Why I Will Never Achieve My Potential
I know I could achieve more. But I haven’t. And won’t. I know why. Will you suffer my fate?
I am so grateful for what I’ve managed to do and achieve in my little career to date. Yet I am plagued with a sense I missed the boat. It’s entirely my own doing. What shackles me, and continues to do so, is my obsession with an Aussie expression and attitude that has helped me – and through emotion and arrogance, has held me back. Here it is.
Have a go, you mug.
To me, ‘having a go’ is about being true to who you are, saying things the way you see them, being bold, blunt sometimes (telling the truth), shaking it up. In our business culture, though, this can be fatal. Particularly if like me you don’t always have the smarts, tact or emotional intelligence to control yourself at key moments.
Quoting Tom Peters: ‘If you want a career on the high seas, don’t join the merchant navy. Become a pirate instead!’
Be a friendly pirate, who breaks the rules a little and ruffles feathers, who is loved by some and disliked by others (but is rarely just ‘liked’), who stirs emotions, who sometimes falls flat on his or her face, but always picks themselves up, and laughs into the wind, thumbing their noses at the cleanskins.
Friendly pirates though always add value, and inspire. They do the right thing, but march to their own drumbeat. Yes, these types sometimes miss out from the power and the glory, but they never miss out from the exhileration and self-respect that comes from being themselves, from taking risk, through embracing boldness, uncertainty and chutzpah.
I was reminded about this when reading an article on the new CEO of one of our largest companies: ‘He did something smart: he did not stuff up. He spent his career trying to be a cleanskin. His natural caution prevented him from embarking on risky projects that could backfire.’
Now, good on him! And I mean that. His approach has delivered for him one of the biggest roles in corporate Australia. Politicians are good at it. Japanese Prime Minister Abe is described as having underpinned his success by ‘keeping his mouth shut. Abe is smart enough to keep his inner feelings hidden.’
A poker player I am not. My emotions and a touch of mischief let me down. Maybe it’s because I don’t ever want to be described as the kind of person epitomised by Paul Keatings’s description of John Hewson: ‘He probably gets out of the shower to do a wee.’ Squeaky clean. Prim and proper.
I’d much rather have been General Paton than Eisenhower. Yes- I know. Crazy! Eisenhower was a giant, who did giant-like things.
Paton? Quite simply, he makes my heart beat faster. He knew his flaws: his irrational emotion, his delicate ego, his habit of ‘putting his foot in it’ and saying politically-incorrect things. I admire him because of his boldness: he went for it: he gave it a go. He broke the rules. While often derided by his peers and bosses, and overlooked for key roles, HE was the General his foes feared, and respected, most. Same is true with Churchill. Mistake-ridden. Emotional. Impossible. In that ‘darkest hour’ even his own party did not want him as Prime Minister. But as King George VI whispered in his ear: ‘Your appointment struck fear into Hitler’s heart. It’s you who he fears most.’
So what’s my point?
Be yourself. Be true to who you are. Be a disrupter, in a positive way. Help create the right momentum. Strive for action. Break a few rules. Don’t be a hothead, or let arrogance deplete your impact – as I have on occasion. Do be prepared to stir it up – even if you get slapped for it from time to time.
I met with the CEO of one of the big marketing holding companies last week. He’d been at a conference I’d MC-ed a few months ago. I said something at that event that got the crowd fired up. He wanted to discuss it, as he’d disagreed with me. ‘Maybe I should not have said it?’ I mused as we chatted, feeling a bit of a banana once again for saying what I had felt and pissing some people off. ‘No way!’ he exclaimed. ‘You stirred emotions and got the crowd engaged. I wish we’d been able to debate it all afternoon.’
My favourite author is but vaguely remembered today. W. Somerset Maugham. In his time, the most popular writer in the world. Yet he was a realist, describing his talent: ‘I am firmly in the front row of the second division.’ That’s how I feel about my own little career – in my little world. I could have been that pirate, but done it so very much more effectively. Yes – I know there’s still time to kick a bigger goal, but my ambition has moved on.
‘Have a go, you mug.’ Do it well, and you will end up having that sunset drink (when you decide it’s sunset time) with complete knowledge that you ‘turned up’.
Possumites. Ask yourselves: are you shaking it up, challenging and disrupting, in small ways in whatever it is you do? Are you telling the truth? I hope so. Please- just do it with intelligence and tact. Do that, and you’ll end up in the front row of the Premier League! (Go the Hammers!).
I don’t expect you all to agree, by the way. In fact, I hope many of you don’t. That’s my point, I guess. Stirring emotions and debate. Cleanskins avoid it. Pirates thrive in it. Come on now!!! Have a go, you mug!