22 Oct 2009 7 am eastern

Dirty Little Secret of Success

Zeldman

A longing for love and approval. That’s the dirty little secret of success.

Yes, you must make something people want. Of course, you must improve and extend it. Certainly, you must give 110% where customer satisfaction is concerned. Definitely, you must convert your customers to evangelists. All of that is true, always has been and will be.

BUT.

But you won’t be able to do those things, not really, not all the way, not as they must be done, unless there is a brokenness in you that continually craves attention and affection you somehow missed out on.

You have to have been abandoned, betrayed, ridiculed, unsupported at some point when you needed it most.

This sounds terrible and it is. But it’s the facts.

A contented person with a whole heart, who has never doubted for a moment that she is loved by God and the universe, should not bother trying to succeed as a creative entrepreneur. She should get a job working for someone else, turn it off at 6:00 PM, and come home to the people who love her.

Only a restless, broken heart can drive you to do what is necessary.

And that’s how to succeed in business without really crying.

Filed under: business, Career, glamorous

147 Responses to “Dirty Little Secret of Success”

  1. J. Adam Moore said on

    Preach it! Don’t forget that you also need the arrogance to believe you will succeed in the first place and that you deserve other people’s love and attention. Darn it! Now I wish I was successful so people would love me. :(

  2. Amateur Blogger said on

    Only a restless, broken heart can drive you to do what is necessary.

    Brilliant. Enough said.

  3. Gilbert said on

    Wow bold statement… but probably very true.

  4. Zeeshan said on

    Well said ! a restless state of mind has more chances to take risks as nothing to loose ideology works which a contented person might not and as business is all about taking the risk and hoping it works out great.

  5. John said on

    Says the guy going through a divorce. Seems a pretty cynical outlook.

  6. Ryan Brunsvold said on

    So that’s why my inner voice compels me to annually attend AEA. Knowing is half the battle. ;)

  7. Jason O'Brien said on

    I partly agree, because I think it describes me. However, as an absolute statement I think it’s wrong. What you’re saying is that someone who has found peace (or enlightenment, nibbana, nirvana… whatever) can’t be an entrepreneur (the creative part is redundant… no matter what kind of entrepreneur you are you have to be creative to be truly successful), and I think as a fundamental statement that’s missing the mark. Someone who has found theoretical enlightenment should see the inherit beauty of everything and thus be in a better position to communicate it than someone who has an inherit “brokenness” and a potentially distorted view of reality.

    Of course, I would say that more people fall into the “broken” category than in the “enlightened” category, but I know that the latter exists.

  8. Robert Banh said on

    So true. It’s easier to take risks when you’re broken.

  9. kunter ilalan said on

    You mean PSYCHO MOD.. I think I’m understanding it better now :s

    Yet, I fail to see any guts heart possibly existing on that “female” ..err .. whatever. Feeling irresponsible towards your own art, craft, colleagues, business, the real people other than you… sounds “too sour” to me

    regards;

    p.s. SHARE WITH THE CLASS :-D that is LIVE that is succeeding without being mean and spreading positive radiation – you see? I loved that in a matter of seconds just seeing the SUBMIT BUTTON – that “successful” female shall keep returning to a home where she’s being loved until the retirement. Then she’d be told how ugly she had been

  10. Simon Ljungberg said on

    I agree with Jason O’Brien.
    I’m never as creative as when I feel happy and satisfied with my life.

    I’m not saying I’m “unbroken”. Because I certainly haven’t reached enlightenment. However I am doing pretty well right _AND_ I feel loved by the universe ;)

  11. Ryan Brunsvold said on

    I believe the moral of the story here is that you have to want something so bad that you’ll put yourself though damn near anything to get it. Being happy, relaxed, and at ease with yourself isn’t very conducive to being a hard-nosed bastard who’ll stop at nothing.

    Great post, Papa Web.

  12. Alan Bristow said on

    Another truth from Mr Zeldman, this one makes me feel better about myself too :) Thanks Jeffrey.

  13. Jason Robb said on

    A restless broken heart is a negative motivational force. Someone with positive encouragement is far better off (and less likely to cry about life) than someone motivated by their sadness.

    That said, being motivated by something positive doesn’t preclude someone from being broken and feeling abandoned. They don’t derive their motivation from their problems, but the hope in the solution.

    It’s like someone who has cancer that wallows in self-pity and never recovers. It’s foolish to be defined by your sickness. I’ll take being defined by hope any day.

  14. Bryan said on

    Now I understand why my mom is an entrepreneur and I am not.

  15. Natalie Jost said on

    I find it difficult to believe anyone–even one “enlightened”–has lived a life worthy of another day without some bit of ridicule or broken-heartedness that haunts them just a little bit, even when it irks them to admit it.

    I also don’t believe it’s possible to be “at peace” and simultaneously separate from one’s past pain. Maybe it’s not the driving force behind creativity, but it’s there, snapping the reins now and then.

    We’re all broken, but some are like a certain Monty Python character who just can’t be stopped, who don’t want to see the “appendages” missing in their life. :)

    And I’ve never been clear on what exactly it means to be “loved by the universe” — sounds more like loved by myself to me — but it’s a start. ;)

    Thanks for making me smile this morning. I can’t know the circumstances of your divorce, but it’s a difficult thing for anyone to go through, particularly if it’s public. So I’ll continue to pray for wisdom and peace for everyone involved (even though that is probably not what this is about).

