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TED2009

Richard St. John: Success is a continuous journey

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In his typically candid style, Richard St. John reminds us that success is not a one-way street, but a constant journey. He uses the story of his business' rise and fall to illustrate a valuable lesson -- when we stop trying, we fail.

- Marketer, success analyst
A self-described average guy who found success doing what he loved, Richard St. John spent more than a decade researching the lessons of success -- and distilling them into 8 words, 3 minutes and one successful book. Full bio

Why do so many people reach success and then fail?
00:18
One of the big reasons is, we think success is a one-way street.
00:23
So we do everything that leads up to success,
00:27
but then we get there. We figure we've made it,
00:29
we sit back in our comfort zone,
00:31
and we actually stop doing everything that made us successful.
00:33
And it doesn't take long to go downhill.
00:36
And I can tell you this happens,
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because it happened to me.
00:40
Reaching success, I worked hard, I pushed myself.
00:43
But then I stopped, because I figured, "Oh, you know, I made it.
00:46
I can just sit back and relax."
00:49
Reaching success, I always tried to improve and do good work.
00:51
But then I stopped because I figured, "Hey, I'm good enough.
00:55
I don't need to improve any more."
00:58
Reaching success, I was pretty good at coming up with good ideas.
01:00
Because I did all these simple things that led to ideas.
01:04
But then I stopped, because I figured I was this hot-shot guy
01:07
and I shouldn't have to work at ideas, they should just come like magic.
01:10
And the only thing that came was creative block.
01:13
I couldn't come up with any ideas.
01:15
Reaching success, I always focused on clients and projects,
01:18
and ignored the money. Then all this money started pouring in.
01:21
And I got distracted by it.
01:24
And suddenly I was on the phone to my stockbroker and my real estate agent,
01:26
when I should have been talking to my clients.
01:29
And reaching success, I always did what I loved.
01:32
But then I got into stuff that I didn't love,
01:35
like management. I am the world's worst manager,
01:37
but I figured I should be doing it, because I was, after all,
01:40
the president of the company.
01:42
Well, soon a black cloud formed over my head
01:44
and here I was, outwardly very successful,
01:47
but inwardly very depressed.
01:49
But I'm a guy; I knew how to fix it.
01:51
I bought a fast car.
01:55
(Laughter)
01:57
It didn't help.
02:00
I was faster but just as depressed.
02:02
So I went to my doctor. I said, "Doc,
02:04
I can buy anything I want. But I'm not happy. I'm depressed.
02:07
It's true what they say, and I didn't believe it until it happened to me.
02:11
But money can't buy happiness."
02:14
He said, "No. But it can buy Prozac."
02:17
And he put me on anti-depressants.
02:20
And yeah, the black cloud faded a little bit, but so did all the work,
02:22
because I was just floating along. I couldn't care less if clients ever called.
02:26
(Laughter)
02:30
And clients didn't call.
02:33
(Laughter)
02:35
Because they could see I was no longer serving them,
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I was only serving myself.
02:38
So they took their money and their projects to others who would serve them better.
02:40
Well, it didn't take long for business to drop like a rock.
02:43
My partner and I, Thom, we had to let all our employees go.
02:47
It was down to just the two of us, and we were about to go under.
02:51
And that was great.
02:53
Because with no employees, there was nobody for me to manage.
02:55
So I went back to doing the projects I loved.
02:59
I had fun again, I worked harder and, to cut a long story short,
03:02
did all the things that took me back up to success.
03:06
But it wasn't a quick trip.
03:09
It took seven years.
03:11
But in the end, business grew bigger than ever.
03:13
And when I went back to following these eight principles,
03:16
the black cloud over my head disappeared altogether.
03:19
And I woke up one day and I said,
03:22
"I don't need Prozac anymore."
03:24
And I threw it away and haven't needed it since.
03:26
I learned that success isn't a one-way street.
03:28
It doesn't look like this; it really looks more like this.
03:31
It's a continuous journey.
03:34
And if we want to avoid "success-to-failure-syndrome,"
03:36
we just keep following these eight principles,
03:39
because that is not only how we achieve success,
03:41
it's how we sustain it.
03:44
So here is to your continued success.
03:46
Thank you very much.
03:48
(Applause)
03:50

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About the speaker:

Richard St. John - Marketer, success analyst
A self-described average guy who found success doing what he loved, Richard St. John spent more than a decade researching the lessons of success -- and distilling them into 8 words, 3 minutes and one successful book.

Why you should listen

Richard St. John was on his way to the TED conference when a girl on the plane asked him, "What really leads to success?" Even though he had achieved some success, he couldn't explain how he did it. So he spent the next ten years researching success and asking over 500 extraordinarily successful people in many fields what helped them succeed. After analyzing, sorting, and correlating millions of words of research, and building one of the most organized databases on the subject of success, he discovered "The 8 Traits Successful People Have in Common" and wrote the bestseller 8 To Be Great.

In his books and talks,he shares a wealth of wisdom from the world's most successful people -- knowledge that can help others succeed in their own way, whether it's escaping poverty, building a business, raising a family, or changing the world.

More profile about the speaker
Richard St. John | Speaker | TED.com