Cost of Being Great

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One of the things that a lot of successful people do is read and learn about other successful individuals who possess certain traits they wish to attain, in an effort to model their behavior to some degree. For example, President Ronald Reagan was a big admirer of Thomas Paine. You can find many quotes from Paine, as well as some of the same ideals, throughout Reagan’s presidency. When I first learned that this is a common habit of successful people, it made sense to me, so I started thinking about what traits I wanted to develop, and who embodied them. One of the most important factors to success, in my opinion, is your passion and undying dedication to your goal. You have to be able to set your sights on your target objective, and then do whatever you have to do to make it happen. The person who I thought was almost the perfect example of this skill was Steve Jobs. So, I downloaded his biography on my Kindle, and I got to reading.

Scott Drotar Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs revolutionized the computer industry and achieved great success, but at what cost?

I want to start by saying that I am still an admirer of Jobs, and he is without a doubt one of the most influential people of the last 50 years. After reading his biography though, and subsequently watching the movie “Jobs,” (which is actually fairly accurate and gives you the broad strokes of his life, but as usual the book was better) I have come to realize that the passion, unyielding dedication, and perfectionism that he possessed, and which I greatly admire, comes with a price. The price for his greatness, to put it frankly, was that he was seen as a selfish asshole. Jobs was so fixated on his vision, his dream, that he was unable to see how his decisions impacted the lives of those around him, and at times, he even failed to see how his actions would effect himself. After finishing his biography, although I still think about how he would go about achieving a goal, how he would always think about his target audience, and how he would dream big, I also use his life as a cautionary tale of having tunnel vision. My hope is that I can manage to model his positive qualities without losing my perspective, but I fear it may be necessary to make this enormous sacrifice if you want to be as great as someone like Jobs.

Jobs possessed many qualities that I am trying to cultivate in my own life in order to make Roll Models as successful as possible. The most important factor in his success was his ability to see things from the point of view of his target audience. Computers were a luxury device for businesses and universities up until the mid-70s when Steve came along with a new vision. He wanted to make an inexpensive, user-friendly computer for the “average Joe,” and he always kept this in mind as he developed his products. As a speaker, this is a skill I must develop if I want my message to be well received by my audience. For instance, if I am speaking to high school students, I would want to structure my talk differently than if I was speaking to a group of adults or children, because they have differing life experiences. This is a skill I have really been working on over the last few months, and it is already yielding positive results.

Scott Drotar Greatness
I will spend hours dissecting and editing my Roll Models talks until they are not good, but great.

Another key component to the success of Jobs was his undying dedication to perfection and achieving his goal. He was unwilling to make concessions to his vision for the sake of saving time or money. Creating an ok or good product was not enough for him. He had a vision of creating something great and different, and he was not going to settle for anything less. I try to embody this same mentality when I am preparing my Roll Models talks. I will continue to edit and revise my material and change my delivery until I get that feeling in my belly that says, “Yes! That’s a powerful message.” Even coming up with the correct title for my talks is something I devote a lot of time and energy to, and I will go through probably a dozen titles before finding the “right” one. I am only willing to present something great to my audience. I don’t want to settle for merely being a good speaker, because no one remembers them. The speakers that are remembered, the ones who change people’s lives forever, aren’t just good, they are great.

Scott Drotar Distortion Field
Leave it to a bunch of computer geeks to name the amazing charisma of Jobs after something from Star Trek.

The trait that Jobs may be most known for, and that was a vital piece in his success, was his charisma. In his biography, they refer to his ability to get people excited to follow his vision the “reality distortion field.” This phrase, born from the sci-fi series, “Star Trek,” referred to Steve’s ability to alter your reality and the way you see things. He would be so charismatic, passionate, and energetic about an idea that seemed impossible, that he was able to get people to share his vision and actually do the impossible. Although this often meant that those working with him had to work long and hard to create the reality he envisioned, but it also meant that they got to be part of something truly great. As a speaker who is trying to get people to make positive changes in their lives, I need to develop this ability to get others to believe in my message. I am working on becoming more charismatic and exuding more sincerity, passion, and confidence, in order to build a stronger rapport with my listeners. By creating a connection with my audience, I can create my own “distortion field” to help people get around the excuses and mental roadblocks preventing them from making the necessary changes they need to lead a happy, successful life.

Along with these positive, powerful attributes that I admire, Steve Jobs also had many negative qualities. A couple byproducts of his immense passion for his vision were his unwillingness to compromise and unhealthy level of perfectionism. He would get so fixated on what most would consider minute details and trivialities, that he would make people redo the same thing again and again until it was exactly how he envisioned it. This not only exhausted and alienated his coworkers, but it also caused him to frequently come in over budget and miss deadlines. Another negative trait of his was his willingness to sacrifice anyone and anything to achieve his dream. This is what eventually led to his being ousted from Apple, and it is a big part of why he had very few, if any, lasting, healthy relationships during his life. His unparalleled devotion to his goals that made him such a revolutionary figure in technology and computing is also what made him a selfish, uncaring social pariah in his personal life. This is what led me to ask, “Is it possible to be one and not the other?

It seems reasonable that achieving the level of success of someone like Steve Jobs will require some sacrifices. If you devote the time and energy necessary to create something great and revolutionary, you will not have the resources to also maintain all of the other areas of your life. This is just a fact of life that I doubt surprises anyone. I think that making some sacrifices to create something new and great to help people is the cost of admission for having the incredible success of someone like Jobs. The question becomes then, “At what point is the cost of greatness too high?” Is having your name in textbooks and being remembered as a genius who changed the world for years after you are dead, worth your happiness and relationships while you are alive? You have to decide how far you are willing to go to reach your goals, and what you are willing to sacrifice to get there. Like everything in this world, you have to find the right balance between your legacy and living a fulfilling life, and only you can decide what that balance is. As you find yourself putting more and more of your time and effort into a certain part of your life, make sure you aren’t wearing blinders. Step back and take stock of the cost of your goal, and ask yourself if you are willing to pay that price. Although you and I may never be as great as Steve Jobs, we can still achieve great things by modeling his positive traits to a lesser extent, and we will not have to make the huge sacrifices he did. If you manage to maintain this balance between achieving your dreams and living your life, you will not just be remembered as great, but also happy. I can’t think of anything more successful than that.

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