  16. robomalo said on

    This explains everything!

  17. Elliott Munoz said on

    Agreed.

    I think the only person who could disagree with that statement is the person for whom it does not apply.

  18. Mandy Brown said on

    A contented person with a whole heart, who has never doubted for a moment that she is loved by God and the universe…

    This person you speak of: I do not believe she exists. Also, this is relevant.

  19. Simon Griffee said on

    “We all want to be famous people – and the moment we want to be something, we are no longer free”

    “Can you and I, who are simple, ordinary people, live creatively in this world without the drive of ambition which shows itself in various ways as the desire for power, position? You will find the right answer when you love what you are doing. If you are an engineer merely because you must earn a livelihood, or because your father or society expects it of you, that is another form of compulsion; and compulsion in any form creates a contradiction, conflict. Whereas if you really love to be an engineer, or a scientist, or if you can plant a tree, or paint a picture, or write a poem, not to gain recognition but just because you love to do it, then you will find that you never compete with another. I think this is the real key: to love what you do.”

    — J. Krishnamurti in Think on These Things

    Ambition….

  20. Zak said on

    So very true. I’ve always thought this about myself.

  21. unnikrishna menon damodaran said on

    To succeed in business you have to keep all your personal principles in a locker and do not think about anything but money! And smile even when you do not like to.

  22. Amy Mahon said on

    The whole middle child thing works pretty well.

  23. Christopher Fahey said on

    I do hope you are not encouraging people to actively seek out or invite heartbreak into their lives.

  24. Carole Guevin said on

    Well although title is somewhat deceptive da man makes a good point: The (Dirty) Little Secret of Success. It does take humility and determination. Vision and vigilance. A hungriness to make a difference.

    Like a mentor once said: “You fail till you succeed!”

  25. James said on

    I used to think this was true, but I disagree now. I always find I’m more productive when I’m contented and balanced (and I run my own business).

    Aren’t there other reasons for success than wanting to be loved? Providing for loved ones; making a difference in the world? You can be contented and still want to achieve these things.

  26. supernovia said on

    No wonder I’m so freakin awesome! ;-)

  27. Tiago Dias said on

    I think what Mr. Zeldman’s point is that a person who does not normally have many objectives is easier sometimes to risk when you’re injured or no longer have anything to lose. However, I believe that a happy, creative and really love what they do person, will bring more income for many would-be entrepreneur.

  28. Brian said on

    I totally hear you but I would say there is something else rather than desperate longing for approval that drives a person to success. I personally have no unusual desire to impress people, if anything I have the opposite problem! Yet I push myself and obsess over minutiae just like many great designers. I would suggest that there is something about a creative forerunner and a spirit if excellence that sets some apart from the crowd.

  29. Jason Beaird said on

    That’s quite a bold statement and I couldn’t disagree more, Jeffrey. I’m a “contented person with a whole heart, who has never doubted for a moment that I am loved by God and the universe”, but I try every day to succeed as a creative person. While I do have a regular 9-5, that doesn’t mean I don’t bust my own balls after hours organizing a Refresh group, writing & preparing presentations to further this industry the way you have. I work hard because I love what I do. That’s my secret of success.

  30. Matty G said on

    Wow. Either this is completely in the eye of the beholder (i.e. wrong for me) or I am in the wrong business. Or maybe, I still long for love and attention even though I am loved by God and, well, a slim majority of the universe.

  31. Alan Pinstein said on

    While it might be true that “broken” people are pushed to succeed and be creative to fill a psychological gap, I don’t think it’s a necessary or sufficient condtion for success.

    I had a pretty normal upbrinding; parents never really fought, they are still married today. I am an only child (defintely did *not* suffer lack of attention), I had a lot of friends and have pretty much enjoyed my entire life.

    Yet I love building things. It’s fun, and it’s what drives me to build companies that make things better for my customers.

    Just wanted to toss out a contrarian opinion.

  32. Trev said on

    I can understand your sentiment here, but I’d challenge you to examine some less recent historical examples of great people. I don’t think all of them where motivated simply by a need for love. Ghandi, Lincoln, Mother Teresa. Many people who accomplished great things appear to have been motivated by things deeper than themselves.

    You are right though, I think a broken heart is a big part of it. A lack of acceptance over the state of the world, and sorrow for the condition we find ourselves in is the first step on a journey towards seeking ways to make things better. Being secure in the fact that you are loved by God doesn’t destroy your motivation: it gives you faith that the world can be made a better place.

  33. Todd Dominey said on

    I’ve considered the same point quite often, and believe manic-depression — sometimes just a tinge of it — can be a contributing factor as well. Some of the most successful business entrepreneurs of our time (e.g., Ted Turner) have achieved the seemingly insurmountable thanks in-part to the condition. I think many successful people, regardless of whether they’d be diagnosed as bi-polar or manic depressive or something similar, have similar mental traits that push them on. And once these people do achieve their goals, they rarely revel in their conquest. Instead, they push on to the next obstacle (whether actual or placed in front of themselves). It’s the struggle — not victory or the fear of defeat — that can sometimes define the person.

