While people may question some of the more, er, controversial decisions Arnold Schwarzenegger has made over the years, no one can deny that the 67-year-old actor, politician and ex-professional bodybuilder has had an extraordinarily productive career.
Many people don’t realize, however, that he’s also a highly accomplished businessman. In fact, Arnold was a millionaire at the age of 22, years before he started cashing his multi-million-dollar Hollywood paychecks. As a young entrepreneur in his early 20s, he had great success with several business ventures and investments including a bricklaying business and real estate.
Arnold famously shared six secrets of his success in a graduation commencement speech at the University of Southern California. (Online audio clips of the talk on YouTube have accumulated millions of views.) Below in italics are Arnold’s six rules, with some of my own interpretation on how they can be applied to jobs and careers. I’ve drawn examples from my own career and company because I know them best, but I think Arnold’s rules can be applied to almost any professional context.
1. Trust yourself:
“Rule number one is trust yourself no matter what anyone else thinks.”
I can relate. From early on, I might not have known exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I could identify things I was passionate about: I knew I loved computers and coding. I knew I wanted to start and run businesses—on my own terms.
I wasn’t sure how those would come together, but I just kept doing them, because they made me happy.
Do the things that excite you and make you happy, and trust that as long as you’re doing that, you’ll end up somewhere good. What’s the thing that makes time fly by and the world almost disappear around you while you’re doing it? Or put more simply, what are the things you just freaking love to do?
2. Break some rules:
“What’s the point of being on this earth if all you want to do is be liked by everyone and avoid trouble? The only way I ever got any place was by breaking some of the rules.”
By saying “break the rules,” Arnold isn’t talking about ignoring the speed limit or adopting a permanent “I don’t care what you think” attitude. What he’s referring to is the importance of doing what you know is right in your gut, not just following the status quo. And this absolutely applies to business and career.
In your job, at the end of the day, you need to make decisions that make the most sense to you. These decisions might not be popular, or easy. Back in 2007, I dedicated seven people in my 21-person company to a zero-revenue product (which would become Hootsuite). The idea went against many of the rules of maintaining a well-performing business. But I did it anyway because I was certain the product had enormous potential.
And it’s exactly these types of decisions that often move society forward and drive innovation.
3. Don’t be afraid to fail:
“Anything I ever attempted I was always willing to fail. You can’t always win but don’t be afraid of making decisions. You can’t be paralyzed by fear of failure or you will never push yourself.”
I can’t agree more with Arnold on this point. At my company, I encourage all of our managers to empower our employees with this principle: “Try it. If it doesn’t work at least we’ll learn from it.” Why? True success and innovation will never emerge from fear of failure.
Steve Jobs knew this well. While Apple is now legendary for products like the iPhone and MacBook, less remembered are the many products that fell totally flat, like the Apple Lisa, the Apple III and the Powermac g4 cube. Great success often comes with taking big risks and failing along the way.
4. Ignore the naysayers.
“How many times have you heard that you can’t do this and you can’t do that and it’s never been done before. I love it when someone says that no one has ever done this before because when I do it, that means I am the first one that has done it.”
Back in the early 1900s, a small-time Michigan lawyer named Horace Rackhamwent to the bank to borrow $5000 to invest in a new kind of transportation business that his neighbour had just gotten off the ground. At the time, the president of Rackham’s bank strongly advised him against making the investment, with these words: “The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.” It turns out, of course, that Rackham’s neighbour was none other than Henry Ford.
These types of stories are all too common. Whenever a new, potentially world-changing idea or product that emerges, there are always detractors who warn it won’t last, or say it’ll be dangerous for society.
When Hootsuite was first starting in 2008, most people said social media was a passing fad and there was no way to make a business out of it. They also told me it would be impossible to build a global tech company out of Vancouver.
Today, HootSuite has over 600 employees around the world and 10 million users. We’re used by three-quarters of Fortune 100 companies. We’ve continued to get requests to move to San Francisco, but we’ve turned them all down. These days, when somebody tells me I can’t do something, it makes me want to pursue it even more.
5. Work your butt off. Hurt like hell.
“Just remember this. If you want to win, there’s absolutely no way around hard hard work. None of my rules will bring success unless you do.”
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is crucial. However, Arnold makes a very important point here. To be truly successful in your career, there are many times when you simply must work hard. Very hard. I’ve met a lot of people throughout my career who seem to forget or ignore this, and try to get by schmoozing their way through. But at the end of the day this kind of ‘work’ rarely pays off. Trust me.
When Hootsuite was starting out, each of us had to each wear many hats. For me this was a period of almost non-stop work, often consisting of 20 hour days, whether it was writing emails, going to meetings or coding.
The good news is this kind of invested time and effort always pays off. Perhaps it may not get you exactly where you expected, but the hours will eventually turn into expertise, which is priceless for a successful career.
6. Give something back.
“Whatever path that you take in your life, you must always find time to give something back … Reaching out and helping people will bring you more satisfaction than anything else you’ve ever done.”
This might be Arnold’s most important rule, because at some point, if you follow the first five rules, you’re going to reach some level of success in your career. At this point, to continue leading a meaningful life, it’s key to seek ways to give back to the greater community. That’s one amazing thing about the human condition—an enduring, pervasive spirit of giving.
Last year, I launched The Next Big Thing, which I hope will help empower the next generation of talented entrepreneurs to reach their goals, no matter how impossible they may sound. It’s a small gesture of giving back but I hope it can grow into something far greater in the years to come. For me, that’s an absolutely critical component of success.
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