Negotiating Your Own Path to Success

Ed Brodow

An Interview with Ed Brodow about
Beating the Success Trap

Ed Brodow, author of Beating the Success Trap Why did you write a book challenging the conventional meaning of success?

As I travel around the country speaking to corporate audiences, it has become clear to me that Marlon Brando was correct when he said that we produce more miserable people than anyplace on earth. For me, being miserable has never been an acceptable option. I believe that life should be an adventure, so I have always taken risks. If something in my life wasn't working, I changed it. Many of my friends and associates used to look at me as though I was some kind of freak because I wouldn't put up with all the crap they were putting up with. Now these same friends and associates are begging me to tell them my secret. They have become disillusioned with the lives they created for themselves. It's a sad irony. So I decided to share my approach to living -- in the hope that it will help people find the joy they have been missing.

We live in an affluent society. Why are so many people miserable?

We have been brainwashed to accept the society's definition of success, which is to be rich and famous, instead of exploring a personal route to satisfaction through work and lifestyle. Your parents, teachers, and the media convinced you to work hard so you could acquire all the symbols of success -- big homes, fast cars, exotic vacations, and so on. Then you wake up one day in middle age and experience one of two reactions: "I have all this stuff, but I don't feel successful" or "I don't feel successful because I don't have all this stuff." Either way, the success trap has left you feeling empty and betrayed. When people are not living the life they want to live, the result is depression, drug abuse, alcoholism, violence, and suicide.

Are different generations affected differently by the success trap?

Yes. The college graduate says, "I don't want to make the same mistakes my parents made." Unfortunately, the success trap corrals young people into acceptable lifestyles before they have a chance to realize what hit them. By the time they are in their late twenties and early thirties, they are beginning to sense that all their hard work is not paying off the way they expected. Most of them, however, will ignore the warnings and keep plowing ahead in the direction of what they perceive as success. By the time they hit forty, they have so much invested in their complex lifestyles that they don't feel they can bust out. In a way, retirees have it the worst. After devoting their lives to work, they are then told they must stop and go play golf. But here's the secret for all of these people: The time to take charge of your life is now!

You're a negotiation expert. How did you negotiate with the success trap?

I was a highly-paid sales manager for a major computer manufacturer. One day, I witnessed an older employee receive a gold watch for thirty years service to the company, and I practically jumped out of the window. I locked the door to my office and asked myself a defining question: "What if your doctor told you that you have only six months to live? How would you want to spend that time?" That's when I realized that I was fed up with the rat race. I quit my button-down, corporate job, became a movie and television actor, and then a motivational speaker. I've never looked back. It's been a wild ride. Wouldn't have it any other way.

You claim to have redefined "success." What is your definition?

You are a success if -- right here and now -- you are doing the things that are meaningful to you. This has nothing to do with money or fame or power. It has to do with how you occupy your time from when you get up in the morning until you go to sleep at night. Time is the most important commodity. Make no mistake about it, life is short. If you don't use your time to do the things that have personal meaning for you, you're throwing your life away. I had an uncle who never made a lot of money, but he was more successful than anyone I've ever known because he understood his priorities -- he loved to go fishing and he lived his life in a way that allowed him to go fishing whenever he wanted. In that way, he lived the life that made sense to him.

But what if I don't know what I want to do with my life, how do I find out?

Unfortunately, most decisions about what to do in life are made by your oversized brain, which doesn't know doodly-squat about what you really need. If you want to figure out the right path to take in your life, stop listening to your brain and start paying attention to your gut feelings, your intuition. Intuition is knowledge acquired without the use of reasoning. It is your body talking to you. If you can get your rational mind out of the way, your body will let you know if you are on the right track.

How has 9/11 affected people's perception of success?

Many soldiers in World War II described their time in combat as the best time of their lives. That's because they were totally in the moment. They weren't worrying about their career or paying the bills or what was going to happen next week. For many people, 9/11 has done the same thing. These people are realizing that life is short and that they had better get with the program before it's too late. The awareness of their mortality has forced people to face up to their real needs. If you're in the moment, you're thinking about what is going to give you a sense of fulfillment now, not ten years from now. 9/11 has given many people courage they didn't realize they possess.

You say that we live with a lot of abuse. How does abuse prevent me from being a success?

We live in an abuse-based society. That means you are encouraged to think of yourself as not good enough. When the message you get all your life is that you are flawed, that you really don't deserve to be a success -- you are never going to be content. The antidote to this abuse is to be affectionate with yourself, and to surround yourself with people who are nurturing and supportive. In other words, take the pressure off of yourself to be a success, and you'll be successful.

How do people give away their power to be successful?

They stop taking responsibility for their lives, and let other people make decisions for them. Unfortunately, that is the direction our society seems to be heading in. When you abdicate the right to decide for yourself what success means for you, you have colluded with the forces that would turn you into a zombie. I call this a "victim mentality." I see it everywhere. We are told what party we should vote for, what team to root for, what car to buy, what kind of spouse to marry. It's George Orwell's 1984. In 1984, no one is successful.

Why is failure often better than success?

There is nothing worse in our culture than being a failure. This is abuse-based thinking at its worst. In reality, failure is the catalyst for success. You must fail before you can succeed. Failure makes you hungry. When you fail, you have learned something that will help you get closer to success. Success, on the other hand, often leads to stagnation because we become smug and complacent. Life is a series of multiple failures punctuated by success, not the other way around.

Why is getting fired the best thing that can happen to a person?

If you are being fired, it means you're in the wrong job. Were it not for being fired, you might stagnate in that situation forever. Getting fired forces you to act. They just did you a big favor by firing you. They have made it possible for you to find a better place to spend your time. Usually the next job you get turns out to be a better fit for you, and it often pays better. Could you ask for more?

What are the four steps to personal fulfillment?

First, identify your real needs, as opposed to the ones you were brainwashed to accept. Second, visualize the lifestyle that will meet those needs. Third, create a plan to make the necessary changes in your life. And fourth, make the leap -- take the first step. That's the hardest part. People will spend hours on end complaining about their lot in life, but very few ever do anything about it. It really doesn't matter what the first step is. What matters is that you get off your bum and stop playing the victim.

What is an "existential orgasm?"

This is the payoff. It's the feeling of joy you get when you are doing what your body wants you to do, what you were meant to do. It signifies that you are in the moment. When I experience an existential orgasm, it usually sneaks up on me. I get this sudden feeling that life is beautiful. I want to jump up and down. This feeling is your body's way of informing you that you are following your bliss. It's the completion of the circle that began when you created your own definition of success and stuck with it.

Can you sum up your philosophy?

Society depends upon conformity. But too much conformity is unhealthy. If we can learn to be more flexible and thereby encourage people to explore their own definitions of success, we will have a much healthier place to live.

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