“Ms. Keromosemito, what do you think makes people successful?” When I am asked this question, I often have the impression that the person asking is looking for the magic formula for success. I don’t have it, but I read a lot and hoped to find the answer in Simon Sinek’s huge bestseller “Start with Why.”

Of course I had already watched the Ted Talk by Sinek a long time ago. But several of my customers told me that reading the book would definitely also be worthwhile. So I read it at the beginning of my surfing vacation this winter in Australia. In other words, I added READ to the popular surfing lifestyle of SURF, EAT, SLEEP, REPEAT. Sinek, here we go and Merry X-mas!

Sinek’s basic thesis is: if you want to build a business and keep it successful in the long term, it is important to deal with the “why” and to consistently place it at the center of all decisions. He explains this giving various U.S. companies as examples, preferably quoting Apple. According to him, the “why” of Apple is that they are consistent, challenge the status quo, and think differently. He states that this is the motto by which Apple operates and the reason for its many decades of success.

Hang on – success… What does that actually mean? In his book, Sinek distinguishes between achievement and success. I agree with Sinek when he says that success is a state you are in, a feeling.

And what now? How can this concept, which obviously inspires many of my customers, be applied pragmatically? I have been working as a consultant for more than 25 years and have seen many companies grow and some disappear again. Companies with decades of history and start-ups that vanished into thin air after a few years. That’s just the way of the economy.

In almost every coaching process I ask my coachees at some point what they would find most stressful if they did not achieve a goal. In the worst case, they then imagine that their company will go bankrupt. Then I ask them what this would mean for them personally. Almost all of them respond by saying:

  • “I have failed.”
  • “I didn’t make it.”
  • “I’m not good enough.”
  • “I am a loser.”
  • “I haven’t lived up to my potential.”
  • “It doesn’t feel good.”
  • etc.

Just for the record – my coachees are what you call “successful” people. They are high performers, are well-regarded, and they take part in a coaching measure to become even more successful. However, my coachees, despite their pronounced performance and goal orientation, are also particularly good at feeling like complete losers. Sometimes all I have to do is ask them three questions. Isn’t the human mind incredible?

While my coachees mentally go through these horror scenarios, they usually sit on a gray chair in my office in Cologne. That’s why I secretly call it the loser’s chair. While sitting on it, almost all of my coachees at some point deal with their fear of failure.

It is only a mental game, albeit a very educational one. My customers’ employers are usually very far away from insolvency, even if top management sometimes acts that way. And Apple, which Sinek likes to refer to as a shining example, also still exists. However, Steve Jobs died in 2011 in his mid-50s with estimated total assets of 8.3 billion US dollars. What does successful mean in this context? I don’t know.

Sometimes I let my coachees mentally walk through a cemetery and ask them to think about what may be written on their tombstone:

  1. Made it = winner
  2. Didn’t make it = loser

And what do they think would be on other people’s tombstones, for example that of Steve Jobs? From a cemetery perspective this thought is completely pointless. They’re all dead anyway! We all laugh heartily. Then we realize that winning and losing is only a mental concept. A fantasy, albeit a very powerful one. If it kidnaps us, on the one hand it can be a motor for achieving results. On the other hand, it is precisely these thoughts that make successful people depressed, because next year the bar will be raised again anyway. Today’s world champion is tomorrow’s ex-world champion. Standing still is not allowed.

It isn’t? Says who? Carissa Moore, my absolute favorite surfer, who won the WSL World Tour in 2019, announced shortly after winning the title that she will take a year off the tour in 2020. She justified this by saying that she would like to devote her time to other issues important to her and then return in 2021 refreshed, happier, and more excited than before.

This is in stark contrast to Kelly Slater, who at the age of 47 has been part of the surf circus for over 25 years and has won 11 world championship titles. They say few people are as competitive as Kelly. He’s a winner.

Carissa will, by the way,  represent the USA in the Olympic Games in 2020, whereas Kelly just missed by few points the qualification. Watching them surf is always a pleasure. Which of them is successful? Which life seems desirable? This can only be answered by them individually, because only those two know how they feel. And then there is no comparison and hence no competition.

Now I’m sitting at Australia’s Gold Coast, watching surfers as they try to catch waves and I am not getting anywhere with the question of what makes people successful. Maybe I should just jump in the ocean? I’m on vacation after all.

Non-surfers often ask me uncomprehendingly why I surf. Because I love being in the ocean. The adrenaline rush that surges through me when I make a drop from a head-high wave and ride the wave is still one of the best feelings I know. It feels like success. To get that feeling, I train consistently. Every morning I meditate, do my fitness exercises, and at least twice per week I go to the Fühlinger Lake in Cologne for swimming or paddling practice. But there is also the other experience when I surf. The surfing sessions where I manage “nothing,” think that I am not good enough, and that a fifty-year-old woman has no place among all the young men here. You want to know what it feels like to be a losers? Ask me!

From this state of mind, it is difficult to catch a wave. Matt Griggs gave me the following advice: Always surf from the feeling of love for the ocean. When the fear of failure comes in, a short Kelee meditation helps to reopen the mind. And be kind to yourself! That’s what I do when I hit the waves. I remember that there is nothing to win and nothing to lose here. Can I be kind to myself even if I can’t manage anything today? I’m working on it, keeping the three P’s in mind: practice, patience & persistence.

I practice the same in my job and teach it in my coaching and training sessions:

  • If you fail at something, try taking the pressure off.
  • Take breaks.
  • Turn down work that does not feel good.
  • Take care of yourself, because this is the only way you will be able to do the job, which you originally started with a lot of enthusiasm, successfully and for a long time.
  • Do not only concentrate on reaching your goal, but allow yourself to feel what is happening along the way.
  • Why? Because this is not a dress rehearsal for your life! This is your life!

Ron Rathbun says: Success is only complete when you feel it. I gladly pass this on to my coachees. Sometimes the message gets through, sometimes it doesn’t. There are also Kelly Slaters, Carissa Moores, and Steve Jobs in the German boardrooms. They all want to do their jobs well. Sometimes they go too far. Sometimes they are full of doubt. Sometimes they do things that make me shake my head. I watch them work with admiration and enjoy listening to their stories. Together we develop further. We are not in competition. We practice feeling good with all the pros here in the water. Should we not feel good or feel like losers on this journey every now and then, I promise that this is like having growing pains. It’ll pass. And we have the best time.

With this in mind, I wish all of us that 2020 feels good, regardless of the goals we achieve, and I wish us every success! Whatever that means!