There is a great story, told masterfully by author Steven Pressfield in his book The Virtues of War: A Novel of Alexander the Great about an encounter that Alexander had upon entering India for the first time.
Paraphrased in my words:
Upon entering India, Alexander first encountered the Gymnosophists, or “naked wise men” descending to the river where they would bathe and chant. These sages seemed to regard Alexander’s rough core with a sense of patience and beneficence.
An incident occurred that was a matter of discussion amongst Alexander and his Generals. Upon entering a particular village, one of Alexander’s paiges had strided ahead to clear the road for his precession. The paige encountered several of these sages who were occupying the road, and would not leave. A crowd gathered, with a resulting conflict as to who had the right to occupy the road – Alexander or the gymnosophists.
One of Alexander’s generals engaged in a spirited exchange with the senior of these wise men, where he suggested,
Alexander has conquered the world, what have you done?
To which the sage instantly replied, without a moment’s hesitation:
I have conquered the need to conquer the world
What a powerful example. Something that I truly wish to emulate in my life.
The word conquer could easily be substituted for “success” or “achievement”. How many of us feel that we need to be successful? How many of us feel the constant need to achieve?
I bet all of us for the most part.
Why is this? What is it about the human condition that makes it this way?
In my life, and my work, I have found that I am at my creative peak, and at my most courageous mindset, when I transcend the “need to achieve”. When I do things for their own sake, without regard to the rewards that I will obtain from them, that is when I am at my best.
That is when I most acutely trigger flow in my work.
That is when my creativity shines through.
It is a habit that I am trying to cultivate daily – doing work for the sake of the work alone. In whatever I am engaging in – an article, a chapter in a book, a business marketing campaign, a sales engagement – trying to master the engagement, for the sake of mastery, not because of what I may get from it.
Conquering the need to conquer
I am absolutely convinced that this mindset is at the heart of mastery, and that true masters in any craft (and yes business, and sales, is a craft) at some point, transcend the need for rewards as a result of their behaviour. Their behaviour then becomes autotelic (meaning it is an end in itself).
When this happens success, or achievement, comes as a matter of course – a natural consequence arising from one’s mastery of a subject matter. I don’t think that mastery is possible without adopting this type of mindset. The road to excellence in anything is just too hard otherwise.
So here is a challenge – in whatever you are pursuing – ask yourself. Would you still pursue it if no one ever found out? Would you still do it if you never were rewarded? Is the action its own reward? That is a very telling analysis into our true motivation.