What success really is and where it comes from

I took a trip down to Princeton, NJ last week with my good friend Bettina Mueller to visit with System grad Nick LaCava.

Nick, the co-founder of a business called Chocomize, attended System 2010. He’s also Bettina’s nephew and someone I’ve known since he was a baby.

Bettina and I went down to Princeton because it was our last chance to see him before he headed to London where he’ll be competing in the Olympics, a member of the US four man lightweight crew.  (Their first race is Saturday, July 28th at 6 AM in the morning eastern time.)

Nick LaCava, member of the US 2012 Olympic team, and Ken McCarthy one week before Nick leaves for the London games

There’s so much to learn from Nick’s life experience, I thought it would be worth writing down some of it while it’s fresh in my mind.

First, I really didn’t understand the concept behind Nick’s Chocomize business, but it didn’t matter. He did.

He knew how passionate certain people are about chocolate and he knew that the concept behind the company worked elsewhere (in Germany) so he and his partners ignored the ignorant (me in this case) and went to work. Result: Successful business.

You can read all about it on the Internet. They’ve gotten more great media coverage than firms a thousand times their size.

Second, Nick made the difficult decision to walk away from the business he had worked so hard to create to pursue a dream he could not ignore: the chance to compete in an Olympics.

Gutsy move since he had absolutely no way to know what the outcome would be: First there was the matter of getting on the team. Then getting with a winning boat (it’s a team sport.) Then his team qualifying for the Olympics.

The whole enterprise seemed like a long shot and every step of the way was a nail biter.

Third, men’s lightweight crew is not a glamor sport. No one pays the team big bucks to train. There’s no promotional pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You do something like this because it means something to you, not because of what you’re going to get out of it.

Fourth, getting into the Olympics is not a lottery ticket. It comes from a massive amount of work. Early mornings on the water regardless of the weather, weight training, strict diet (Nick had to give up chocolate, perhaps the most amazing part of this story if you know him well :-))

Does it make sense to walk away from a growing, successful business to pursue a long shot that requires intense work with very thin resources where one very realistic outcome at the end of it all is total disappointment?

Hard call, but Nick is in the Olympics…and we’re not. The phrase “no guts, no glory” comes to mind.

The deep lesson

Eating lunch with Nick’s crew was a total pleasure. Bright, hard working, down-to-earth guys. You could hardly ask for better company. You’d never know they were the superstars of their field.

What a refreshing contrast to the endless posturing and chest beating nonsense of so many of the people I encounter in the marketing world. It sometimes seems that posturing is the only thing that’s being taught and learned these days. It’s good to know in one corner of the world at least, there are people (I guess I’m old enough to call them “kids”) who have their values in the right place.

The training is grueling. It’s like boot camp every day. Not seminar baloney “boot camp”, but the real kind where your only thought is how you’re going to make it to the next short break.

What do these guys focus on every day?

How great they are… How wonderful the prize is going to be…


They focus on the work they have to do right now today in this moment. They’re working too hard to think about anything else – which is why they are successful.

Think and grow rich, sure, but work too

At the end of the day, I was talking with Nick about training. He related a story about techniques some people were teaching for visualization. You know “Imagine how good you will feel when you cross the finish line a winner.”

His response: “I don’t get it. Of course, you have to be positive, but it’s the daily training that’s going to get us across the finish line.”

I’ve noticed that in schools these days, on TV and in seminar rooms, there is a tremendous focus on how people “feel” and very little on what they do.

Children are taught to have self esteem. Great. It beats the alternative.

But what about self respect?

The self respect that’s earned from the self discipline of doing the right thing, day in and day out.

You can’t visualize your way into self respect and I’m afraid this simple lesson is not being taught and a whole generation of kids is getting the wrong message about how life actually works.

Then there are “The Secret” slingers and all their allies who sell people on the idea that if you just get your mind right (using our expensive methods) then everything else will fall into place.

Again, having your mind right is a whole lot better than the alternative, but it’s only the first step in a 10,000 mile journey – and that journey moves forward with deeds, not words or guided meditations.

I’ve written on this subject before and I thought in honor of Nick’s efforts, I’d re-release The Success Blue Print. It’s free. There is nothing to buy and it leads to nothing else. It just contains a lot of things about “success” that I feel need to be said.

I don’t know what the outcome of the races will be later this week, but I already know this: Nick and his teammates are profoundly successful young men.

Not because they made the Olympic team, but because they had the guts to put it all on the line – their hearts, their minds, their bodies – to test themselves by competing against the world’s best.

Their first race is this Saturday, July 28th at 6 AM eastern.

Download for free: The Real Success Blueprint

– Ken McCarthy

P.S. For over 25 years I’ve been sharing the simple but powerful things that matter in business with my clients.

If you’d like direction for your business that will work today, tomorrow and twenty years from now, visit us at the System Club.

You can't win 'em all, but you can always take pride in giving it your all
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