With another school year about to begin, young people around the world are choosing their courses and planning for their careers. Many who hope to become business leaders and entrepreneurs have asked for advice on everything from how to make the most money, to whether a career in business is right for them, to the secret to my success. Rather than address the specifics of any one person’s situation, let’s look at the underlying question: what “success” really means.
First, success in any career is closely tied to doing what you enjoy and developing your skills and talents. If you are considering a career as an entrepreneur, remember that leaders in this field are usually flexible and open-minded. They are able to imagine themselves in their customers’ shoes. And they have empathy not only for their colleagues and employees, but for the people who are affected by the business’ operations. Business favours people who, when they see a problem or an injustice, try to do something about it. Does this describe you?
Also Read | Richard Branson’s earlier articles
It can be difficult to assess one’s own strengths and weaknesses. If you don’t already have a mentor, it would be good to contact someone who has experience in the area you’re thinking about entering. Professional organizations might be able to put you in touch with someone willing to help you review your best options.
Remember, a good mentor is not necessarily someone who is well known, but rather someone who is leading a rich and enriching life. Reach out to a business leader who has made a difference that is important to you.
At this stage, many young people are focused on developing abilities in areas where they haven’t succeeded or exhibited much skill. Not long ago, I wrote to someone who, like me, is dyslexic. I said that it is important to try to excel at what you’re good at. Don’t let your limits knock your self-confidence. Put them to one side.
This is the time to focus on your strengths, because success as an entrepreneur is about ideas and excellence. Not excellence measured in awards, or other people’s approval, but the sort one achieves for oneself by exploring what the world has to offer. So rather than looking to others for your markers of achievement, consider what success means for you. Thinking about personal matters, like your hopes for your family and private life, might help you bring this vision into focus.
Are you dreaming about great wealth? Success in business has nothing to do with profits. Profits are necessary to invest in the next project—to pay the bills, repay investors, and reward people for their hard work—but that’s all. The reality is that in business, money flows like a running stream. During one season, it might be a torrent, but then you have to invest in order to keep your business going, and your cash flow dries up overnight.
It’s quite an American thing to talk about wealth. In Britain we’re slightly embarrassed about it, and I think that’s a good thing. When I go to a party, I see people, not bank statements, and I’d like to think that others feel the same about me. Money is only interesting for what it lets you do and create.
If money is a poor guide to achievement, celebrity is worse. The media tends to personalize and simplify matters, and that’s understandable. It’s much easier for reporters to talk about Steve Jobs at Apple, Larry Page at Google, and Richard Branson at Virgin, but that doesn’t reflect the reality that a legion of senior people at those companies make many major decisions every day—they just don’t talk to the media about it.
If neither money nor celebrity are good measures of success, what about personal power? Well, I have spent more than 40 years building the Virgin brand, and if I was gone tomorrow, our team would carry on without me, just as Google will continue when its founders move on, and how Microsoft has carried on since Bill Gates stepped down as chief executive officer in 2008.
Success in business is best measured by whether you have created something that you can be really proud of—and whether you’ve made a real difference for others. This is what gets me up in the morning. It’s why I’ve never wanted to run a big company, and it’s why I get huge enjoyment out of creating and tending to lots of smaller ones. Virgin, by remembering its roots as a small entrepreneurial company, has made a positive difference in many diverse fields, and for many people.
The more actively and practically engaged you are, the more successful you will feel. Right now, I find myself doing more and more to help safeguard our future on this planet. Does that make me successful? It certainly makes me happy.
When you are facing choices about your path to a career, and in all the choices that follow, focus on your own goals, and try not to be distracted by those of others. Consider the needs of your community, and how you might best contribute. What is your vision for change? Start working towards that. In business, as in life, what matters is that you do something positive.
By NYT Syndicate
Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He maintains a blog at www.virgin.com/richard-branson/blog. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/richardbranson
Your comments and queries on this column, which runs every week, are welcome at email@example.com