Josh Kopel, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in San Diego, is a restaurateur, tech pioneer, and host of Full Comp, a podcast hosting thought leaders from Seth Godin to chef Andrew Zimmern as they work to chart the path forward for one of the world's largest industries. As a restaurateur whose businesses and industry suffered devastating losses due to Covid-19, we asked Josh what success means to him. Here's what he shared:

As an entrepreneur and restaurateur, all I ever wanted was for my restaurant to have a busy dinner service. So, we worked hard, provided exceptional experiences for our guests, and achieved that all-important goal.

Then, we needed a busy happy hour.

Then, we needed a busy weekend brunch.

Then, we needed a busy lunch service.

Then, we needed recognition by the Michelin Guide.

Then, we opened another restaurant down the street--and the process began again!

As an entrepreneur, does that way of thinking sound familiar?

What's most interesting about the entrepreneurial spirit is the plasticity with which we measure success. We set our sights on a new target as soon as we realize the current target is within our grasp. This quality--ambition paired with extraordinary self-motivation--has propelled me to professional success in every tier of dining.

It also left a hole in my heart so large that I wondered if it could ever be filled. How is it possible to hit every goal, exceed every expectation, yet still feel nothing? After 20 years of soul-searching, I've come up with an answer: Success is not a feeling.

What is success?

It seems we've all been sitting at the station waiting for a train that's never going to arrive--let's call it the "Feeling of Success" train. Why? Because feelings ebb and flow. They have more to do with what we eat than what we accomplish in any given week. Feelings are a product of our body reacting to external and internal stimuli. They have little to do with professional success and even less to do with personal success.

If that's true, then what is success? I would argue that success is a mindset.

Success is a choice we make every single day. It's choosing to look into the entrepreneurial abyss and say, "I can make it to the other side." It's choosing to see the glass half full.

Success is the belief that we can make a difference. It's the mindset I adopted years ago when I decided to change the world by helping to change my industry. If you have to feel successful to know that you are successful, then you will never be successful.

Here are three ways the realization that success is a mindset has changed me.

  1. For starters, the pressure is off--internally, at least. The journey is now the destination. Understanding that has made an enormous difference in my daily life. Disappointments, frustrations and setbacks do not block my path to success; they are my path of success. Inasmuch as you can appreciate when unfortunate things happen, I find myself grateful for having the opportunity to live this life and face these problems.
  2. I've stopped managing and started leading. I've put systems in place to ensure that my sole focus is defining what success looks like in every position within my company, empowering others to adopt the mindset of success. Managers work to improve behavior; leaders provide the reasons for improvement. Collectively, we dream a new dream of true hospitality, evolving the customer service experience into something that transcends a financial transaction. The service of others must come from an authentic place, and success can only be defined through mindset. Taking care of others is a calling, not a job.
  3. I've found a new appreciation and love for myself. Professionally, I push harder than ever, but there's a different intention behind it. I have nothing more to prove to myself or others. I do my best every single day and then rest easy. I am no longer defined by my achievements or my failures, though I still find joy in the pursuit.

Life is binary; you're either dead or alive. Living, on the other hand, is a very different story. I was only living half of a life, choosing not to feel happiness or satisfaction until I had achieved the arbitrary (and meaningless) goals that I set for myself. That was a mistake. I now choose to enjoy happiness and satisfaction each day.

Today, especially in light of the global pandemic, I look at my life--my wife, my daughter and this present moment--and I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I'm grateful that I was blessed with the perfect mix of optimism and foolishness that breeds entrepreneurs. I am also thankful that, after 20 years of entrepreneurship, I've finally realized the importance of applying those qualities to my personal life as well.