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Why do all successful people have to be assholes?

Note: I apologize if the word “asshole” offends you, but for the purpose of this post, I am going to have to use the word quite a bit. Earmuffs please.

I got into a little debate over at On Moneymaking tonight about whether you have to be an asshole to be successful. Jon’s post there suggests that you should accept becoming an asshole if you want to be successful in life.

I know about a dozen people that make over $1 million per year, and I’d imagine all of them are called assholes on a regular basis. The two seem to go hand in hand, and I think there are reasons why.

Extreme Success Requires Extreme Focus

Jon goes on to note that focus requires giving “all of your attention and ignoring everything else” and comments on a pattern for wealthy, successful people that I don’t quite find to be true.

Frequently, they’ll:

  • Leave behind a trail of broken marriages and forgotten children
  • Lose the life savings of their friends and relatives on an ingenious but doomed business
  • Refuse to lend anyone money or give to charity
  • Avoid unnecessary expenses to the point of miserliness
  • Treat everyone that can’t help them as if they’re expendable

In the end, Jon implies that all successful people are assholes in some capacity, and you should be willing to be called an asshole to be successful.

Frankly, I just don’t agree with his suggestion. Even if you put your all into your work and some call you a “workaholic,” true character is what shines through and labels someone an asshole. I don’t think that many people legitimately label you an asshole just because of your wealth or success, and the few that do should be proven wrong by seeing your actions and character.

James Chartrand of Web Content Writer Tips and I went through several exchanges in the comments before finally coming to the realization that we actually agree. You can follow our long exchange in the comments.

James and I both agreed that you don’t need to be an asshole to be successful, and although you may run the risk of being called one, you don’t have to act like one to be a success.

From James:

Do people need to be assholes to be successful? No. But they do need to be focused and have drive and determination. They need to put themselves out there – and risk being seen as assholes.

The basic gist of my argument is simply this:

I don’t think that to be successful, you need to give up not being considered an asshole. Yes, stop obsessing about what others think, but don’t let that also lead you to fall into a philosophy of accepting your asshole-ism.

There’s a large difference between being an asshole and being successful, and I hope that many of the future moguls of America don’t take his advice to become miserable people because they think being an asshole is the only road to success.

On a minor note, Jon starts off using these examples as asshole successes:

What do Simon Cowell, Steve Jobs, Dr. House, Bill Belichick, and Donald Trump have in common?

Eliminating Dr. House because he’s not real, I had to argue that Bill Belichick while quiet, internal and often misunderstood by the press is no asshole. As for Steve Jobs, when did taking a $1 annual salary and refusing bonuses when coming back to save the company that you founded make you an asshole? I must have missed something with those examples.

My example of a very non-asshole success: Bill Gates. He is retiring to a life of philanthropy, has a successful marriage with children and I doubt he ever lived miserly during his rise in business. The only hit you have on him is running off with the idea for Windows, but can you blame him?