Looking and Acting Like A Success

I met a woman at a fund raiser the other day, and she seemed quite impressive. She was well dressed, well spoken, had written a book, and knew some heavy hitters.

Then, when she explained why she was setting up a small office in another state where she spends some time, she said, “You know how expensive gas is to make that drive frequently.”

Whoops.

I still think she’s a very impressive woman, and I’d probably want to get to know her better. But that kind of statement tends to relegate you to second-class status. Successful people I know don’t bemoan gas prices, or complain about dining out, or express concern about taxes.

Someone mentioned to me during a recent practicum I conducted using a major business as our “laboratory”: “It was amazing. You introduced us as world class consultants and that’s how we were treated and heeded.”

Nothing amazing about it. It’s not just “dress for success,” it’s about behaving as though you ARE a success. Many people never give themselves that permission. When someone complains to me about Southwest Air and asks my opinion, I simply tell them that I wouldn’t know, since I don’t fly airlines without a first class cabin. If I’m asked about the price of gas, I remind people that the Europeans have been paying far higher prices for as long as I’ve been alive.

Successful people like to be around successful people, and your actions actually speak louder than your clothing and accessories. It costs virtually nothing to act successful. But you have to give yourself permission.

You may not have flown first class, and that’s fine. But when you start to brag that you saved $200 by checking fares at midnight, that’s not. You may prefer to travel in coach, and I can live with that. But if you tell someone else that they are foolish for traveling in first class, they’ll likely just think you’re a fool.

An old Roman phrase goes: De minimis non curat praetor. (The magistrate does not consider trifles.) Stop focusing on the life you think you’d have to lead, and start focusing on the one you should be leading.

People will regard you, first and foremost, by the way you regard yourself.

© Alan Weiss 2008. All rights reserved.

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9 Responses to Looking and Acting Like A Success

  1. While I agree that a person’s words and actions proceeds them, I wouldn’t be so quick to pass judgement on people for making what seem to me as innocent comments or observations.

    Yes, gas prices are high – higher than what we were used to paying a year ago. I don’t know what this woman does for a living. Perhaps her business involves transportation of goods or is a service business where she has to travel to the client. If that’s true, higher gas prices cut in to her profit margin.

    Anybody with a business that is watching their overhead increase will discuss their frustrations. It’s human nature and all part of operating a business.

    I understand your logic – act successful, feel successful and you will be successful. I subscribe to that too, but I’m not going to go broke just to impress a select group of people.

  2. I never quite “get” the furor surrounding the costs of “comfort” versus “economy.” It’s not simply an image, in my mind, though that does play a part.

    It’s about enjoying comfort as a reward for some pretty damned hard work I do. I earned it, I’ll take it. And the part I don’t “get,” is it isn’t the “cost” that scares people… not if they are logical in their reasoning.

    I was sitting on the patio, smoking a cigar and having a glass of Kelt with a good friend of mine, Andrew — an anesthesiologist at Duke University — and this very topic came up.

    Andrew went inside and brought out pen and paper. We began with assumptions: 2 flights per month, 2 family vacations per year totaling 2 weeks (yes, we take more, but it’s a simple equation). We discovered, in our mathematical genius spurred by the intellect one can only get from Kelt Petra, that our desire to enjoy “comfort” versus “economy” was costing a whopping $7,800 annually.

    Eight grand. That’s it. If someone asked you to pay $7,800 for “Year-long first-class accommodations,” would you take it? Most of us would readily write that insignificant check. Too often we look at totals, not deltas.

    Sure, my airport town car costs about $100. A cab, however, costs $60. The delta — the difference — is but $40. A full-service Marriott at BWI costs $245/night. The Springfield Suites across the street, with zero amenities or comforts, costs $170. Again, the delta is insignificant, when added together annually. A mediocre meal costs $40. A great one $120 (excluding extravagant wine).

    Are we really making personal comfort and enjoyment decisions based on the ridiculous belief that $40 here and $80 there will somehow turn a poor financial year into a great one?

    Your comments, Alan, were spot on: “It costs virtually nothing to act successful. But you have to give yourself permission.”

    It’s not about the costs at all, since frankly, they are insignificant. It’s about permission.

    Cheers,

    KB

  3. I have to respectfully disagree with your outlook on this. I don’t think the definition of success should be your ability to spend money without some common sense or thoughts of how to reduce that expense. Most business leaders will say that a good trait in business is to reduce expenses and overhead in any business so you have more profit, which many would consider true success.

    Ben Franklin said the two traits of success for both business and individuals was industry and frugality. I doubt anyone can argue Dr. Franklin is one of the most famous Americans to have ever lived and defines true success. Clearly frugal habits helped him achieve this by his own admission.

  4. I totally get it, Alan. I have been trying to help my colleagues in my industry understand this thinking as well for the longest time.

