Self-Interest Is The Antithesis Of Success

'Self-Interest - The Antithesis of Success' by Richard Shrapnel

Self-interest is the one action that is most likely to undermine your success. In business, in leadership and, often in life, putting yourself first can be a dire mistake.


Active Knowledge Questions:

  • How do you view personal success?
  • Do you understand what drives each of the key people in your business?
  • What is the ‘right type’ of motivation to underpin success?


Is It Really All About You?

‘Surely being successful requires you to focus everything on yourself and put yourself forward, and first, at every opportunity. Otherwise, how are you going to get ahead?’

This is, I believe, a common and unchallenged belief.

Self-interest is defined as ‘the act of considering the advantage to yourself when making decisions, and deciding to do what is best for you’ (Cambridge Dictionary).

But there is a catch-22, and that is that self-interest will not make you successful. There are two aspects of this catch-22 that should be considered, and they are being successful in business (and that includes in your work) and life, generally.

But let’s start by considering just what ‘success’ is.

What Is Success Anyway?

Today, perhaps more so than ever, success is almost exclusively defined by wealth and the game is to get as much as you can, as quickly as you can, for yourself and with the least effort.

At work, you chase promotions to advance and get ahead of everyone else, win more money and even better opportunities. But then you would also have no hesitation in leaving for another position if there is an opportunity for even quicker advancement and a better-looking CV.

Success is reflected in wealth, position and power as only through these can you be free to do as you want, surround yourself with the possessions and experiences you desire, and create the life you dream of.

Success is often defined by others. It is highly competitive and seems to be elusive for many, no matter how old. Age and time do not necessarily yield success and there is a tipping point where many abandon all hope of being successful.

This view of success is a game you do not want to play – it is designed so you cannot win.

And I know that it is a game that not everyone buys into, and my narrative above is somewhat one-sided, but it is a narrative that I think is ever present. And is gaining strength in our society and workplace – ‘me first’ and ‘me only’.

How do you decide whether you have been successful? What is your belief system around success?

In Business

As a business leader, you must be concerned with how every key person in your business views success and, in particular, their individual success. It’s not sufficient that they seem to be doing a good job, you must understand what gets them out of bed every morning.

Remember the impact of centripetal authority on your ability as a leader to influence the performance of your business. You must have the right people in the right places with the right attitude. How they view and achieve personal success is the underpinning of that attitude.

So, let’s pause for a moment and allow me to ask you a few questions. As a business leader, would you prefer to have a business full of people who are driven by a ‘me-first’ belief system who want to advance and get out as quickly as they can?  Or perhaps you would prefer a team of people who actually view success in another way, one that is centred on the fulfilment they find in working in your business?  Which would you prefer? And which are you?

Consider the impact of having successful people throughout your business, and how they may influence culture and performance.

But be cautious, it does turn on what success means to them – essentially, is success about them or is success about something else?

Successful People And Your Business

Successful people can have a profound effect on your business, bearing in mind that successful people will likely exist at every level of your business.

Success is not about being at the top – it’s about who you are as a person and having the Achiever Trait.

'Successful People In Your Organisation' by Richard Shrapnel
‘Successful People In Your Organisation’ by Richard Shrapnel

A successful person can be a light within your business. They:

  • Do not rely on others for their identity.
  • Are open and strong and provide leadership.
  • Understand the power of words and apply them accordingly.
  • Adopt habits to reinforce their success.
  • Grow and connect with other successful people.
  • Are confident but never prideful or arrogant.

Successful people have an invaluable and critical leadership role. They:

  • Develop other people’s ability to be successful.
  • Connect people with the business’s purpose and goals at the individual, team, corporate and community level.
  • Lead by example and create a culture of success through being successful themselves.

But people who have a ‘me-first’ belief system will likely only have a negative effect on your business as they will always put themselves first by default and success is only about them winning. By example, they will lead everyone who they touch to become the same. Self-interest will become the expected standard of behaviour.

Self-interest does not help your business become more competitive or successful.

An Enduring View of Individual Success

Here is my view of how success can empower an individual person and anyone who they come in touch with, drawn from my book, Achieve.

