This was originally posted here on Quora as my answer to the question “What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur?”
When I was 13 my grandfather said to me “Conor, success is earning more than your father.” I accepted this as fact.
When I was 30 my definition of success became “$30 million in the bank by age 42”. I had a fast growth startup and was building towards a big sale.
When I was 34 the #*$%& hit the fan. Business collapsed. I found myself alone. I faced my personal “abyss”. The black hole. I questioned a lot of my ideas about life.
Today, my definition of success is to have stories that my grandchildren will want to listen to.
Success is a “big” term. Each person will have their own ideas of what success might mean.
There are some metrics that are easy – capital raised, IPO valuation, money, sales, # employees, # customers… just because they are easy to measure doesn’t make them the most important.
There are some metrics that are very hard – freedom, making a difference to people’s lives, leaving a legacy, growing as a human being, autonomy… these can be what is truly important… but difficult to use external measures to know if you are doing “well”.
Success is not an Absolute.
So: success is not an absolute phenomenon. We each run our own race and start at our own start, and finish at our own finish. We can look at others, but we have no idea about their individual journey.
I would say that facing your own “abyss” is the moment where you can truly clarify who “you” are. Not the you that your parent’s want, nor the you that your friends remember, but the you that is inside and hidden behind the “shoulds” of your inner voice. Only by taking 100% responsibility for your own life can you go through the path to the abyss and face your fears. I believe that only entrepreneurship allows a 100% responsible for my life attitude – so it is one of the few paths that allow you to grow to your fullest potential as a human being.
I wish you a life that gives you stories that your grandkids will sit and listen to.