On Becoming The 1%

There’s been a lot of protests recently about how awful it is to be the 99%. The central complaint is that the lion’s share of success is going to a small percentage of the population. People are upset that a select few over-achievers (the 1%) get a disproportionate share of the rewards.

No kidding! In fact, that’s how Darwin made a name for himself.

Instead of grousing about whether or not the world is fair and droning on that we should all live in a state of socialist equality, why not focus your energy on being the 1%? Not an evil 1% that lives in opulence off other’s broken backs, but being in the top 1% of your field. Making the top 1% of impact on the world. Reaching the top 1% of your potential.

Everyone knows who Lance Armstrong is—he achieved top 1% status in the world of cycling. Ever hear of Heinrich Haussler? He’s ranked the #9 cyclist in the world and undoubtedly is highly talented and committed. Besides Haussler not being recognized at the grocery store, I’d guess that Lance Armstrong earns 100 times what Haussler makes. Is this fair? Should Haussler camp in a tent for weeks demanding that Armstrong give up some of his fame and wealth to the less "fortunate" Haussler?

As I see it, the top 1% have always snagged a disproportionate share of life’s rewards. In venture capital, only one out of three hundred entrepreneurs receive funding. In Hollywood, for every Tom Hanks or Jennifer Aniston, there are tens of thousands who don’t make the cut. I don’t see the reason to protest; it is simply the way life works. It’s like protesting winter in my hometown of Detroit because it isn’t fair my friends in San Diego are in the top 1% of weather.

So the real question becomes, how do you push yourself to reach that rarified territory in your own pursuits? How do you become a champion instead of an also-ran?

Most of the expert advice boils down to two things: passion and persistence.

The greatest achievers in the world are driven with unbridled passion. That intense desire enables them to overcome their demons, and push through the rough spots even when it’s uncomfortable. This passion drives them to sprint toward their dreams with urgency and fire, passing the wannabe’s along the way.

Persistence, grit, and determination fuel the 1% through their inevitable adversity. In the words of Vince Lombardi, "It’s not whether you get knocked down. It’s whether you get up." While the 99% are bowing out when circumstances get too tough, the 1% forge ahead, unwilling to accept defeat no matter the sacrifice.

We all have a choice. We can point fingers, complain the world isn’t fair, and swim in a lukewarm pot of victim soup. Or we can push ourselves and our organizations to earn the coveted 1% position. And in doing so, we achieve nearly limitless potential.

Why accept anything less?

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[Image: Flickr user uonottingham]

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  • ming

    You really have no clue about cycling. Haussler may be a very talented cyclist but 9th? For the year he was ranked 121, last year it was lower. Remember when I said you dont know anything about cycling a sentence back? yeah, Im not kidding. If you really wanted to make this comparison work you would have looked up words like 'domestique' 'protected rider' 'gc rider' 'rouleur' and you would have come to the conclusion that comparing Armstong to Hasussler is a bit like comparing Tom Brady to Matt Light, QB to left tackle. But instead you shoe-horned in something you know nothing about to make it fit your argument, and you look stupid. 

    As for the 1% reaping rewards. Lance worked hard, took ownership of his brand (which was himself) and made money. The 1% has no ownership of the parts of the economy they work in. Investment banker really messes up, but makes lots of money along the way? fired. There is no accountability for the greed inspired havoc that was so easily and widely done. 

    Tour down under starts in a few weeks, I dont think there is any hope for you on the economics front, but maybe you could learn something about cycling.

  • Jenny

    Agree with Howie and Chris G.  The idea that we all have a choice and each and every one of us is capable of becoming the "1 %" requires a great amt. of doublethink.  Not everyone is born with equal intelligence.  Not everyone is born with 2 legs for that matter.  Sure you may have been born with one leg, or face famine, war, disease before you hit the age of 2, but put your mind to it, and one day you'll be faster than Lance Armstrong and the CEO of Citibank.

    Did you ever stop to consider that in order for there to be exceptional people, there has to be a bunch of unexceptional people? That in order for there to be rich people, there have to be not-rich people? According to you, those people - the unexceptional, the not-rich, the majority - they should just bend over, and let the 1% do what they want, no matter how it effects the rest of the world - because the 1% "deserve" it.  Because they are exceptional, and better than everyone else. 

    The reality is, we don't live in a meritocracy - people get to where they are in large part because of where they started.  Do you think you'd be writing for Fast Company if you were born in a village in Darfur?  No.  No you wouldn't.  I can guarantee you Lebron James makes more in one year than Jonas Salk or Norman Borlaug did in their lifetime - and yet, Salk and Borlaug have added more value to this world than Lebron could ever hope to contribute.  But who do you think most people have heard of?  And who do you think is closer to being in the 1%?  So you see, not only is merit subjective - but it doesn't even make you the richest person in the world.  What's up with that?  Lucky for us, overachievers like Salk and Borlaug were willing to share the rewards of their labor with the 99%, instead of saying, hey life's not fair, and seeking their own personal profit instead.

    The only way your shallow argument could work is if we did live in a fair world, where everyone starts on an equal playing field - but as you so cleverly point out, Darwin claimed his fame on the observation that we don't.  For every miracle person who rose out of poverty and misfortune to become exceptional and rich, there are milllions - MILLIONS - who do not.  And no matter how hard some people work, or how passionate and persistent they are, they will never be the 1%.  THAT is the true nature of the world.

  • Howie Jacobson

    The Occupy movement is anything but a bunch of victims; it's a collection of morally outraged people taking action and standing up to corporate-sponsored government brutality.

    Is it really better to "get mine" than to accept responsibility for a rigged and oppressive society? Really?

    I live in rural South Africa, among very poor people. I assure you, they work harder and display more ingenuity in getting by than you or I or Steve Jobs could ever imagine. Why aren't they rich? Is it because they don't have enough persistence, grit, or determination? 

    Or is it because of the policies of a government that marginalized them while destroying their environment? 

    Please don't confuse justice with whining.

  • David Kaiser, PhD

    I am not yet in the 1%, but I am on my way up and expect to get there. I will get there not by taking from others, but by helping others to create value, of which I will get a small portion. I know that to get there, I need to be determined, I need to lean on my strengths, and overcome or work around my weaknesses. I also know that I want to enjoy the process, so I do work that I enjoy and find challenging. I know I will need to change and to adapt, to learn continuously, to improve my ability to create, deliver and sell services that create value for my clients. I know that I can learn from everyone, and that the best way to learn is to identify people who are already good at doing some skill I desire, then learn from them, and that I should avoid taking advice from people who don't know what they are talking about. I know that God as I understand it has a calling for me and that I will be happiest and most successful if I follow it. This will require courage and acceptance at times, and I will do my best to live up to it.

    David Kaiser, PhD
    Executive Coach & CEO

  • chris g

    You obviously don't understand what the 'occupy' movement is all about - but good try anyways. Try reading a little more into the movement rather than grasping it for your own agenda.