In Praise Of Achievement

Jim Blasingame If you were to refer to someone who had acquired wealth, fame, position, credentials, etc., you would probably use some variation of the word "success." But there is another word, achieve, that you could have used, because it means essentially the same thing: to accomplish a desired result. Indeed, Webster is unable to define either of these without using the other.

So, why don't we use achieve as often as we use success? Well, perhaps it's because of the kinds of words they are. Achieve is a transitive verb, meaning it must have an object to go with it, as in, achieve a master's degree. And not only is success a noun, which makes it handier than a verb, even succeed, which is a verb, is actually an intransitive verb, which means it doesn't need an object - it can stand alone. Yes, achievement is a noun, too, but you wouldn't say, she was achievement. (Don't be too impressed - I'm not an expert grammarian - I looked all this up.)

Sexy Wins Again
But grammar isn't the real reason success trumps achieve. The reason is because achieve is just not as sexy a word as success. In describing accomplishment, achieve is me in a gray flannel suit, and success is Ricky Martin in a red-hot salsa outfit.

When we think about success, succeed, or successful, we typically are thinking of the end result, as in, standing at the finish line holding the trophy, or the check. But when we think about achievement, unfortunately, there is more of a connotation of work and effort than celebration.

The reason I think it's unfortunate is because accomplishing our goals is more about achievement than success. Anyone who has ever been successful in most endeavors, especially in the marketplace, will tell you it's more about work and effort than about high fives, trophies, and cashing checks. The great actress, Helen Hayes, gave us something to think about when she said, "Always strive for achievement. Forget about success." I'm not going to tell you to forget about success, but I would like for us to start focusing a little more on the concept of achievement.

High Achievement Factors
One of my Brain Trust members has spent a lot of time studying high achievement. B. Eugene Griessman is the author of a number of books and tapes, including the audiotape, The Path To High Achievement. Since I've gotten to know Gene over the past few years, I think I now understand why he chose to use achievement rather than success: Gene knows that having success is much more than the ultimate results of your efforts.

Achievement requires work and effort, alright. But as he interviewed some of modern history's highest achievers, Gene identified common characteristics that also contribute to high achievement, and all of these characteristics manifest themselves long before anyone flourishes a checkered flag. Here are some of the characteristics of high achievers from Gene's audiotape, followed by my thoughts.

1. The Power Of Self Knowledge
Gene says this is knowing your strengths and weaknesses. I think this may be the most important characteristic anyone seeking excellence can have. The ultimate uncommon denominator is our individuality - who we are. We are the only ones who can make adjustments in ourselves when needed. If we can't see ourselves, we aren't capable of self-analysis, which makes us doomed to repeat the same mistakes when we are 50 as the ones we made at 25. High achievers have the ability to critique themselves and make adjustments.

2. Competence
Most of the high achievers I know are multi-faceted - talented in several areas. But Gene found out that the thoroughbreds he interviewed were able to identify one thing that they were really good at, and make that one thing the focus of their careers. In small business, I think this should translate to doing what we know, but especially doing what we love.

3. Time Consciousness
A commodity is something that is readily available and essentially the same for all, like a soybean or a gold bar. Time fits this definition, but it is a commodity more precious than gold. If you don't believe me, ask any aging billionaire. Gene says high achievers don't waste time. Period. For small business owners, the challenge is when to invest our personal time and when to invest working capital? When do we do a particular task ourselves, and when do we hire someone to do it?

4. Learn From Mistakes
High achievers don't like failure and mistakes any more than anyone else. But Gene says they are more likely to see through the disappointment, recognize the value in setbacks, and actually use them as leverage in their next assault on the quest for excellence. As I've written before, failure is the harness-mate of success, and you and I will be hitched to both as long as we strive for achievement.

5. The Power Of Perception
Have you ever known a person who found a niche and rode that discovery to high achievement? When you contemplate what they did, you think, "Anybody could have thought of that!" Gene says high achievers do common things uncommonly well. High achievers have the ability to see things in ways not apparent to the masses. Make yourself available to the power of perception. The niche opportunity that you see might be totally missed by Bill Gates or Ted Turner.

6. The Power Of Decision
Shakespeare wrote, "We must take the current when it serves, or lose our venture." One of the most important things any mentor ever told me was to make lots of decisions. History has shown that an army with a poor battle plan boldly executed will defeat an army with a great plan tentatively executed. Indecision is to achievement as kryptonite is to Superman. The challenge is to know when not to be a fool rushing in, and when to seize the day. I think we meet this challenge best when we make lots of decisions.

7. Persistence
Did you know that stick-to-itiveness is a real word? It's a noun coined in 1884, meaning dogged perseverance. High achievers personify this word. They know what they want and go after it, even if it take longer than they think. There are many overnight successes that were years in the making. Another member of my Brain Trust, Marc Allen, author of Visionary Business, says his first five-year plan took 10 years. Gene says high achievers actually anticipate resistance and disappointment, and are prepared for it. I have never known a high achiever who wasn't a profile in persistence.

8. The Power Of Motivation
The world isn't easier on high achievers than everybody else, but they have an uncommon ability to motivate themselves when others would give up. Motivation is actually an alloy of most of the characteristics already mentioned here, plus faith in oneself. Whoever said "It's lonely at the top," sure must have been thinking about small business owners. We have to know how to motivate others, and then motivate ourselves. But that gets back to loving what you do. Someone else said, "If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life." Well said.

9. The Ability To Focus
One of the things I have noticed about high achievers is an incredible ability to concentrate - to stay focused on their objectives until their goal is achieved. In The Path To High Achievement, Gene says Hank Aaron told him, "The thing that separates the superstar from the average player is the ability to concentrate a little more." Large companies have people who concentrate on the short-term stuff, and another group who focuses on the long-term stuff. Small business owners don't have that luxury. Our challenge is to concentrate on the task at hand while simultaneously staying focused on our long-range direction. It's a big challenge ably met by high achievers.

Write this on a rock... As small business owners, it's important to strive for success. But remember - no one lives their life in the winner's circle. I believe if we focus on high achievement first, our successes will be even sweeter.

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