I bet you’ve seen that movie about a certain social network and now you want to create the next big thing. Maybe you shouldn’t give up the day job as being a tech entrepreneur is a really tough gig. Movies, as I learned at an early age, are not real life. At six I wanted to be James Bond. A few years later I realized that being a badly paid civil servant who kills people for a living is not a good career choice. Becoming a Hollywood actor who plays James Bond would be way better, or so I thought.
On my fourteenth birthday a friend invited me to a film set. He loved the movie making process. To me, it was one of the most boring experiences of my life! Repeating the same line to camera seemed a dull way to make a living. What I didn’t get then was that whether you are a trained assassin, a software engineer or a Hollywood heartthrob perfecting your art takes years of soul crushing repetition. In the book ‘Outliers’ Malcolm Gladwell estimates that it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours or ten years of solid work.
So back to my old pal. Well he certainly perfected his art and is now a leading Hollywood movie director! Coincidentally it was rumored that he was in the running to direct the latest James Bond flick. Anyway, he is now happily married to his super model wife. He has a credit card that’s got no limit and a big black jet with a bedroom in it. Whereas I am single, I seem to live out of a suitcase as I’m always on the move, and I fly either first class or economy depending on my circumstances at the time (no private jet for me so far).
Financially, my friend has achieved a higher level of success than I have. A few years ago I was highly competitive with my peer group and I resented those who I viewed as more successful than me. I now know that this attitude is not only frivolous but it’s also very bad for my health. I have since made a conscious effort to reframe negative thoughts for my own peace of mind. These days I don’t compare my own success with others but instead celebrate their success. This my friends is what you call a winning strategy. If they win, you win. If you win, well, you win. Goodbye status anxiety – an affliction that plagues modern society – hello extended youth and mental well being.
This is a classic example of what Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert refers to as a ‘psychological immune system’. By reframing how we perceive adversity it is possible to literally create synthetic happiness as opposed to natural happiness, which is when we get what we want. It is almost like having a superpower! Repeated studies have shown that external factors such as wealth have very little to do with happiness.
The Positive Psychology movement that came up with all this stuff goes back to the 1950s. It branched from mainstream psychology to focus on making life more fulfilling. They found that there are three factors that impact happiness. First is a genetic level that is pre-set at birth. Second relates to uncontrollable factors such as a child born into wealth or poverty. Third are controllable circumstances such as an unsatisfactory job or a bad relationship.
What about optimism? Few entrepreneurs are pessimists for obvious reasons but studies indicate that too much optimism can be as negative as pessimism. Being overly optimistic leads to disappointment when an expected positive outcome don’t happen as anticipated. Furthermore being extremely optimistic can lead one to disregard potential pit falls. This is why highly conscientious, risk averse people who consider every potential outcome in advance work as attorneys or airline pilots. One could argue that Richard Branson’s extreme optimism has served him well but I bet he doesn’t write his own legal contracts or fly his fleet of aircraft.
My advice, therefore, is to perfect your art, build a psychological immune system, hope for the best but plan for the worst, then kick ass. Just like they do in the movies.