  34. Philip Barron said on

    You have to have been abandoned, betrayed, ridiculed, unsupported at some point when you needed it most.

    Done and done!

    All that’s needed now is the actual work.

  35. Chad M said on

    I appreciate the vulnerability and honest, sober self-reflection that are a clear part of what makes you who you are Jeffrey Zeldman. This has been very encouraging to me.

    It’s important to recognize the ugliness that can drive our ambitions. When we seek validation from the world it is a never ending chase of temporary fixes.

    It’s not really important with whether it is globally true that one should be broken in this way to succeed in creative business, there is a kernel of truth in it that one can see in themselves and others, if they are being honest. The fact is, we ARE all “broken”. We all have blindsides. That is the nature of what it means to be human. I’m thankful that by God’s mercy our weaknesses can simultaneously become strengths if turned to their true purpose.

    Thanks for sharing like you do Jeffrey.

  36. onno said on

    Sorry you are broken.

  37. Natalie Jost said on

    I find it difficult to believe anyone–even one “enlightened”–has lived a life worthy of another day without some bit of ridicule or broken-heartedness that haunts them just a little bit, even when it irks them to admit it.

    I also don’t believe it’s possible to be “at peace” and simultaneously separate from one’s past pain. Maybe it’s not the driving force behind creativity, but it’s there, snapping the reins now and then.

    We’re all broken, but some are like a certain Monty Python character who just can’t be stopped, who don’t want to see the “appendages” missing in their life. :)

    And I’ve never been clear on what exactly it means to be “loved by the universe” — sounds more like loved by myself to me — but it’s a start. ;) I won’t take you too seriously though, I suspect a bit of this post is tongue-in-cheek, maybe a little sarcastic.

    Thanks for making me smile this morning.

    Oh, and thanks, Todd D, for that perspective–manic-depression is a whole other topic, but a perceived struggle IS an important (and destructive) motivator.

  38. Milan said on

    I agree with you here- the starving artist mentality echoes in your words.
    I don’t mean to be petty or feminist, but why does it have to be a “she” who does the 9-5?

  39. Spencer Fry said on

    You’re so spot on it’s scary. This is exactly how I feel and why I’ve been doing this for 14 years now. I’m constantly searching for love and approval from everyone around me.

  40. RayMcK said on

    Just read other note. Like a big brother you are. Thanks

  41. Vas Kottas said on

    This reminds me of the Gladwell piece on Ivy League admissions.

    Questioning all the different factors that the schools select for, he poses the question ‘what happens when you select for aptitude alone?’ and as a response cites a study on an elementary magnet school in NYC:

    Hunter College Elementary School…required simply that applicants take an exam, and if they scored in the top fifty they got in…educational researchers surveyed the students who attended between 1948 and 1960…a group with an average I.Q. of 157…who had been given…one of the finest classroom experiences in the world. As graduates, though, they weren’t nearly as distinguished as they were expected to be.

    “Although most of our study participants are successful and fairly content with their lives and accomplishments,” the authors conclude, “there are no superstars . . . and only one or two familiar names.” The researchers spend a great deal of time trying to figure out why Hunter graduates are so disappointing, and end up sounding very much like Wilbur Bender. Being a smart child isn’t a terribly good predictor of success in later life, they conclude. “Non-intellective” factors—like motivation and social skills—probably matter more. Perhaps, the study suggests, “after noting the sacrifices involved in trying for national or world-class leadership in a field, H.C.E.S. graduates decided that the intelligent thing to do was to choose relatively happy and successful lives.”

    There’s definitely a drive, often to the point of obsession, that is needed to get beyond a certain level in any field. I don’t think it absolutely has to come from somewhere negative. But to Todd Dominey’s point, an obsession at the level of a Ted Turner or a Bill Gates has an insatiable, consuming life of its own that supersedes the typical hierarchy of human needs.

  42. Truth said on

    None of you want to “help people” or “change the world.”

    What you really want is to enhance your self-image, stroke your ego, win fame or fortune by grand acts, and ultimately _be seen by others_ as one who helps people.

    If you really want to help people and change the world then go pick up litter in your neighborhood, volunteer in a hospital or food kitchen, or something else hands-on that actually changes lives.

    If that takes too much effort or cuts too much into your TV time then just stop being so aggressive toward other people on the road and in line at the supermarket. Changing the world happens one-to-one through simple courtesy, kindness and respect.

    But then there’s no glory in that, is there?

  43. Chad M said on

    I was wondering when the Truth would show up and give us all that well deserved public shaming beat down. Of course there are incredibly huge assumptions that we ALL don’t already serve others in any of the capacities mentioned, or more.

    Thanks Truth. It’s a good thing you already know what we’re all really like.

    I hope you’re also taking part in doing the things you suggest. Sounds like it’s worked for you.

  44. Dan Wroblewski said on

    Very well-put… you should stay up all night more often!

  45. » Why I am not an entrepeneur… Filter Your Input said on

    [...] to Jeffrey Zeldman, at least… [...]

