. At the stage that I am in life now, I have failed more often than I have won. But now I am aware of a huge world that is there around me now – the world made of people! What this world of people has given to me is the love and respect. That’s the world I did not know existed back then. People who truly love and respect me don’t care about my possessions or achievements. They love and respect me unconditionally.

Whatever I know now I cannot share with my younger self anymore. But I can surely share some lessons that this rough and tough thing called life has taught me with other people. These are the things that come to mind without any order or structure. Here are the five most important things that I have learned:

  1. It doesn’t matter what your circumstances are now, and what circumstances you come from.
  2. The only thing that matters is what thoughts dominate you. Reading and learning constructive things makes your thoughts constructive. Unless you are out in the nature you are within four walls. What lies outside the four walls doesn’t matter.
  3. Go out there in the nature and respect it. It is very important to experience nature and get your hands dirty.
  4. It is arrogant to think you are better than everyone else. You are where you are because of the people who have been around you – your family, friends, teachers, peers etc.
  5. Being self centred doesn’t take you anywhere. Think not what you can do for yourself, but what you can do for others.
  6. When you say five (didn’t I say five things? Read again), there’s always the sixth and the seventh and so on. Learning should never stop. Always look for what else is possible.

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