The price of success is always higher than we think


“Why doesn’t a musician go straight to a ‘greatest hits’ record and save everyone a lot of time and hassle? Because no one knows anything.”
Seth Godin

So much success comes through a combination of hard work, perseverance, and not running out of money, luck, and experience. But then it’s easy for a creator or reporter to claim a simple set of principles was all that was required to succeed.

While not wrong, talking about why someone won a single game is very different from winning another unplayed game. So many people have much more failure than the cleaned up press. 

I worked for a company that had a book come out about the internal culture, where a number of truthful stories were quite idealized. After reading about one perk, teammates asked, “Wait, can we really use this perk?”

It ends up that perk was isolated to a small team and a lot more complicated than the story let on.

The book claimed that the company paid for any employee to have a networking lunch. It turns out this perk applied to only one engineering team when the employee did a presentation back to the team for learning purposes. Cool idea, but way oversold in the book.

What you read in the business press is never the full story.

What you read in the business press is never the full story. This doesn’t mean there aren’t good principles to take from reading about other businesses but realize they are rarely the full story.

If you feel down when you see the success of others, thinking they have it all figured out, just stop. The appearance of success – real success.

The price of success in one domain can be complete failure in another. Read anything about Steve Jobs as a parent to get one stark example. Same with Einstein as a husband.

In his book The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch states that people asked him how he got tenure so early. He’d offer to share his secret if they came by his office late on a Friday night. Most success is the tip of a very large hard-work iceberg.


  • Success in a single domain usually has a high price
  • Those who are very successful in one domain often pay that high price with poor performance in other domains
  • Comparison is toxic, especially comparing your current work to the greatest hits of others
  • Keep calm and carry on. You’re doing great.
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Ryan Seamons writes about more human approaches to modern management.

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