  46. Woody Allen said on

    I agree that this may be true in some cases…but, I have to wonder about Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps, and the host of Olympian athletes who are driven to be great. Ridicule, false starts, difficulties are part of being human. And so are resiliency, having an indomitable spirit and strength of character.

    I’m not sure you have to be broken to achieve greatness. I guess it depends on how you define success.

  47. tinabeans said on

    Mandy Brown is right; where are these “whole hearts?” Everyone is a little broken, and it’s not the brokenness that makes someone awesome.

    Though it’s comforting to think that being fired in the crucible of hardship makes you a superlative human being, I feel like that might just be an excuse to be bitter. At least it has been for me, and I am a certified Broken Person ™ =)

  48. Erik Vorhes said on

    I immediately thought of Augustine when I read “Only a restless, broken heart can drive you to do what is necessary.” From the first book of his Confessions:

    Inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te.
    Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

    Thanks for warming the heart of a failed medievalist. :)

  49. david karapetyan said on

    lol

  50. Kyle Steed said on

    I don’t know whether to feel sad or agree with this.

    Can’t having a heart which is fulfilled not lead to bigger and greater things? Can’t that “love of God” which you mention be a passion in which you find your drive and desire to succeed? Or have we become so biased that anyone who speaks the name of God or Jesus must have ulterior motives?

    That’s something I’m wrestling with right now even. I have my good and bad days just like everyone else.

  51. António P. P. Almeida (perusio) 's status on Thursday, 22-Oct-09 15:58:12 UTC - Identi.ca said on

    [...] Previous !q by Jeffrey Zeldman from here: http://www.zeldman.com/2009/10/22/dirty-little-secret-of-success/ [...]

  52. Erik Swedberg said on

    If you decoupled attention-needing from discontent I might agree with you.

    I think the drive from the restless desire to do better or be awesome is quite different than the condition of needing to be all “hey everybody, look at me”. That encourages people to be noisy and prolific, but not necessarily good.

    I would also say this is a slant on the starving creator theory. A graph exists for people pursuing a creative field (writing, music, movies, painting) where there work can be really awesome at the beginning when they’re unproven, hungry, and have something to get out. the quality of their work during this phase increases as they get better at their craft. When they’ve made it, a lot if that early drive is gone (or they’ve used up all their good ideas) and their work suffers.

  53. Jim Bob said on

    ‘Splains why I’m a failure, I guess.

  54. uberVU - social comments said on

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by boxkite: Amen. RT @zeldman: Ladies and gentlemen, The Dirty Little Secret of Success. http://j.mp/3pAIjt

  55. Katy said on

    I believe people think this because they don’t want to do the work to make themselves happy. So much easier to decide you have to be “broken” to be a successful creative entrepreneur than it is to take a good hard look at yourself and change.

  56. zephyr said on

    Ego is a powerful driving force. The desire for love and approval fits right in there.

  57. David said on

    Someone define “success” please.

  58. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    @Christopher Fahey:

    I do hope you are not encouraging people to actively seek out or invite heartbreak into their lives.

    I’m not. And no sensible person would seek it if I were.

    @unnikrishna menon damodaran

    To succeed in business you have to keep all your personal principles in a locker and do not think about anything but money! And smile even when you do not like to.

    That is false, and no way to succeed at anything.

    @Milan:

    I don’t mean to be petty or feminist, but why does it have to be a “she” who does the 9-5?

    Nothing wrong with being feminist. I use “he” and “she” interchangeably to avoid contributing to sexism in language conventions.

  59. Trevor van Gorp said on

    Yes, pain is a much stronger driver and motivator than pleasure, as it naturally commands more attention and is more stimulating. For example, all the change that has been spurred by the current recession would not have occurred had everything been going well.

  60. Jorge M Machado said on

    Cogent and resonant, Mr. Zeldman. This short piece really speaks to me. Thank you.

    “Only a restless, broken heart can drive you to do what is necessary.”
    I agree. You probably did not have that in mind, but this pretty much sums up any major protagonist in fiction throughout the ages.

    You’ve probably read Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo. If you haven’t, you might like it. Give it a try. I couldn’t help but think of that book after reading your thoughts today.

  61. Ryan Graves said on

    So that’s why I’m always so unhappy.

  62. Dirty Little Secret of Success – Jeffrey Zeldman — Jack Baty said on

    [...] Only a restless, broken heart can drive you to do what is necessary. via zeldman.com [...]

  63. beto said on

    Human nature is strange. As much as we long for the eternal comfort zone, the truth is that being between a rock and a hard place is what usually brings our best efforts forward. It is hard to become truly driven and creative when everything seems to go right in your life.

  64. Epicurus said on

    I can’t tell if this is a troll or not. If it’s sincere, then it’s really good display of ignorance and a lack of imagination. “I can’t imagine X happening any other way than Y. Ergo, it cannot happen in any other way.”

  65. Kevin said on

    I would not be to quick to say that hard times inspire, but only that that hope can be derived from them and thus inspire the creative cognitive.

    However, I will agree and say that comfort is the ultimate creative and inspirational killer! What goal can be reached if there is no race to be won?

  66. Nick Smith said on

    For your assertion to be true you would have to deny the possibility that anyone did anything just for the joy of doing it.

