What causes outsized, unusual, extraordinary success?
There must be many factors.
However, recently I saw an article that had a heading like this: “entrepreneurs are just rich kids with safety nets”.
I have also seen this before. Apparently, academic success is nothing but a product of social, gender and cultural privileges.
Well, it cannot be denied that privilege plays a role in success. We should be mindful of privilege and use the same to highlight the disadvantages of those who may be victims of that privilege. However, it is lazy, downright dishonest and ridiculous to write off all success and achievements as a mere product of privilege of some kind or the other.
I grew up in a household in the 90s that could not afford electricity for months. My mother has on many occasions fed me and my sister the last morsel of food in the house and waited for the next month’s salary, staying hungry. The last few days of the month were always the most difficult.
Then things got better. My parents worked very hard to make us comfortable, and to give us a reasonable education. And we knew, we had to succeed if we had to get out of the cycle of poverty.
We did. My sister is a lawyer in Kolkata, practicing independently, doing well for herself. My father retired with a pension, and my mother will retire from a high school job next year. They are comfortable, and live with some 7 cats in a house they own.
I had the opportunity to pursue my dreams as an entrepreneur. At the age of 23, I left my first job as a corporate lawyer in Mumbai, and my rented flat in a posh area in South Mumbai, and jumped into extreme uncertainties, with the goal of starting a world class online education company.
Safety net? My safety net was my last paycheck, and some money I had saved up in the last few months of the job.
My bigger moral dilemma was with respect to my parents. My mother had taken out a loan to build a house. She did not want to live in rented accommodations any more, and wanted to live in her own house. She expected her son with a good salaried job to help her.
And I was about to quit.
I managed to give her a couple of lakhs, the money I saved from my salary after paying down my entire education loan in 6 months. I also sold my Royal Enfield and gave her the proceeds. And told her, sorry, I may not be able to do anything else for you in the years to come, but I must pursue my calling.
My mother wasn’t happy, but she knew I would never stop at anything if I had made up my mind. I wasn’t asking for permission, I was telling her what I was going to do.
Here is what I did after that. I embraced poverty. Here is the story. I had a little money to last me a few months, and I had to make it stretch as much as possible, while I figured out how would I earn enough to sustain myself, my team and grow the company eventually.
In the coming years, I had to sacrifice relationships, personal health, friendships, personal finance, and most of all sanity in order to build LawSikho into what it is today.
I could give a long list of personal sacrifices made over the years, but I do not think it will be fun to read at all. Also, anyone who has been even remotely connected to a startup knows how hard it is to even just survive to stay in the game, especially when you swim against the current of conventional wisdom.
I may not have achieved the pinnacle of success. Troubles abound and there is a long runway before us.
However, as of now, we are the largest and most respected online legal education company. The work we are doing are appreciated by thousands of students. Most of our students do not just buy one course from us. After finishing one, they go for more! The industry loves us too, and we have been serving some of the top blue chip companies in India with legal education, a market that we are at the forefront of developing.
We have also built one of the largest legal websites and the biggest non-news law blog in the world, with a million unique readers a month.
We have beaten well funded competitors that raised tens of crores in venture capital with no outside funding. We have built entire libraries of course material. Our students are appreciated in the industry for the knowledge and skills that they bring on the table.
How could we do it starting from scratch?
There are many factors, many helping hands, many lucky breaks, many being at the right place at the right time are involved.
But so are many sacrifices that very few would be willing to make.
If you ask me today, what worked, and what still works – this is what I have learnt.
A single minded focus. Absolute clarity of purpose. Willingness to let go of any and every opportunity, people and feelings that did not align with our goal.
Most people are too weak because they are torn between many priorities.
I want to litigate but I also want to earn enough money, I can’t stop buying expensive bags and shoes!
I can’t say no to my parents, they want me to get married but I want to focus on my work.
I want to climb Mount Everest but my boss does not give holidays.
Sorry, this does not work. It is not necessary that you must focus on a work related mission as I have. I have known people who focussed single mindedly on their family, like my own mother did to raising two successful kids. She was ready to sacrifice anything or everything to make that happen.
I know people who entirely focus on making money, care about nothing else, and are very successful at what they do. I respect that kind of clarity.
I know people who have dedicated themselves to a social cause and have not looked at anything else. And have been wonderfully successful at it.
However, most people are what you would call “normal”. They are not capable of such single-minded, ruthless focus. They are torn between many priorities, and that is totally human.
However, you do not want your army to act like normal people on the border, do you? You do not want your surgeon or lawyer to be a so called normal person, do you? You do not want India’s cricket squad to be normal, do you?
You want superheroes there. Superheroes are not normal. They are super because they pursue one agenda, one goal, one target for too long, spend too many hours doing uncomfortable things, and give up any semblance of normal comfortable life.
And that is how you can reliably achieve unusual success.
Would you ever want it?
It is fine if you do not. Just remember that great achievements come from great clarity, great purpose, and great sacrifices.
I know LawSikho will go a long way from here, because of the sacrifices I have already made and I am ready to make. It is not just me, but my entire team who has made tremendous sacrifices for this organization to develop, survive and thrive. Because of the clarity of purpose that is not unique to me, but my entire team, I can see we are set to scale new heights.
How do you look at this? Do you see that you have such a single minded focus on anything? Or are you conflicted?
Please reflect on it.
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