Founder & CEO – ASCENSION BRANDS
econd semester of senior year in college is basically an extended vacation. Students organize their schedules to include at least one easy class so they can coast into one last summer before the “real world” begins.
College can be a grind; I can understand wanting to give yourself a break. I would have loved to party with my friends as much as the next person. But there were other things I wanted more. I wanted freedom. I wanted a challenge. I wanted success. Whether you want to start your own business, be a star athlete, achieve fame as an actor—whatever it is—success is a product of three stages: The Decision, The Grind, and The Execution.
This might sound like an obvious step, but failing to make a decision can be a major roadblock to success. I have a friend who dreams of being the general manager of an NFL team. He obsesses over fantasy football and managing rosters on Madden. When I ask him why he doesn’t apply for internships at all of the franchises and try and work his way up, he says, “It’s not like I could ever actually become a GM.” And he’s right.
Even if there’s a 0.1% chance of achieving the title, by neither applying nor committing himself to his dream, he’s automatically giving himself a zero percent chance. All of the individuals in desirable positions at some point in their lives made the decision to commit themselves to their dreams, even though they had the same 0.1% chance. My friend dreams about his passion, but won’t try to make it a reality. Now he goes to work every day unhappy with his job. I can’t comprehend that logic.
And he’s not the only one. Millions of people out there are in the same boat. I was an Econ major, so let’s use some simple concepts in the next example. Let’s say you play it safe, have a good job you can tolerate most of the time, a nice family, and no real problems…but also nothing exceptional in your life.
On a scale from 1 to 100 utils (measurement of happiness from a good/service/etc.), let’s say your life’s happiness grades out at 70. It’s average to slightly above average; there are many good parts. However, an average 40-hour workweek comes out to about 24% of your entire time that week. In other words, a quarter of your life is being wasted on something that you have no passion for and generally dislike doing. WHY? Why would you do that? Combine that with the fact that the entire time you’d be wondering what would’ve happened had you pursued your dream.
In the other scenario, you go for your dream instead of playing it safe. Achieving it comes out to 100 utils, since you’ve made your dreams a reality. In the situation where you fall short of your dream, people make a critical error by calculating that their life would grade out at 0. Failing at your dream does not mean 0 utils. Trying to accomplish a dream and falling short is not the end of the world. I hate losing more than anything, and I hope it never happens to me. But when it does, there is still something to be gained and learned from the experience.
Say you graduate from college at 22, spend five years working toward a goal, and fall short. At 27, you could still reach that same 70 utils of happiness, even if you have to spend more time to get there. Maybe you could even find a different career in your dream industry that’s also better than the safe option. Ray Kroc, who grew the McDonald’s empire, didn’t open the first franchise until he was 52. Trust me when I say that you have time.
From a young age, there was no doubt in my mind that I’d start my own business. The real question was which idea I would pursue. I remember meeting with one of my favorite professors senior year of college to discuss my business idea. I was still debating whether I should get a respectable corporate job and try to run my business on the side, or focus on my business full-time. My professor not only told me to play it safe, but also discouraged me from pursuing the idea I was most excited about.
It wasn’t a groundbreaking invention, and it wasn’t anything super innovative. It was a company founded on the vision of helping kids transition from college to professional life. Jeff Bezos’ goal with Amazon was to create the biggest online store in the world. But he knew there would be a process to get to that point and it would have to start somewhere. For Amazon, it started with books. As much as I would have liked to enter the market for women’s and men’s dress clothes, shoes, and briefcases all at once, it’s just not realistic. With Ascension Brands, I saw the opportunity to carve out a niche with watches.
Watches are a luxury item that represent a high status level and experience; they also quite literally represent time. Ascension embodies those with great potential who are focused on improving each day to eventually reach a pinnacle of success. Unless your last name is Kardashian, that pinnacle will require 24/7 determination that borders on the line of obsession.
You have to ask yourself: Are you willing to sacrifice, dedicate countless hours outside the traditional 9-to-5, live with your parents to save money, and drive for Uber at night while your friends are living it up? Most of all, are you willing to risk the judgment of the outside world by failing?
Everyone sees the success, glamour, and fortunes of the famous, but they rarely comprehend the absolute grind it takes to get there. Many successful people are gifted from birth and had some lucky breaks along the way; however, it’s more common that their obsessive behavior separates them from the average person, giving them a better chance of success. Even on game day, Kobe Bryant would be in the gym by 4 a.m. trying to perfect his turn-around jumper. Mark Cuban lived on a friend’s couch on a diet of ketchup packets while all of his money was dedicated to his business.
You can find any number of tales depicting sacrifices made by the rich and the famous. The grind is the hardest part, because it’s grunt work that you don’t get credit for until after the fact. At the time of the ketchup packets, there wasn’t an article about Cuban commending him for his dedication; I promise, all of his friends thought he was crazy.
No one likes to get up at dawn to workout like Kobe. Everyone would rather relax than go through hell when the end result isn’t guaranteed. If you are able to muster enough willpower, then congrats. Let’s see you do a week. Now how about a year? These elite guys have years of the grind under their belts. You can start to see why it’s so hard to reach their position.
I struggle with motivating myself each day. The key is to find some new reason that drives you any time the old one starts to lose its spark. If you can continue to do that, then you’re moving in the right direction with elite company. All that’s left now is the final stage.
“The Grind is the hardest part, because it’s grunt work that you don’t get credit for until after the fact.”
Believe it or not, this part may be the simplest. The execution stage builds upon the first two stages. When I still played baseball as a pitcher, I wouldn’t win on the day of the ballgame. I won the game before it even started. I won it in January when I was doing long-toss with my Dad in the snow. I won it when I was driving an hour a day just to get in some extra pitching after already completing 5 a.m. practices.
On game day, there was no doubt in my mind what the outcome would be, since I had already accomplished the hard parts. I made the decision to be the best pitcher I could possibly be; I put in all of the work to position myself for success, and then I went out and did it. The games were the reward for everything I had sacrificed, and I could enjoy the experience without overthinking or getting nervous. If you have confidence in your ability to win, the only situation that should make you nervous is the one in which you cut corners.
If you have your own business, selling the final product/service (and performing successfully) feels far removed from where it all began. From my perspective, when someone gets an Ascension watch in their hands, it’s an easy sell. But that’s only because I constantly met with my professors to go over my business and marketing plan, sent thousands of emails and phone calls to experts in the watch industry to gain as much advice and insight as I could, and spent late nights working with manufacturers around the world to ensure all parts and specs were of the highest quality.
A great product doesn’t just happen. Michael Jordan isn’t just lucky. Mark Cuban isn’t just a genius. All of these successes are the result of very small improvements that are difficult to see while they’re happening. Continuing over days, months, and years, it’s a lot easier to see when it all comes together.
Keep in mind that sometimes your competition will be better than you on a given day. There will be times when you get an unlucky break. Some people just don’t like watches; these things are inevitable. But the true greats don’t get discouraged by these moments. Instead, they use them as motivation to become even better.
I created Ascension with the idea that you always have potential to improve to a higher level in all of life’s facets, personally or professionally. I hope, after reading this, you come away with a better understanding of yourself and your goals. There’s a version of you out there waiting to make all of your dreams a reality. The decision is yours…if you really want it.