Why Success Requires Sacrifice

Have you seen the More Cowbell sketch from Saturday Night Live? It’s more than funny- it’s a metaphor for a successful work life. Everyone has at least one cowbell — it’s your unique, profitable talent people pay you for or your company’s unique offering. It’s something people have a fever for. When you discover it and give those people a ton of it, you gain success and happiness for both yourself and others. It’s a win-win.

A cowbell is simultaneously something you love doing and something other people really want as well (although, as we’ll see, you still will have detractors and critics). A cowbell creates joy for you and other people. It makes them yell for more. They can’t get enough.

Getting Honest About Sacrifice

Some people work so hard, it costs them their marriage. A lot of the biggest achievers make huge sacrifices. Many people, upon realizing their job interferes with their relationship, will trash the job. For some levels of success, more sacrifice is required. Hopefully, if that’s your situation, you have a spouse and family and friends who support what you need to do.

It’s not uncommon for people to lose marriages and friends while trying to make their cowbell pan out. It’s about your level of willingness. Will Ferrell was willing to play the heck out of that cowbell. He sacrificed the feelings (and eardrums, and refined musical sensibilities) of the people around him to succeed. He earned the approval of the person who counted most — Bruce Dickinson —– because he wanted it, and because he loved that cowbell.

Sacrifice Saved America

If it weren’t for the sacrifices of people like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, America might not have become what it is, and we might not have won World War II. Vanderbilt donated his largest and fastest ship to the Union during the Civil War. The Rockefeller Foundation helped financially with WWI relief, and Rockefeller in his lifetime gave away roughly $550 million (the equivalent of $6.7 billion today). Carnegie not only oversaw the building of the massive U.S. steel industry, which in WWII was one of America’s greatest cowbells, but he also gave away the equivalent of $4.6 billion. By the time WWII happened, the country displayed a spirit, spunk, and manufacturing power so strong that it overshadowed other factors and made our nation a powerhouse.

Now, you, not being a well-established business magnate, might not be positioned to dedicate billions of dollars to further the success of the thing you are passionate about. But are you willing to make some sacrifices? What a lot of people want to do is work a little, have a big lunch, come home at 5 p.m., and watch TV. Satisfaction may be the goal of the average person, but it’s the enemy of greatness. The good is the enemy of the best.

You Cowbell Helps Humanity

If you’re saying, “I don’t have a cowbell. I’m just average,” then you can’t see your cowbell; ask other people what you’re great at. Or you haven’t developed a cowbell yet — so work on something you love that could eventually get you paid.

Everyone has a cowbell because we’re all different. We all need each other and we specialize; that’s why our societies can be so strong and why we dominate as a species. One question intrinsic to your cowbell is how useful do you want to be to humanity?

Animals go with instinct. Some can learn some things. We, on the other hand, are conscious of our situation. We can think. We’re honest with ourselves. We grasp when we need to do something different. The human cowbell is understanding your circumstance and figuring something out.

Conquer The Skill Gap To Ensure A Great Career

Both Brian and Garrison have worked with PrideStaff, one of the top 25 recruiting firms in the United States. In helping PrideStaff achieve its goals of finding more candidates to send to employers, we learned that one of the biggest problems in the work world today is a lack of skilled candidates. Sure, tons of people can work at McDonald’s or type on a computer, but companies need workers with specific education and skills. Many employers have unfilled positions because they simply can’t find enough people with the right skills.

One problem is that not enough people are availing themselves of the opportunity for further education. You can find yourself a competitive advantage just by being willing to get more training.

There’s also been a cultural shift. Many younger people now prize free time with their friends above career advancement. For them, free time is more valuable than work. They don’t want to go to night school or take courses online. They’d rather find a company that trains them on the job. Employers are realizing they’re going to have to hire for talent and train people on the job, but not all companies have made this shift yet.

The good news is that if you’re willing to get more training, you’ll have significantly greater opportunity. If there were ever a time to get more education, it’s now, because the best place to compete in business is where the competition is weak.

When applying for a job, if you can say, “Right now, I’m taking an online course in (whatever you’re applying for), and I’m halfway through,” you’ll be more likely to get the job. There’s a ton of competition for jobs now, so give yourself that advantage.

This post is an excerpt adapted by Brian Carter from the forthcoming book The Cowbell Principle: Career Advice On How To Get Your Dream Job And Make More Money, by Brian Carter and Garrison Wynn. Brian and Garrison will be giving away a limited number of digital copies at launch time. To get notified when they’re available, sign up at http://thecowbellprinciple.com/getnotified