    I, for one, do many things solely for the fun/love/joy of it. :)

  67. Wagner Matos said on

    I have to disagree. I believe being “broken” can be motivational. I also believe that to be successful you need a lot determination, dedication, insanity and obsessiveness that might be easier found in a “broken” person. However, one must not forget that are many strong motivational factors and each individual respond differently to different stimulations. I think you can be very happy and still have a profound passion for something, a passion that border insanity which drives you uncontrollably to seek “perfection”, to push that little bit harder and everyone and everything tells you to give up. And the simple satisfaction of pursuing that passion is enough to make considerably happy.

  68. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    You call yourself @Epicurus and think *I* lack imagination?

  69. Rick said on

    You have to have been abandoned, betrayed, ridiculed, unsupported at some point when you needed it most.

    You’ve just described 99+% of the world population.

  70. Stephanie Sawchenko said on

    So… you have have to be an angst ridden masochist with low confidence in order to advance your vision at work?

  71. Neil Kandalgaonkar said on

    I think you’ve hit on something here, and you’re brave to acknowledge it. And maybe this is something our whole generation has issues with, particularly the nerds-turned-cool-kids of the Web 2.0 world.

    But, the most successful investor of all time, Warren Buffett, exhibits none of the traits you describe. And I can think of lots of other examples from my personal life.

    You assert that one won’t do the tasks well unless driven by such deep emotional needs. Are you sure this isn’t backwards? Who said that customers had to love you all the time? Why is it so necessary to be their most perfect best friend? Maybe they just want good service for the money. Maybe this whole culture of customer-codependent marketing is collective fantasy from marketers who have such emotional needs.

  72. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    So… you have have to be an angst ridden masochist with low confidence in order to advance your vision at work?

    @Stephanie Sawchenko:

    That’s not at all what I said, but if it works for you, enjoy.

  73. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    @Rick said:

    You’ve just described 99+% of the world population.

    Perhaps. And then you have to do the work.

  74. Commentor said on

    I’ll take the ‘turn it off at 6 pm’ job. Where can I find one of those? All my bosses want me to work at least 11 hours a day.

  75. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    @Neil said:

    Maybe this whole culture of customer-codependent marketing is collective fantasy from marketers who have such emotional needs.

    Maybe so, my friend. Maybe so.

  76. Epicurus said on

    I chose this moniker because my criticism was in line with his philosophy. Choosing Epicurus doesn’t reflect on my imagination – or lack thereof. In fact, I can imagine at least one other cause for success – sense of purpose. And I further feel no need to preemptively exclude every other possible cause by over-committing to one cause.

    Upon further reflection, I can’t say absolutely that you lack imagination. You may simply have been unable or unwilling to exercise it in your thinking on the matter.

  77. matt said on

    A dark, but very true statement and not something I want to dwell on.

  78. Eelco said on

    Feelings control our lives! Every attitude we adopt, every thought we have, every decision we make, everything we say or don’t say and everything we do or don’t do is directly attributed to our feelings.
    If you felt contended and loved do you think you would be less succesfull?
    Thank you for sharing. Cheerio.

  79. Alan Storm said on

    I’ve been following your work online for about a decade, never quite sure what it was about your voice that kept me listening. Thank you for taking 200 words to explain what resonates and keeps us coming back.

  80. The Truth said on

    What a bunch of bullshit. You’re a loser and so is everyone agreeing with you .

  81. Stig said on

    Well spoken, -reminds me of the infamous film “Citizen Kane” about a very ambitious man, eager to be loved for what he does, who too late finds out what it is all about.

  82. Carlos said on

    That makes a lot of sense Mr. Zeldman. Well at least to me it does and explains quite a bit of the restlessness in just about everything I do. But I do wonder if it ever comes a time that the whole is fulfilled. But then again why would you want that when it has taken you so many places were it not for the feeling of wanting to reach success, accomplishment, or attention.

  83. Gabe da Silveira said on

    Incredibly thought-provoking post. My first thoughts are:

    It seems exceedingly unlikely that any person could make it to adulthood with 100% of their psychological needs met. The physical world is trauma-inducing by its very nature. Therefore everyone has the potential to be “broken” in this sense.

    Yet not everyone is, or at least not outwardly. Everyone has sensitive spots, but they vary. Defense mechanisms vary. Mental health varies. The things that traumatize people vary. People are pretty resilient. So it seems (to me anyway) that driven individuals are not really broken. They just happen to be molded a certain way by life’s forces.

  84. SD said on

    I knew this but you have explained it in the words…its awesome and it only TRUTH……great..thanks…

  85. Richard Fink said on

    Many years ago I read an interview with Woody Allen. He said, without in any way trying to be humorous, “I think happiness is overrated”.
    Me too.
    From the oyster comes the pearl.

  86. » And the broken places will be made straight Filter Your Input said on

    [...] very thought-provoking post from Zeldman today on what it takes to succeed as a “creative entrepreneur” Yes, you must make [...]

  87. Pete Shaw said on

    What “the fuck” ever!

  88. Portlandhead said on

    I will testify on behalf of this man: he speaks the truth.

    You’ve got to suffer if you want to sing the bluez.

