You’ve seen the movie Kung Fu Panda, right?
As the father of two young boys, I’ve seen it probably a dozen times. But for those of you that haven’t (or for those of you that need a reminder), let me summarize. Spoilers ahead, but it’s been out since 2008, so you had your chance!
- There’s a panda named Po (voiced by the always-entertaining Jack Black) who loves Kung Fu and loves to eat.
- His father is a goose who owns a noodle stand. His noodles are famous, in part because of his secret ingredient.
- Po is chosen as the legendary “ninja warrior”, much to his surprise and the chagrin of Master Shifu and the “Furious Five” team of warriors.
- Hilarity ensues as the portly Po learns Kung Fu and struggles with his ever-present appetite.
- There’s a bad guy named Tai Lung who threatens to destroy their home.
- They consult the legendary “dragon scroll”, which only the dragon warrior can open, but it turns out the scroll is blank.
- Po learns that the secret ingredient in his father’s soup is “nothing”, and that it’s special only because people believe it is.
- Right before the big showdown at the end, Po realizes that “there is no secret ingredient” and that he needs to believe in himself. This allows him to defeat the bad guy and save the day using the legendary “Wuxi finger hold”.
- They all live happily ever after, until the sequel, anyway.
It’s a great movie, and I must admit that I’d probably watch it even if I didn’t have kids! I think the lesson is a universal one, and has broad implications in life and business.
Many of us, myself included, are guilty of looking for that one thing that’s going to take our business over the edge. I don’t know about you, but my Facebook feed is filled with ads from companies pitching their secret formula to success to business owners. We often believe that there’s some hidden secret that those that have succeeded in business must know, and that if we knew it, we’d be ultra-successful too.
The reality is, however, that this is just not the case. There is no secret ingredient. While the lesson of Kung Fu Panda may seem cliche, the idea that the secret is “within us” may be truer than it seems.
So I don’t have the secret to success, but I do have a few thoughts that come from people more successful than myself that I’d like to share.
1) Know Yourself
It’s no secret that each of us is unique. We have areas where we’re gifted and areas where we struggle. We have things that come naturally to us and things that we probably couldn’t learn with decades of practice. We have certain things that we love doing, that make us feel alive, and others that leave us feeling drained and frustrated.
Get to know what these things are for you. Lean into those things that give you life, that make you excited to get up in the morning. Be willing to say “no” to the things that aren’t in line with who you are.
I’m not saying to avoid working on your weaknesses or that there aren’t times when we have to do work that we don’t enjoy. But as a rule, focus on the things that are life giving and that let your natural talents shine.
2) Embrace the Possibility of Failure
Many of us have a deep-seeded fear of failure. We’ve been told, both consciously and subconsciously, that failing is the worst possible thing that could happen to us. We come to believe that we’re supposed to succeed in most, if not all, of our efforts.
This leads us to play it safe. We get a safe job. We choose a safe line of business. The problem is that even the “safe path” is wrought with struggles and failures along the way, and our mindset has ill prepared us for these. We become frustrated and even bitter with our business and our lives.
But many of us are learning that there is a better way, that failure is an integral step on the road to success. Without the willingness to fail, we’re unlikely to build anything worthwhile. Greatness requires risk, and we won’t risk unless we’re alright with temporary failures along the way. We come to see that most failures are not final, but stepping stones on the road to something greater.
3) Keep an Open Mind
Thinking that we have arrived, that we have all the answers we need, is a dangerous place to be. We shut ourselves off from new possibilities and close the door to learning. We’re bound to miss opportunities, and technological and cultural progress is sure to pass us by.
The alternative is that we’re always looking for a better way of doing things. We look not only to those in our industry, but to those outside of it, for new ideas and strategies. We’re eager to learn even from those who are younger and have less experience. This mindset will allow us to never stop growing, and to ride the wave of change rather than to be buried by it.
It feels a little strange to declare that there is no secret to success, and then to share three ideas on how to be successful. I think, however, that these points are lifelong practices rather than quick fixes. They challenge us to keep moving forward and to do a little better each day.