A lot of people have become quite successful from a career and financial perspective by seeming to always have a chip on their shoulder. There was some slight, insecurity, or need for total dominance that feeds the creation of enemies to fuel their drive and success. I have been listening to Michael Ovitz’s autobiography on Audible and this was clearly the case for him as his goal at CAA was total domination of the agency industry. For all intents and purposes, he achieved his goal as he and his two partners built a powerhouse agency. Ovitz was definitely the driving force in making it a reality. As he reflects on his life in the book, however, this domination came at a huge price.
The same is true for Howard Stern who is the most successful and listened to radio personality in history. He is very open about how insecure and unevolved he was when he started in the industry and grew to dominate it. The industry was not big enough for anyone else but him. He was intent on destroying the competition. Anyone that criticized him would be fair game for him doing what he could to belittle and humiliate them. He too has come to realize that this has come at a terrible cost to his happiness and well being. He has been able to turn these insecurities into aids in some ways as his brutal honesty about himself and his sincere regrets have made celebrities feel more safe about coming on his show and the interviews he has done have been some of the most in-depth, interesting, and entertaining that I have ever heard. His insecurities and drive for success are so embedded in who he is that he does all he can to dive down deep into the lives and psyches of others to see if they had similar experiences and fears.
Ovitz and Stern are examples of people who made it to Mount Olympus and achieved fame and riches beyond their wildest dreams. And yet, when they got there they were still not fulfilled. The cost to get there was so high and the bridges burned too many to not feel some form of regret. I bring these two up because I read a report about Kevin Durant that he left the Golden State Warriors because he felt disrespected by the fans. He did not feel that they appreciated him and that it was always Steph Curry’s team and always would be.
I read something once about Socrates being on the road between Athens and another city in Greece. He asked a person on the road where he was coming from and he said Athens and Socrates wanted to know what the people were like there and the man said they were terrible. Socrates said that he would find the same in the city he was going to. He asked the same of the next person who was heading to Athens about the people in the city he had left. The man said the people were wonderful. Socrates said you will find the same in the people of Athens.
We often see what we want to see to help motivate us to keep moving forward.
I read a very short lecture by the father of psychology William James called “Is Life Worth Living?” on July 4th. Yes, I know, a very traditional American way of celebrating Independence Day. I did go to a barbecue as well so you can relax. While reading it there were times that I couldn’t help but think of Kevin Durant. One would think he would have been elated to stay with Golden State. He won two championships with them and was unequivocally the MVP of the two championships. And had he not been hurt for this year’s finals there’s a strong argument they would have won again. He would have made a lot more money staying with Golden State and if he didn’t have the fans’ appreciation prior to his injury there is no question he had it after sustaining his devastating Achilles tear. He was a warrior (pun intended) going out there in the condition he was in and he played great for the short period of time he was on the court. He made his presence felt. More importantly, his absence was a killer for the team. And yet he couldn’t get over feeling slighted and he decided to leave the Warriors behind for the Brooklyn Nets.
So what does this have to do with what I read?
My sense is that Durant struggles with being happy and that the way for him to rise above that is to find something to be against in order to motivate him. James wrote that “where the loving and admiring impulses are dead, the hating and fighting impulses will still respond to fit appeals.” James doesn’t view this with any type of judgment because at the end of the day he is trying to home in on the reasons why life is worth living so inventing enemies and grudges may be just what some people need. It was for Ovitz and Stern and the fact that it came at a high cost was not James’ concern as James was not focused on how to live a good life in this lecture but how to find the motivation to keep going in life.
James makes a powerful point that it’s the struggles of life that give life more meaning and provide more energy to us. He says the following:
“It is, indeed, a remarkable fact that sufferings and hardships do not, as a rule, abate the love of life; they seem, on the contrary, usually to give it a keener zest. The sovereign source of melancholy is repletion. Need and struggle are what excite and inspire us; our hour of triumph is what brings the void. Not the Jews of the captivity, but those of the days of Solomon’s glory are those from whom the pessimistic utterances in our Bibles come. Germany, when she lay trampled beneath the hoofs of Bonaparte’s troopers, produced perhaps the most optimistic and idealistic literature that the world has seen; and not till the French “milliards” were distributed after 1871 did pessimism overrun the country in the shape in which we see it there today. The history of our own race is one long commentary on the cheerfulness that comes with fighting ills.”
So maybe Durant is onto something after winning two championships and achieving immense fame and fortune. He now has the challenge of his career in recovering from his injury and returning to top form and maybe the motivation he needs is to show Golden State fans that they should not have taken him for granted and he will do this by coming back stronger than ever with another team.
I know at CWS we are never more focused than when times are tough because we have no choice but to do what is necessary to work through our challenges because the alternative could be not being in business. It binds the organization to a powerful mission and the esprit de corps is extraordinary. Our choices are limited and we know what we have to do. When prosperity re-emerges, that is when we have to be intent on staying focused and always challenging ourselves to do better, to find those areas of weakness that may be masked by strong market conditions, to invest in our core capabilities, and not take things for granted. Prosperity can sow the seeds of future poverty so one must be ever vigilant against this. Of course, this is much easier said than done. Like Ovitz, Stern, and Durant, we have to keep telling ourselves that we have to continue earning the trust of our investors, lenders, employees, and residents because there are too many others that will do whatever it takes to capitalize on our shortfalls and hubris.
And from personal experience, I have started playing tennis more regularly again and I must say I relish the challenge of getting my head back in the game when I’m down and trying to recover versus having an easy match from beginning to end. I know I’m building up my muscle of resilience by having these challenges and I feel much more invigorated afterward. It also results in more exercise as this usually means the set or sets take longer and I get to work on my conditioning as well as mental fortitude.
So if you’re feeling a bit sapped of energy or motivation, then try to find something that angers you or something you feel you need to prove and this might just be the Kickstarter you need to get going again because as the Grateful Dead sing in Uncle John’s Band:
“Cause when life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door.”