  89. zeriusly said on

    It’s amusing that many of the contrarians’ replies are simultaneously doubting Jeffrey’s statement and displaying the very insecurity and defensive need for approval he is illustrating.
    Happiness is a peak, sadness is a valley. The need for constant approval is something a perfectly ‘happy’ person can become addicted to, and let it drive them. Peel back just a few layers of happy and there just might be more valleys there than they thought.

  90. » A dirty little secret about Entrepreneurship & success said on

    [...] the entire thing here, it’s quick and dirty Zeldman Subscribe to comments Comment | Trackback | Post [...]

  91. EA said on

    Long time reader, first time commenter, love the show.

    This post blows me away and I had to say so. You’ve articulated something that I’ve just nibbled around the edges of, never fully rendering like this. I think it’s a slightly bleaker outlook than my own and hope the same is true for you, Jeffrey, for your own sake. Maybe you shaded it a little darkly after a bad day, who knows.

    I think it’s unbelievably brave to put something like this out there. I’d never dare. I sincerely salute and thank you for it.

    Maybe there’s a little Pittsburgh in that philosophy (I grew up there, too). Something about those gray days and grimy tumbledown houses on steep hills put the ache of life into me, too.

  92. Wayne State Web Communications Blog » Blog Archive » [Friday Links] The TEDxDetroit Edition said on

    [...] Dirty Little Secret of Success [...]

  93. In Response to Zeldman said on

    [...] I read this article, “Dirty Little Secret of Success“, by Jeffrey Zeldman. It struck a nerve in me right away because it deals with the human [...]

  94. Chris Wallace said on

    It’s easy to make generalizations about things that drive people. Love is something all people have an innate longing for. Approval is something every person craves. If they say otherwise, they’re lying. So sure, you are correct in your broad statement about the causality of success.

    However, there are a myriad of other contributing factors that need to be tossed in as well. These are different for everyone. It is this combination of driving forces that increase your probability of success.

    In addition, I don’t think your ability to provide your customers with the highest quality service relies upon you having had a brokenness in you that continually craves attention and affection you somehow missed out on.

  95. Paul Boag said on

    I am sorry Jeffrey, I couldn’t disagree more.

  96. Eleana Whitesell said on

    I think someone else probably said it better earlier up, but if you get it, you get it. If you don’t, consider yourself lucky.

  97. Doug Fentiman said on

    I disagree! Enduring hardship and unhappiness does not create lasting motivation and entrepreneurial success. Passion is a much better determinant of business success!

  98. Jason O'Brien said on

    Doug, I think you’re forgetting the original meaning of the word ‘passion.’ Passion isn’t all flowers and sunshine. Passion has its’ roots in violence, pain, and suffering.

  99. Jesse Gardner said on

    Hey Jeffrey,

    I think I know where you’re coming from… some of my best work has been born out of frustration and sadness. But I don’t think the frustration is the inspiration for creative success, I think it’s merely a catalyst. In other words, when things are going well we often just want to sit back and soak it up; it’s those angst-y moments that often push us to pursue creative madness.

    I’m a person who believes in a Good God, but that doesn’t precludes me from being able to partake in the beauty of Creation. Instead of creating out of some frantic sense of detachment, I create as an expression of—and perhaps even a tribute to—the beauty I see around me.

    I’ve noticed you’ve been in a bit of a tailspin lately because of some rotten circumstances… just wanted to let you know (for whatever it’s worth to you) that I’m praying for you. You’ve done a lot of good for the web, thanks.

  100. Joe Barstow said on

    Ouch Mr. Zeldman, this article really got dissected. All I can say is you are right! A person who is content or is at a state of peace/enlightenment should not need anything! Life is to live, if you feel something is missing then sieze it! If your HAPPY then for F’s sake JUST BE HAPPY!!! :) Although, America does like to bite off more than they chew :P

  101. RD. said on

    This is demonstrably false. I realize this isn’t necessarily a quantitative audience, but there’s a tremendous body of solid research on these topics.
    “Unhappy childhood” or “poor parent-child relationship” is not a key theme.

  102. adam qureshi said on

    I know *exactly* what you mean. Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?

  103. Ray Blake said on

    Problematic here is the undefined, yet culturally embedded idea of “success”. Does it mean peer acknowledgement, wealth, political power, victory over the competition? Certainly the driven individual is someone, who like most people, is impacted by these cultural values. Think of the suffering caused by perceived failure. Ambition is certainly anti-social, it demands a hierarchy in which others are defeated. It’s really a form of revenge.

  104. Planner Reads » Blog Archive » “A longing for love and approval. That’s the dirty little secret of success. Yes, you must make…” said on

    [...] Jeffrey Zeldman is intense.  Read his full post: Dirty Little Secret of Success. http://fascinated.fm/post/220936508 October 23rd, [...]

  105. Brian R. Parris said on

    You are so bang on right that it is scary!

    “I have been abandoned, betrayed, ridiculed, unsupported at some point that was when I needed it most. ” To coin a phrase.

    Thank you for those heart felt words of encouragement. It makes me realize that I am doing the right thing with my career change; here in the middle of my life!

    Sincerel,

    Brian R. Parris

  106. WWD Weekend Reading List said on

    [...] zeldman.com: “Dirty Little Secret of Success” [...]

