We've all got a book in us we’re told but what they don't tell you is how hard it is to get out. Writing isn't just all-consuming, it's lonely. Authors know they will be judged by what they publish so they keep their mutterings and self-doubt to themselves, or at least to a tight group, until they feel ready to bite the bullet and reveal all. That moment came for me around the time I was invited to speak at a lunch organised by the American European Business Association which is where I spoke about my book for the first time in any detail.
I didn't prepare an in-depth presentation. I just wanted to just give an overview of my thoughts on clout and then see where the discussion took us. As I spoke, it sank in that I was surrounded by high level executives from across sectors and nationalities and they were demonstrably well-read. There were lots of questions, which was a good sign and they became increasingly forensic. My confidence picked up as I found myself able to answer them all. It was all off the record but I don’t think I will betray any confidences when I reveal that we spent a lot of time talking about one element of my thinking - what motivates people want clout in the first place.
I explained how I had analysed the people I considered to have clout and they all seemed to be trying to escape something or somewhere. Yes, they were ambitious but they were driven towards those goals by fear. Steve Jobs spoke of fear of failure. The artist Tracey Emin and the rapper Stormzy describe their determination to escape their teenaged angst and never to return to it. During the US election campaign, Donald Trump appeared to be seeking self-validation as much as the presidency itself.
Setting a goal in life is one thing but you also need something prodding you towards it. The bigger the ambition, the more prodding you need and that comes from inside. I’m not a counselor but I do know that we all have insecurities. It seems to me, the secret is to identify them and use that energy to drive you forwards instead of letting it drag you down. The most successful people I know are probably the most insecure.
I’ve been asked if that means parents need to instill fear in their children if they want them to succeed? I’m not a child psychologist either but fear doesn't need to be all doom and gloom. If you give your kids a charmed upbringing then their fear might be that they can't provide the same for their own children. That will motivate them to want to achieve their own success.
I've also been asked why people lose their drive. One business leader came to me recently and asked how he could regain the ambition he lost when he became financially secure. My question for him was, why did he want clout? He couldn't answer, so neither could I. Perhaps his fear was not having enough money to support his family. Now he's resolved that, he simply lost his drive.
Ambition is about hope but it's driven by fear.
What are you afraid of ... ?