Vidal Sassoon Told Me This Key To Success- Have You Got It?

Vidal Sassoon styling Mary Quant’s hair

Hairdressing icon Vidal Sassoon died a couple of days ago. To hairdressers, he was quite simply a rock star. But it was something he told me almost 20 years ago that I want to share with you today. It startled me when he said it, and the truth of it resounds just as powerfully today. See if you agree.

Vidal Sassoon – self-made, highly driven and from a grindingly poor background – revolutionized the hairdressing craft. His obituary in The Sydney Morning Herald read: “An astute businessman, he made a fortune from his salons and products, and became a household name.”

I was having lunch with him during a promotional tour we were coordinating in the mid-1990s. I asked him about his success and fame. It was then he told me a simple truth that not only underpins my approach to my career and life, but is something I have shared with as many people as I can. This is what Vidal told me.

“You know, when I die I will probably be remembered most not for what I achieved in the hairdressing industry- but rather for something I once said. You’ll find this quote in most books of quotes.”

“The only place you will find success coming before work is in a dictionary.”

Think about it. If you want to succeed (however you define success), you have to work at it. Consistently.  Persistently.

I am a great believer in this philosophy- and have evolved how I implement it as my career and life have progressed.

Putting In The Hard Yards Is A Price Of Entry

During the first 20 years of my career, there is no doubt my star rose faster than many others because I quite simply worked harder than just about anyone else. I certainly was not smarter, so I drove my career forward by underpinning the attributes I did have with bloody hard work. Consistently. Persistently.

Now- in fairness, I went too far for sure, and for many years devoted my life, literally, to work. I’d work most weekends, and brutally long hours during the week. In truth, I loved it. And in truth, I kind of regret it now, as I did miss out on a lot of ‘life’ during that 20 year period.

I do shake my head in wonder though as I see some of the younger people coming into this industry, expecting fame and fortune without being prepared to put in the hard yards. If you want to get ahead, there is a price to pay. No doubt some of you will be horrified by such an ‘old fashioned’ view. So be it. Point is, I have never seen anyone ‘succeed’ (in anything) without working really, really hard at it. Sometimes that involves long hours, and certainly so in the early years.

I am not advocating it as a habit, but heck, sometimes, we’ve just got to put it in. It helps if you love what you do, as I have done, because then it simply is not hard work- it’s just good fun.

Getting The ‘Hard Work’ Focus Just About Right- Here’s The Trick

As my career developed, I remained a consistent, persistent  hard worker. I remain so today. But now I do it differently. I cannot (my view) be described as being a slave to my desk or job. Instead, I have worked hard to be as productive and efficient as I can be- to ensure I get more of the important things done every day. In this way, I have more time for those other important things and responsibilities in my life.

I make it a habit to work relentlessly, every day, with pace and vigor. But I don’t work long hours. Unless I am traveling or have work dinner commitments (both are much more regular features these days, and invasive, but- hey- it comes with the territory of a great role like this), I am usually home by 6.45pm, and very rarely work on the weekends (hard not to think about work issues often though…). And I still get my job done pretty well.

The Key Message

If you want to ‘succeed’ and realize your full potential, you have to be prepared to put in the hard yards when it counts.

As careers gain momentum, keep working on your own productivity and effectiveness, ensuring you get done more of the important stuff every day. In this way you have more time available for ‘the rest’ of your life.

Now I still get that balance very wrong on occasion, and often let people down (usually myself- I still don’t give myself the time I need for me- not sure why…working on it). But I am acutely aware of it, and work hard to get it right as often as I can. I work at it relentlessly.

And with this in mind, and in every sense, the only place success comes before work is in a dictionary. It’s not about long hours (though sometimes it simply is). It’s about working on it. Working on it. Working on it.  Enough already. I have to get back to work.

Vidal Sassoon with US Vogue Editor Anna Wintour

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11 Responses to Vidal Sassoon Told Me This Key To Success- Have You Got It?

  1. Erin May 16, 2012 at 10:34 am #

    Hi Chris,
    Love this post! What you said is so true indeed…In my role as a Recruiter, I see so many people who are all too eager to succeed, but yet are not prepared/do not put in the hard work. While I do believe in Work-Life balance and having “me time” every now and then to re-charge, I think one has to work really hard (especially in the initial years) to reach a certain level in your career before you can ask for the the much coveted WLB. Key is to get a job you love, and then be relentless in driving yourself to be not just good but great at it!

    • Chris Savage May 17, 2012 at 9:36 am #

      Thanks Erin. Agree entirely. Chris

  2. LizzyHughes May 16, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    Thanks Chris! another favourite saying of mine: the harder I work, the luckier I get…

    • Chris Savage May 16, 2012 at 4:14 pm #


    • Erin May 18, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

      “The harder I work, the luckier I get”… LOVE it!

  3. Craig Charnock May 16, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

    Too busy too comment. sorry!

    • Chris Savage May 17, 2012 at 9:36 am #

      Watch it Craig. I know where you live…

  4. Jeanne LaBash-Lewis May 17, 2012 at 9:38 pm #

    Meeting and working with Vidal was surprising in many ways. We expected ‘show’ and were surprised by the fact he listened, cared and was so gracious. Fun times, good messages, thanks for the memories!

    • Chris Savage May 18, 2012 at 9:54 am #

      Thanks Jeanne. As I recall it you and your team did all the work, and I took the glory. Just the way I like it! Much love….

  5. Mat February 4, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

    I love this saying – Bert says it in Mad Men and can describe your comment on work before success.

    ‘Sacagawea carried a baby all the way to the Pacific ocean and when that baby grew up, he thought he discovered America’


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