How to Be Successful in Life

By Kevon Cheung in


January 6, 2021

How to be Successful in Life
This is not the man I'm writing about. I like him though.

It was Thanksgiving, and I ordered two bottles of my favorite Château Léoville-Poyferré and wrote a card to send to a friend of mine. I don't actually enjoy gifting that much; I prefer catching up over coffee in-person. But I wanted to do it this time.

Because I genuinely wanted to say thank you to him. This man has taught me important lessons that I knew would have an impact on my entire life.

I'm 30 this year, which means I've been working for 8 years. I've met and worked with many people, and that included top-level investors and CEOs to fresh graduates or even high school students.

And I have been observing these people from all walks of life. Even when I was young, during any friend's gatherings, you would find me being absolutely quiet sitting at the corner. People thought I was cool (or some probably thought I was pretentious), but really I didn't know what to say and I observed and listened instead.

I've always loved to pick up little clues about why certain people are successful and why for some people, once they start talking, I want to teleport myself to somewhere else. I want to know their secret formula to get to where they are. As Naval Ravikant puts it "everything in life is of compound interest", these people are successful not because of any overnight success or super high IQ, they are because of certain qualities they practice every single day.

Out of all the people, why him?

I am not going to reveal his name here without his permission.

To tell you why I look up to this man, I have to give you some context.

He is a top-level executive working in a global company. He appears on Bloomberg and other media outlets all the time talking about the future of Finance, and I later found out that he is also a role model to my cousin who works at an investment bank. He has a happy family and he loves his wife and children a lot. He, of course, has a powerful network and a lot of people know of him.

Up until this point, he sounds like every other successful person in the corporate world, doesn't he? To most people, he'd be unapproachable or even intimidating if you get a chance to speak with him.

However, given I got a chance to work with him in one of my previous ventures, I learned a great ton from him. What caught my eyes came down to these 3 things.

Respecting everyone despite of their ranks

Obviously, I was a lot younger than him, and that naturally created a power dynamic between us that was unbalanced. But this didn't change the way we interacted.

Whenever he needed my help, he posted a question genuinely and politely. Once it was done, he would thank me personally. When we had coffee chats, he would always text me beforehand if he anticipated he would be late, even if it was just 1 minute.

We chatted about a lot of ideas and shared our business thoughts. Even if he didn't believe in my ideas, he didn't shoot them down using his experiences. Rather, he encouraged me to work towards the ideas I believed in wholeheartedly. He was always standing on the same side as me.

In my career, I've seen leaders fire people. I've fired people myself. It was never easy. Some leaders chose to do it bluntly and asked a person to not show up the next day. The way he handled it was nothing like that. He came from a sense of understanding. He always wanted to offer the best arrangement for everyone. He respected the reality that when something didn't work out, it was mainly because of the circumstances, and that didn't mean people had to be treated differently.

From my observations, he respected everyone from top-level businessmen to waitresses, doormen, and even interns sitting in meetings.

Acknowledging his own weaknesses

I have been in the technology and software space most of my career. Whenever we caught up, because he didn't know much about software and SaaS, he was open about his lack of knowledge and he was eager to learn more.

At other occasions, I've seen countless times when he was speaking with other executives, he would be completely transparent about what he was good at, what he could bring to the table, and what he didn't know. Every conversation, then, became a genuine conversation for everyone. It was not one person pitching another person.

I've made "humility" a top principle in my life. And that is natural to me because I'm still early in my career. But to see someone who is already successful and powerful remain at that level of humility towards everyone, it was inspiring.

Keeping his home extremely clean and tidy

One time, he invited me to his home. I walked in, and it was overwhelmingly white. The walls were white, a lot of items were simple, and the home didn't have a lot of "things". It was minimalistic.

It reminded me of the Japanese lady, Marie Kondo, who advocated for tidying up. So later on, I couldn't help but to ask him "Why is your home so simple and tidy?"

He told me he didn't like to have a lot of things at home. To have fewer things shown in front of his eyes, he could focus his time and energy on the things that mattered the most. "Things", to him, were distractions.

And one of the things he could then focus more on was his family. He spent a great amount of time with his family, and every Friday evening, it was his date night with his wife, no kids.

That was refreshing to hear at the moment. Lately, since I've been spending more time learning and practicing a stronger, less-distracted mind, what he said to me makes total sense.

A few reminders to those who want success in the business world

There are so many successful people out there. Some are really smart. But to me, long-term success comes down to:

1) Your relationships with people

2) Your self awareness

3) Your mind focusing on the right things

These are things that people think are easy to achieve. You read from a book or an article like this, and then you'd spend a few seconds thinking about it, and you move on. But the truth is - it's hard to master these things. It takes a strong conscious mind to guide oneself to keep practicing.

I learned that I can never take things for granted. No one around me, even my wife and my parents, are obligated to help or love me, I have to earn it myself.

I learned that as we keep moving forward in our lives, there will be people who are ahead or behind me. Treat them with no differences and offer help if I can.

I learned that what goes around comes around. Do good things and they'll come back to you.

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