Imagine looking back at the age of 75 and realising that you chose the wrong thing to live for?  Realising that all those years of work and sacrifice were for something that you now do not value?

Living to Please Elizabeth

Over at the excellent Art of Manliness blog there is a recent post about Walter Raleigh.  He was of the best of his age: smart, connected, quick-witted and strong. He sought a life of fame and fortune.

He decided that pleasing Queen Elizabeth was the path to success.  He sacrificed time with his family, sold himself short on his own values… anything to keep pleasing the Queen.  He found riches and fame for a time…

Eventually Elizabeth tired of him and had him thrown into The Tower of London.  He never left the tower.

We Find What We Seek

My favourite novel is Somerset Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge”.

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The Razor’s Edge book cover

The Razor’s Edge tells the story of Larry, an American pilot deeply changed by his experiences in World War I.  Larry rejects the conventional, safe path that awaits him and lives in search of meaning.

He is surrounded by 5 main characters: Isobel, Gray, Elliot, Sophie and Maugham himself (who is both author and a central character in the book).

Isobel seeks financial security.  Although deeply in love, she breaks her engagement to Larry once she sees that he will not follow the path of financial security.  She marries Gray, a millionaire stockbroker and heir to a fortune.  She sacrifices love for money.  Gray will go on to lose his fortune.

Elliot wants to be part of aristocratic society.  He will do anything to be invited to the right parties and will sacrifice anything in order to be around people with titles.  As he lies dying, not a single one of his aristocratic friends makes the trip to visit him.  Elliot dies alone.

Sophie drifts into Larry’s life.  She has fallen into alcohol and promiscuity after her family life fell apart.  Larry tries to save her, but triggers Isobel’s jealousy.  Sophie is alcohol-free with Larry, but Isobel tempts her back with a bottle of vodka.  One bottle triggers a collapse into complete alcoholism.

Maugham ends suggesting that all the characters got what they desired: “Elliott achieved social eminence, Isabel achieved a secure position, Sophie, death, and Larry found happiness.”

What are you searching for?  You will find it.

* Photo of The Razor’s Edge – Source Wikimedia under Fair use

Success doesn’t come overnight, but neither does failure.

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We plant seeds every day, seeds of success and seeds of failure. Some seeds take years to grow – lack of exercise doesn’t grow into the tree of ill health for many decades; €100 saved per month doesn’t grow into € millions for many decades.

Today a court case finished. It relates to a business I ran years ago. I signed a loan guarantee that I should not have signed… but in the boom years of 2007-2008 it felt rude to say no to this clause in the contract… a bad decision. I had a sense that it was wrong when I was signing the deal back in 2007. Now I feel the fruits of that poorly judged seed of failure. I hope there is only one piece of fruit from that poor seed.

Most seeds require good soil and cultivation to grow. Both seeds of failure and seeds of success don’t grow without our help.

Most of the successes that I enjoy this year are the fruits of seeds that were planted years ago. People that I met years ago and have kept in contact for years, and now they ask me to come and work with their company.

The Most Important Seeds: People We Meet

I think the most important seeds of success are the people we meet. One person can change our whole life.  This idea struck me today when I read Michael’s blog post: Creating the Perfect Elevator Pitch.  His exact words:

"The beauty of life is that one conversation can change your world.  One “yes” can make all the difference.  One conversation, one introduction, one chance encounter is sometimes all it takes.  Life can turn on a dime, but you have to be willing to put yourself out there and be ready for those conversations for this change to occur." Read More...

Dwight Eisenhower was very close to formal discharge from the military when he met and impressed General George C. Marshall. That one meeting transformed his whole life. Instead of piece-work in a factory, he went on to be Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces and then a 2 term US President.  (Read the Eisenhower story here).

I wonder whether we can know who we will meet today that could have this big transformational impact on our future life? Can we know? It could be a young student in one of my MBA programs. It could be anyone. I suspect the more that I think I can identify who it will be, the more wrong I will become.

So, I guess the answer is to be open to each person that I meet today. To see them not for who they are today, but to know that in each person lies such enormous potential should they choose to apply themselves.

Who have you met today?  Who did you listen to today?