In her New York Times bestselling book Becoming, Michelle Obama uses a phrase that for me found deep resonance: the sound of striving. She was referring to her childhood and to the sounds of amateur music coming through the floorboards to the upper floor of the Southside Chicago home where she and her family lived (and where her aunt taught youngsters piano). But it was the deeper meaning of anyone striving to be better that struck a chord. And without a doubt, there's a sound that goes with it.
Striving And Success
In my own world, it isn't budding Chopins, Stevie Wonders, or Alicia Keys who define the sounds of striving, but entrepreneurs. And the sounds determining success for them might surprise you. Yet before the sounds of entrepreneurial striving can mean anything to you, it's critical to understand that striving anywhere, like success, lacks an endpoint. Though we attempt to fix it in place, true success is a perpetual dynamic of staying open and learning. More than just learning, it involves teaching as well, and the willingness to fill those roles back and forth, over and over. In short, success is striving, in entrepreneurship for sure, but frankly anywhere. When you know that, suddenly the sounds of striving make more sense and hold more power.
How To Listen To The Sounds of Striving
Here are three key sounds to tune into if success is your objective:
1. No Sound.
One of the best sounds a budding entrepreneur can hear is no sound at all - at least in the form of the sound of your own voice. It's tough being an entrepreneur or for that matter a groundbreaking creative of any type. Much of the time, and especially early on before your idea takes hold, you spend a lot of time in your own head. It's your ideas that begin things. It's your job to counter the objections your brilliance is often met with. Boost or barrier, it's you who has to keep you going. Once you hit stride however it can be hard to turn that voice down, to give it a deserved rest, but also and more importantly, to enable yourself to hear new things. A little silence now and then is a good thing. It's also the surest sign you're doing something else that makes or breaks an entrepreneur: listening.
2. Other People's Voices.
It's true you tire of hearing other people's rejections, skepticism, and sometimes even their cluelessness (yes, that has a sound too). But hearing other people's voices plays an important role as well - especially when it's part of an open, honest exchange. The fact is that no matter how good your idea, no idea is strong enough to carry the full load across the continuum from idea to impact. To be truly breakthrough and more, to be realized, ideas must accumulate. They must add to one another, replace each other, and morph into entirely new combinations. That can only happen if others are involved - and only if you're really open to their voices. The journey from exploring new ground to breaking ground is a team sport. Be sure your listening for the sounds that confirm a team and not just an ego surrounded by minions.
3. Your Gut.
Some people fear believing in it - but as the song goes, that's just some people talking. Turning off the sound, listening, truly hearing others... in the end all of these are really about returning you to your own voice - that soulful driver that reminds you of what you want and why. Before anyone else joins the game, it's that deeply resonate sound you hear first and most clearly, the one that lives at your core, the one that told you it was time to change the game in the first place.
So even as you open up to other sounds, don't forget this one. It needs help and a break now and then, but it's the only one that can truly tell you how you should strive and what success means to you.