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The importance of personal success

25 January 2011

Young people are often idealistic, and rightly so; we should all be idealistic. However, in many cases their idealism leads them to only want to work for charities, non-governmental organisations and other "obviously good" employers, as opposed to commercial organisations. Unfortunately this can lead them to under-utilise their skills and reduce their earnings potential as well as stunting their long term career satisfaction.

When trying to guide such youngsters, I often refer to the picture below:

Photograph of oxygen masks descending in an aeroplane compartmentThe airline safety drills always emphasise that if you are traveling with young children, you should put your own oxygen mask on first before putting the mask on your child. The advice is critical, as a parent's natural instinct will be to put their child first.

However, if you lost consciousness while trying to help your child, you will be putting both your lives in jeopardy. Having a breathable oxygen supply equips you far better for assisting your child.

Similarly, being personally successful magnifies your ability to help others, in three main ways:

  1. If you are rich, you can give money away. As an extreme example, look at the gifts that Bill Gates has made aimed at ending malaria in Africa.
  2. You have far more impact on a hierarchical organisation if you are at the top than if you are at the bottom. For example, if a Muslim is the CEO of a large company (and some Muslims are), then it is unlikely to discriminate against Muslims.
  3. Simply by existing as a success, you motivate others. For example young children from underprivileged backgrounds all around the world will have been inspired by the life story of Barack Obama.

In my view, the single most important thing you can do to make the world a better place is to be personally successful yourself. If your success is based upon fair dealing, hard work and integrity, you have no reason to feel guilty about making large amounts of money or about any other tangible measure of success. By succeeding, you are equipping yourself to help others more, and can also give significant amounts of help along the way as your career progresses.


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