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This article was published on September 17, 2020

I don’t know how to succeed

Success is personal

I don’t know how to succeed

Boris is the wise ol’ CEO of TNW who writes a weekly column on everything about being an entrepreneur in tech — from managing stress to embracing awkwardness. You can get his musings straight to your inbox by signing up for his newsletter!

This morning I spoke at an event for professional athletes. The subject was ‘innovation versus winning’ — and I was obviously invited to talk about innovation. Feeling a bit out of place as a person with only a passing interest in sports, I joked I wasn’t a professional athlete, but could still relate as an amateur bodybuilder. If you’ve seen what I look like, you know why I got big laughs on that joke.

But joining me were some actual athletes as well. Marianne Timmer, a famous speed skater and Olympic gold medalist, was also a speaker at the event. After she ended her professional career as an athlete she became a coach, and she had some interesting learnings from the time she’d just started coaching.

She admitted her main mistake was thinking she actually knew how to be successful. She figured, “I won my medals, I know what it takes to become a winner, so just do as I say and you’ll get there too.” That didn’t quite work.

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[Read: Stop giving your co-workers vapid compliments]

She soon learned that achieving success is a personal challenge, and needs a personalized path. She had to first understand each pupil and find out what barriers they had to overcome, and which talents to develop. Only then could she help them succeed.

I’ve seen similar mistakes being made by successful entrepreneurs. The truth is every time period has its own challenges and opportunities — and every person has their own plan, talent, and network. There’s no ‘get rich quick’ formula that works for everyone, and simply mimicking the path a gold medalist took isn’t going to get you across the finish line.

This might feel discomforting, but it should also give us hope. If somebody else had all the answers, there wouldn’t be a challenge left for you to conquer. It also means you have an active role in your own success, understanding where your strengths and weaknesses lie.

Obviously that’s one way to comfort myself in these challenging times. TNW is almost 15 years old, and for a while I thought that gave me answers others didn’t have. Of course I do benefit from my experience, but often I’m reminded that the future is wide open: full of opportunities and challenges. It takes hard work, but you hold the key to your success.

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