Moguls, Success, Money and the Elephant Man

For years I wanted to be a business mogul. You know the type – a Thomas Crown mixed with a Richard Branson – overladen with opportunity, events, praise and, of course, generous dollops of money.

I wanted my rich double-cream chocolate gateaux with cherries, and boy, was I going to eat it.

I tried, at a ferocious pace – starting seven businesses in three separate countries over the course of a decade, with some modest success.

But my dreams were grand and unhealthy. The materialism never materialised.

Why? Because my dreams were fundamentally unrealistic as they contained, neatly packaged within, several core contradictions.

For example –

  • I wanted wealth as well as finding meaning in my life.
  • I wanted to be hugely successful, yet I did not want to work punishing hours or to miss holidays with friends.
  • I wanted to be liked by all my employees and business partners, which if you are trying to run a successful business just does not work. In fact, as I learned to my peril, trying to be liked can often result in a completely opposite reaction.
  • I wanted my companies to grow, but I hated the hard sell.

Dreaming is a wonderful thing. However, in my case my dreams are often conflicting and contain specific flaws.

I am too quick to imagine how I might be in a specific situation, or what I would like to be, rather than recognising who I am.

Watching a film like the Motorcycle Diaries ( has me mentally travelling across South America, although actually I would prefer settling in one place, I do not speak Spanish and have deliberately avoided any attempt to learn to ride a motorbike (primarily for health and safety reasons as this Simpletom has a not-so-simple-but-hard-to-banish love of speed and vehicles).

Into the Wild ( has me living in isolation in some faraway place in complete happiness, until I realise that I like people, dislike sleeping in uncomfortable places and would make a hopeless forager.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo ( has me hacking into people’s bank accounts, becoming the next Julian Assange ( and writing incredible exposés (and drinking about fifty cups of coffee a day), until I realise that I have not got an investigative nature, the patience to figure out how to programme a DVD machine, nor a photographic memory (or even much of a memory at all).

Even people provide an incredible palette of potential things that we could be… and the media helps to fuel this furnace.

One minute I meet an author who spent seven years on a single novel and I want to dedicate myself wholeheartedly to writing ‘the’ book of the year. The next minute a concert pianist – then an explorer.

None of which, if I am going to exercise an iota of realism, I am capable of unless I give up almost everything else. The complete picture of all the traits, characters, careers and desires I have would make me look look, if these emotions could be seen, like the elephant man crossed with Maasai warrior. i.e. not pretty!

Sitting in a therapist’s chair, which I did for a few years in my early twenties to precociously try to ‘figure it out’, found me regularly marvelling at the chasm between the desired me and the actual me.

To become all the things I wanted would have resulted in a few lifetimes, a couple of fundamental character transplants, zero sleep and a healthy dose of schizophrenia (I wonder if both of us would have been comfortable with each other!).

Then I noticed something rather simple.

If I tried to become more me, I achieved more than if I tried to be more the way I wanted to be. Those dreams did not have to vanish – instead, I became realistic. I tried to understand how dreams connected and interplayed with one another. Most important, I was reminded that no one – (let me repeat that) not one person in the history of the world – has achieved all that I wanted to achieve. Therefore I should just give myself a pat on the back for how far I had come and what I had achieved, rather than what I had not, or had yet to.

The realisation of the impossible was rather liberating. Instead, I tried to be more supportive of the self. My internal dialogue (between my almost schizophrenic self!) shifted from ‘I wish I was a…’ to ‘I am a…’

Realism is just so rewarding. Realism helps you discard all of the faux-hopes and dreams, and separate them from the actual. Realism helps you become presently (or should that be pleasantly) surprised, rather than over-expecting. To paraphrase the Dalai Lama, ‘do what you can with what you have and forget the rest’.

I want to be a realist.

I want to be more real.

Know thyself, and all that… and then you will not be so surprised when you do find yourself up at 5 am, again, having broken your ‘I’ll only have two beers rule’. Instead, revel in the ‘this is me, being me’ moment. All those with serious harmful addictions, please ignore that last piece of advice.

And the benefits of being realistic is that you suddenly become able to provide yourself with sensible targets and thoughtful plans that incorporate you and your character, rather than that of someone else.

I received this extract of an interview from a friend the other day, which pertinently reminded me of this madness:

It seems to me that most of the stuff in my own life and in my friends’ life that’s interesting and true involves double binds or setups where you’re given two alternatives which are mutually exclusive and the sacrifices involved in either seem unacceptable. I mean … [aspirates in rapid staccato “tch-tch-tch-tch…”] I mean, one of the big ones is, the culture places a huge premium on achievement. I mean, I went to like this real hoity-toity college and, as you know, and everybody’s like now a millionaire on Wall Street. Anyway — how both to work hard enough and invest enough of yourself really to achieve something and yet retain the sort of integrity so that you’ve got a self apart from your achievement. I mean, even something as banal as, you know, The modern woman can have it all: she can have a family and a deep fulfilling relationship with her children while being, you know, a CEO of a successful company. I mean, it’s as if the culture is some Zen teacher, you know, whacking us no matter what we do. It’s very interesting. I’m not really quite sure why we set it up that way.


So my simpletom guide for realism is:

  • Use a realistic dose of the past to determine whether a dream is possible, fanciful or even destructive.
  • Go gentle on oneself.
  • Remind yourself there is only so much you can do in one day – do not get swamped by tomorrow’s tasks or dreams.
  • If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans… or yourself if you’re neatly squared off in your atheism.
  • Be proud of yourself, regardless.
  • Do not listen to the self-helpers who persist in telling you that you can be thinner, brighter, better, more efficient, tidier, a better lover, kinder, more zen-like, richer, more successful, happier. If anything, the first step toward achieving all of these things is to banish the desire for them, then they might, if you’re lucky, start to happen of their own accord.

One thought on “Moguls, Success, Money and the Elephant Man

  1. Hey Simpletom, I agree with all of the above, and really relate to it. I am just beginning a much calmer period myself, with no looming deadlines, in fact almost no work at all in the immediate future! So unused to it, I keep trying to find ‘projects’ to keep myself busy, and impress people no doubt. Maybe I should just be… thanks for the advice x x x x

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