Richard Shrapnel's 'Achieve - Creating A Life Of Enduring Success' guide front cover
Richard Shrapnel’s ‘Achieve – Creating A Life Of Enduring Success’.
  • Success is the fuel of life, but it does not come through chance. It’s earned through hard work.
  • It’s your reward for the thought and effort you put in.
It takes wisdom to set the right goals for yourself as an individual and to not be led by others, marketing hype, popular beliefs or societal pressure.
  • It often requires courage to take that first step, and each step thereafter, to build a powerful momentum.
  • And it always requires strength to endure through the inevitable challenges and obstacles until your goal is won.

But if you persevere, you can craft a life of enduring success. A life in which you do not just have one or two great successes, but ongoing achievements in all aspects of your life.

A life in which you continually grow and build from one success to another in a never-ending journey of fulfilment. A life in which you will develop the Achiever Trait, which will become the DNA of who you are and will define you as a person.

A person who can get things done and has a life many others can only dream about.

But this view, this belief in what success is all about, comes from a different place to that of a ‘me-first’ attitude.

It’s not about wealth, power or position. And it’s certainly not about what others think or competing against them. It’s actually about competing against yourself.

Success Lies In Attitude

'Creating A Life Of Enduring Success' by Richard Shrapnel
‘Creating A Life Of Enduring Success’ by Richard Shrapnel

Great success comes from your attitude. And attitude is everything.

Attitude is how you view yourself and the world around you. It is a reflection of your self-image – the picture created in your subconscious that influences your entire world and all that happens in it.

At the end of each day, you want to feel a real satisfaction in the effort you have put in and the rewards you have achieved. You want to feel an abundance within, a real joy and quiet knowing that you have worked hard for the rewards earnt. This is what achievement and being successful is all about. It is inward-looking, not outward-looking, as the ‘me-first’ approach requires. For ‘me’ to be first, I have to rank and compare myself to everyone else, an outward view, and there will always be someone who is further ahead of ‘me’.

Wealth is, at best, an outcome – a product of being successful. But it is not the ultimate outcome that everyone seeks. Wealth is pursued as a means to an end. Often that end involves things such as a magnificent home, an expensive car, overseas travel to the best destinations. But is this really what is sought from success?

Are you comfortable with pursuing happiness in your life and openly saying, ‘This is what I want’?

If you are, then it starts by putting others first and not yourself.

Why Others First?

So after all this, what actually is wrong with a healthy dose of self-interest? What is really wrong with putting yourself first?

Well, it’s actually a chicken and egg issue, a question of which comes first? This is the catch-22 I mentioned earlier.

In the instance of success, if you put yourself at the centre of all considerations then you actually undermine the prospect of being successful. Personal success actually comes from putting others first.

Let me provide just a few examples to explain why success actually comes by not focusing on yourself:

  1. As an individual, are you going to give your upmost to someone who you know is in it only for themselves and what they get out of it? ‘Me-first’ is not going to draw support around you.
  2. Success requires a willingness to learn and change with an open mind. Everything around you is constantly changing so you must always be changing as well. The most effective way to achieve this is through humility. Humility represents a willingness to listen to and absorb what everyone else around you has to offer and to move forward with the best.
  3. The most effective business leaders are those that put their organisation and the people within it first. The research and evidence of this are clear. If you want your business to be as successful as it can be, this is what you must do.
  4. You will never truly win if you are competing against everyone else. They’re playing the game by rules that suit them. There will always be someone who is wealthier than you, in a better position and has greater power.
  5. Gratitude breeds a positive view of life that attracts opportunities and support. These are the fuel for your success.

If you as an individual want to be as successful as you can be, then that requires humility, gratitude and a willingness to put others first. 

It is in your self-interest to do this. It is not in your self-interest to put yourself first. The ‘me-first’ approach undermines your ability to be as successful as you possibly can.

And if you want your business to be as successful as possible, you must select leaders who are willing to put the business and others ahead of themselves. And that starts with you. Again, self-interest only weakens the ability of your business to be successful.


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All the best in the success of your business,

Richard Shrapnel