    They whine and cry and bemoan the fact that they have to deal with penny-pinching cheapskates who expect them to work for free.

    And then they turn right around and do the same thing when they need to hire professional services.

    They constantly share about how cheap something is rather than focusing on it’s value or ROI and whether it’s a smart, cost-effective investment.

    One thing I try to help them see is that when they change their own cheap, second-rate attitudes about money and nickel and diming, they will in turn attract a whole other kind of client.

    Here’s one of my posts on the subject:

    http://www.grittyva.com/the_gritty_virtual_assist/2008/04/are-you-a-cheap.html

  5. Alan Weiss says:

    I don’t respond to comments as a rule, but I’m making an exception. Kudos to Danielle and Kevin before her.

    You see comments above that are on target and others shortsighted. We deleted one that just said “idiot,” since that not only represents someone without the intellectual capacity to understand me, but also someone who is functionally inarticulate. If you’re going to debate, at least have some pride.

    In any case, this topic and posting are so often misunderstood. This is a business, and if you want to impress a buyer who is powerful and successful, you DON’T do it by bemoaning the price of gas, or complaining about taxes, or sharing that you’re going out to dinner less often.

    These are bug spots on the windshield of life. Ben Franklin, cited above, was a profligate spendthrift, who kept a mistress in Paris and spent government money like water. He advocated “Do as I say, not as I do.”

    Take big gulps of life. No one cries at a eulogy that focuses on the fact that the deceased was prudent.

  6. Michael Temple says:

    I would like to clarify and expand on my post above about Ben Franklin. What Alan cited above about Franklin is completely accurate, however it should be noted most of that didn’t happen until he was much older and had already retired from active business; his fidelity being a clear exception.

    In the biographies by Walter Isaacson and H.W. Brands there are numerous examples that Franklin practiced both frugality and industrious behavior in his early years as a rising printer and tradesman in Philadelphia.

    Many people today would cite Ben Franklin as an American success story of rising from rags to riches. In fact, H.W. Brands credits him as being one of the wealthiest Americans of his day.

    Many would cite that his principles early in life contributed to his success later in life. I will concede the point that what some call “success” in Franklin’s later life was not anything of the sort as Alan says above. Many still call him a success story and many say he was a failure who never lived up to his own ideals. His biographers have said both are true.

    I see Alan’s point that whining about gas prices, taxes, or other hardships of life and business to someone we wish to be a peer to or someone we wish to have as a client lowers ourselves in their eyes. However I will say that I still believe actually finding ways to practice *some* frugality and definitely industriousness is an excellent idea, especially in the early part of your career when you are not yet established. This was my reason for citing Ben Franklin.

    In later life once you have a great client base and incredible cash flow perhaps only flying first class and not worrying about the price of gas or anything else is fine if you choose to do that. However my business and career are still very young and while I would never consider whining to a client or anyone else about gas, taxes, etc. publicly, I will find ways to try and manage and lower these and other costs whenever possible. Hopefully after reading enough of Alan’s books and practicing what he teaches I won’t have to do it forever.

  7. Thomas Wicker says:

    So, what I got out of Alan’s post was simply to not complain about high prices, nor to brag about frugality.

    That, to me, is extremely different than not saving gas, or flying Southwest (or JetBlue, or whatever).

    In the first case, you’re complaining or pointing out that money is something that concerns you.

    In the second case, you’re not. Simple as that.

    Now, if someone I’m talking to as a potential client/reference happens to mention that s/he is taking steps to conserve money (as a local VC recently did), I’ll be right there with her/him, and will use that to help build rapport. However, if the person is talking about skiing in the Colorado Rockies, I’ll listen attentively and ask some questions – never letting on that price would be any object for me joining this adventure.

    Again, what I got out of Alan’s post is that it’s a matter of presentation, not of the actual circumstances. Being frugal is an excellent thing (IMHO), for reasons far beyond the financial, but it doesn’t need to be worn on one’s sleeve.

  8. Frugality is much overrated. It’s archaic and atavistic, as it comes from a time when people risked their lives if they were too ostentatious about their wealth and weren’t running a protection racket to secure themselves and their own.

    We live in a bountiful society where we can benefit from creature comforts that our ancestors couldn’t even imagine. Quite apart from the obvious business reasons for looking successful, is the simple fact that one can feel good and profit personally from one’s success.

    I say drop the guilt and take advantage of your worldly success.

    Richard Martin

  9. steve says:

    “You introduced us as world class consultants and that’s how we were treated and heeded.”

    And without an introduction, people perceive you and form opinions about you in how you act, talk and move.

    “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Make them see what you want them to believe about you.

    And never complain. Successful people never complain, because complaining is admitting you are powerless. People don’t want to hire a complainer, they want to hire someone who will get the job done. Give them that impression, then carry through on your promise.

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