  107. Sometimes the big boys get it wrong « Intel Designer said on

    [...] week Jeffrey Zeldman made the statement that, “a longing for love and approval” is the secret of success, which is true in its own [...]

  108. monika hardy said on

    A contented person with a whole heart, who has never doubted for a moment that she is loved by God and the universe, should not bother trying to succeed as a creative entrepreneur.

    i don’t think anyone fits that bill. so i’m thinking the blockage of creativity is more from a denial/dishonesty about reality than some puritism…
    just saying.

  109. Jay Robinson said on

    Happiness or sadness notwithstanding, we all derive our motivation from where we will.

  110. Jim Pietrangelo said on

    Thoughts such as this might feel, or sound, true when you’re in the middle of some emotional crisis, but really, wouldn’t this be sad if it were true? Happily, it’s not.

  111. Leroy Kids said on

    Monika, you are absolutely right. There are always opposition staring us in the fact, the creative ones are those who face it down and come to grips with it..or are in so much pain they can’t help but come to grips with it.

    I will quote from a writer whose name I cannot recall now. “the average man is a conformist, accepting miseries and disasters with the stoicism of a cow standing in the rain.”

  112. Terry said on

    I can get with this argument, to an extent. It takes a person with real drive, hutzpah and a touch of craziness to build a successful business—especially a creative one. I am currently failing at this—but definitely not because I’m so “well adjusted”!

    Although I do agree that most creative endeavors are part of some search for happiness or fulfillment—NOT because you were happy already!

    At the end of the day, we’re all “broken.” Some of us are better at channeling that brokenness into something productive. And I think that’s what makes all the difference…

  113. flashMasterFlex said on

    The only post you’ve ever made that surprised me in a good way. Congratulations. You really are spot on the money. Who is really so driven that they will abandon their families, and their free time on this earth in a relentless pursuit of more, and more, money/power/fame? Isn’t being a billionaire enough? Who makes a billion and keeps dreaming of the next billion? Psychotic people. Dangerous people IMHO. Look at our economy, dangerously, irrationally greedy people, taking everything for themselves, and not even close to an amount that they could realistically spend in a lifetime, but 100′s of times beyond it…

    Insanity is what it is, plain and simple. You are right, a good person with a whole heart is content by definition, content with the sky, the trees, the oceans, and animals of the earth, and the pleasant company of their friends and family. Content with being.

  114. ds r4 said on

    Wow. Great post. And great job linking to several further resources! I think you’re absolutely right about needing others for success. The best promotion is when others promote you!

  115. Jeff Hill said on

    I mostly agree with this and it seems to ring true in my case as well, but the positive contrarian in me has to believe that even if I was completely content AND I knew what I had and was grateful, my desire to “give back” would become my fuel!

  116. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    @Jeff Hill:

    Giving back is a huge motivator. For it to work, it should be innate and it ought to start early. I was eager to give back long before I actually had anything to give back for. (The point is, I was grateful and thought I had a lot to give back for.)

    Of course if it isn’t innate and didn’t start early you can still train yourself to have gratitude and cultivate the practice of giving back.

  117. alican said on

    Çok Teşekkürler zeldman harikasın

  118. nick fox said on

    Contentment is the enemy of invention.

  119. Benjamin Reece said on

    You have qualified my existence. As un-fucking-important as it may be.

    I resort to a simple purpose: to simply “dent the universe”.

    Because it’s the most I can hope for.

  120. So Here’s What Happened (on October 26th) : Andrew Flynn said on

    [...] Shared Dirty Little Secret of Success – Jeffrey Zeldman Presents The Daily Report. [...]

  121. Darklg Web (darklgweb) 's status on Tuesday, 27-Oct-09 20:03:20 UTC - Identi.ca said on
  122. Mark Claudius Png said on

    On a scale meant to range from 1 to 10 on brokenness, I’m a 1,000. Awesome post, I read it twice.

  123. gladyo said on

    tank you :)

  124. Noel Jackson said on

    But when I turn it off at 2am, I’m still allowed to cry, right? ;)

  125. lexx said on

    Thats a wonderful post. Although I would like to disagree, I cant. In fact, I kind of feel this way sometimes.

  126. vanaukendesign.com Blog » Blog Archive » Gurus Speaking said on

    [...] guru, Jeffrey Zeldman is saying that, “A contented person with a whole heart, who has never doubted for a moment that she is [...]

  127. Lasse Heindorff said on

    I could easily fit the bill and agree, but I – like others it seems – suspect most people would.

    @Jason Robb

    “They don’t derive their motivation from their problems, but the hope in the solution.”

    Very nicely put!

    Having seen Coach Carter just a few days ago, an Marianne Williamson quote comes to mind…

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

  128. Catherine said on

    That was a good post, and yes I do agree. I would like to include it on my term paper, I’m sure it’ll be a hit on application essay help that I’m providing to others.

  129. Berserk said on

    And here I was, thinking there was more to it than feeling miserable and needing revenge.

  130. r4 firmware said on

    Looks like u r writing ur own experience man…
    I do agree… U can’t have that passion to do something if u r not emotional…. and emotion of losing every thing will just take u to victory……

  131. Web Solutions said on

    Hi

    It’s true and this explanation is better.

