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What Successful Entrepreneurs Have in Common
 

Quit trying to fit some mold of who you think you're supposed to be or what you're supposed to do. Success doesn't work that way.

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If you could somehow get to know lots of successful entrepreneurs and business leaders, you'd learn that they have one and only one thing in common: absolutely nothing. There simply is no one-size-fits-all model for business success. But you can waste an awful lot of time searching for one, that's for sure.

The other day I was checking out a reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) session with Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress--you know, the content management system that powers the blogosphere and 60 million websites--and some of what the guy had to say really resonated with me.

When asked for advice on starting up a profitable business, the 29 year-old entrepreneur wrote, "It's really hard not to be distracted by the things you think you should be doing. You'll get a lot of contradictory advice, and often neither side is wrong."

I couldn't agree more. It's more than a little disturbing to think that loads of people with serious potential to do great things are walking around with a molded image of who they're supposed to be or what they're supposed to do in their heads. That's so not how it works.

Entrepreneurial success isn't about trying to fit somebody else's notion of what it takes to be successful. It doesn't matter one bit if you sleep in and get nothing done before noon, your office looks like it was hit by a tornado, or you're not the most pleasant person to be around.

It doesn't even matter if you have no personal brand and you don't know a tweet from an app.

What matters is that you get to know the genuine you and the world around you. That you put yourself out there and try new things. That, at some point, you figure out what you love to do or are unusually good at. That you somehow get to do that for a living. And, if you're really lucky, that there's actually a market for it.

Steve Jobs was Steve Jobs because he didn't follow anyone else's image of who he should be or what he should do. "Think Different" wasn't just a tagline or an ad campaign. It personified him. Likewise for Bill Gates, Larry Page, Richard Branson, Howard Schultz, and Masayoshi Son.

The truth is that every remarkable executive, entrepreneur, VC, or business leader I've ever known has done things his own way. Granted, they had friends and mentors--people they trusted and listened to--but they always trusted their gut to make the final call. And they didn't sweat that they were different. Unconventional. Strange. Eccentric.

The only thing they all had in common was how different they were. Some were extraverted but most weren't. Lots of them had a chip on their shoulder, like they had something to prove. Some had bigger-than-life egos and a relentless need to reinforce it. Most started with nothing, but some didn't. They generally weren't "happy go lucky" people. Most didn't have a dream or a vision. They just did what they loved and were great at making things happen.

Come to think of it, maybe there was actually something they all had in common. They never thought about being rich and famous. And they never referred to themselves as entrepreneurs, leaders, or successful. They just were.

Here's the thing. If you have a gift, you'll eventually find it. If you've got something special in you, sooner or later, it will show itself. If there's a unique place for you in this world, it will find you. The only thing you really need to do for all that to happen is this:

Don't stop yourself. Don't hold yourself back. Don't be your own worst enemy. Let yourself be you, the genuine you. Put yourself out there. Take one day at a time. Take risks. Make things happen. Get things done. And when you do, look and see how things turn out. Gain confidence from your successes, strength from your failures, and wisdom from all your experience.

Does that sound too easy? Trust me when I tell you, it isn't. It's way, way harder than it sounds. It's actually a huge challenge. That's why so few manage to achieve it. But hey, Matt Mullenweg did. And I seriously doubt if he had any time to try to be like anyone else. He was probably way too busy writing code.

Last updated: Aug 8, 2013

STEVE TOBAK is a management consultant, an executive coach, and a former senior executive of the technology industry. He's managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a Silicon Valley-based strategy consulting firm. Contact Tobak; follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
@SteveTobak




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