  132. Charles Roper said on

    Very interesting Jeffrey. This idea is something I have often pondered myself; you have set it out both succinctly and beautifully.

    Coincidentally, BBC Radio 4 recently ran a short documentary exploring the correlation between entrepreneurs and childhood trauma.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00nh06m

    Sadly, only available in the UK, but a great listen if you’re able to receive it.

  133. Anne said on

    oh my god, thanks for day-lighting this little nut. i”ve been pretending that i have a whole heart for as long as i can remember. maybe that’s why i’ve had such a problem smiling daily in my cube and returning home happily each pm. i’ve been a fricken restless bitch masquerading as a nice girl for over 40 years…god i’m tired.

  134. anonymous said on

    Fascinating topic. I hope you don’t think this is pretentious,
    or not apropos, or ill-intentioned or whatever, but I think a good portion of what you’re saying is remarkably reflected in the life of one Agnese Gonxhe Bojaxhiu (aka Mother Theresa).

    At the beginning of her “call” to start her work among the poorest
    of the poor, she experienced an extraordinary closeness to God that
    lasted for a number of months. But not long afterward, and
    throughout most of her remaining years on earth, she went through
    a spiritual “dark night of the soul”.

    Jeffrey said: “You have to have been abandoned, betrayed, ridiculed,
    unsupported at some point when you needed it most.

    Only a restless, broken heart can drive you to do what is necessary.

    …you won’t be able to do those things, not really,
    not all the way, not as they must be done, unless
    there is a brokenness in you.”

    From one of MT’s letters: “I feel just that terrible pain of loss,
    of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.”

    So maybe Mother Theresa would never have persevered with her incredible call and touched millions of lives were it not for the incredible abandonment she felt after the initial joy?

    From a (crass) “business” perspective, you could call her a success:
    she started alone, and now has over 4,500 sisters in 133 countries.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother_Teresa
    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4188/is_20031018/ai_n11429355/

    I started reading some of her letters, and it gets so heavy
    at times that you have to take a break just to breathe again.
    http://www.amazon.com/Mother-Teresa-Private-Writings-Calcutta/dp/0385520379

  135. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    Golly. Thanks for sharing that!

  136. china calling said on

    bull’s eye, old friend. i liked the higher frequency of these tormented and deeply human insights of yours 10 years back. hope all is well.

  137. Dirty Little Secret of Success | Lemaetech said on

    [...] Dirty little secret of success. [...]

  138. Leroy | for the kids said on

    This is my second time reading this post and it hit me like a bomb. I’m going to copy the text and past it on my bedroom wall. All the work I have done over the past year and a half that has lead to a lot of improvement in my skills and business life is due to the fact that exactly some of the stuff that you mentioned happend to me. Got hit by four major dissapointments over the course fo a couple months and I felt need to restore my dignity through achievement just to “show them.” I doubt that I could have done this without the adversity.

  139. Scott Lassiter said on

    Wow, this is the truth. Maybe this is why I am tired, I am still on the computer, and looking for some ZEN from the masters like JZ. Thanks Mr. Z for some inspiration…..since I am the one designer in group of several .NET developers. Remember it is always the designers fault, because…..if we did not make something beautiful and creative, it would be easy to develop, which would mean more time to develop…..right:)

    Thanks JZ. Nighty Night.

  140. Littlest, Yellowest, Differentest said on

    [...] By Zeldman. This rings truer to me than I would like to [...]

  141. Hacker News | Dirty Little Secret of Success said on

    [...] Hacker News | Dirty Little Secret of SuccessHacker Newsnew | comments | leaders | jobs | submitloginDirty Little Secret of Success (zeldman.com) 153 points by adamhowell 27 days ago | 69 [...]

  142. A heart broken entrepreneur is a successful entrepreneur said on

    [...] really drives a creative entrepreneur to succeed? A contented person with a whole heart, who has never doubted for a moment that she is loved by [...]

  143. Trimming ignorance one frame at a time said on

    [...] success Thu, Oct 22 2009 12:06 | Permalink The dirty little secret of success. I pretty much agree.http://www.zeldman.com/2009/10/22/dirty-little-secret-of-success/ ChrisB Comments (1) See Older Posts…var showComments=1; var reverseCommentEntries=1; var [...]

  144. New Jack Librarian said on

    [...] posts. But I don't despair. Partly this is because I largely write for my own reasons (that and I'm fundamentally broken) and because I think I know why the reason behind The Blue Skunk Rule…We don't need any more [...]

  145. Backstoryesque: Boys, girls, and posession said on

    [...] girls, and posession Reading two rather curious posts (one on content, one on business) today, I was surprised, pleased, and slightly awed to see them referring quite naturally and [...]

  146. Zeldman | Silicon Meadow said on

    [...] Dirty Little Secret of Success Thu, 2009-10-22 12:44 [...]

  147. How do i acquire a low-cost uk business coach? This is really pretty cool. Not too shabby for my first post. « Ali's awesomeblogs.org said on

    [...] People who “get you” and support you in achieving the big goals you have for yourself. I wonder where you find this? Businesses, like yours, at various times need guidance. The ultimate question is do you know how to [...]

Comments off.