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Innovating Service With Chip Bell


Success Is Living Like Your Cat

Successful people live their lives with an inner emotional invincibility

Published: Tuesday, January 21, 2020 - 12:02

I recently visited the Key West home of famed writer Ernest Hemingway. The descendants of Hemingway’s many six-toed cats still live on the grounds and join visitors as a part of their tour. “A cat has absolute emotional honesty,” wrote Hemingway. “Human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.” His quote got me thinking about what I learn from my cat.

I know some people don’t like cats; I have friends who are allergic to them. And, I think I have heard all the idioms that express negative myths about cats (e.g., scaredy-cat, fat cats, herding cats). Still I watch my 11-year old black cat in action (or inaction) and marvel at what life (and work) might be like if lived more like a cat.  Using “cat-like” as a metaphor, here are four ways to blaze a path to success.

“Any cat who misses a mouse pretends it was aiming for the dead leaf.” —Charlotte Gray

Except for trips to the vet, my cat seems to enjoy every moment. She never panics, even when there are loud noises nearby. She approaches every day with a pace and rhythm that is graceful, deliberate, and celebratory. Life seems in part to be about taking deep breaths with a focus on being, not just doing, doing, doing. When I make a mistake, I worry and sometimes punish myself inappropriate to the hiccup. When I goof, I wish I could just pretend I was aiming for the dead leaf. Successful people demonstrate greatness by the way they resiliently react to failure, not success.

Steve Jobs started Apple in his parent’s garage and grew it to a $2 billion company. But, his board fired him to take Apple in a new direction. Propelled by sheer resilience, he started NeXT and Pixar, and ultimately reclaimed his position as Apple CEO. He took the company to a value of $300 billion. J. K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was turned down by 12 publishers. When publisher Bloomsbury finally took her manuscript, the editor told her to “get a day job.” Instead, she doubled her efforts. Today, through here doggedness, she is a billionaire, and her books have sold more than 400 million copies.

“In ancient times cats were worshiped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” —Terry Pratchett

There is an obvious self-confidence about my cat. Being liked seems to be nice, but not necessary. Perpetually measuring up is fine, but certainly not the driver of her identity. She is centered and poised, even in circumstances that might warrant a bit of anxiety. You get the impression she completely owns her life experience without one ounce of victimhood, blame, or excuse. She is not cocky, just confident. Successful people live their life with an inner emotional invincibility.

Success comes from creating a masterpiece every day. No one cared that Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling for four years in such an awkward position it permanently damaged his health. We simply marvel at the result. Likewise, no one cares about the depth of someone’s inbox, the number of cold calls they made, or the meetings they attended. Only concrete results matter; tireless effort is just the stuff you do to get there. Masterpiece creators do not act as if they are passengers on some cruise ship transporting them to retirement. They gallantly assume responsibility for their own destiny.

“After dark, all cats are leopards.”  —Zuni Indian Proverb  

I think my cat believes she is a gift and fully embraces that sense of privilege. From the day we brought her home from the shelter, she demonstrated in her attitude how lucky we were; she was just along for the joy ride. It is not that she is unappreciative; she frequently shows her gratitude for her privileged station in life. But when I watch her pounce—at anything that could be mentally converted into an adventure—I sense she is always on a glorious hunt. Successful people approach every day like it was a glorious adventure, not just another day.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing,” wrote Helen Keller. The path to success comes from a pioneering spirit to blaze new trails to excellence, craft new bridges to a treasured dream, and tenaciously pursue a quest for distinction. Playing the blame game gets no one a “get out of jail free” card. Customers are never moved by hand-wringing excuses or made more confident by shifting the focus to the supplier that failed to deliver. Being late signals a lack of commitment, regardless of the reason. Being unprepared telegraphs a lack of caring, despite the demons one tussled with the day before.

“Cats know how to obtain food without labor; shelter without confinement, and love without penalties.” —William L. George

My cat washes herself a lot. I know an elegant coat has DNA roots to the survival of her cat-family ancestors. She just does it with such luxury. There is nothing quick and on-the-run about it. And, she seems to relish the ritual as her way of getting a daily massage. Successful people take great care of body, mind, and soul with the same gracefulness my cat uses to envelope her shiny, coal-black coat. It means treating each day as an opportunity for betterment.

“He not busy being born is busy dying,” sang folk singer Bob Dylan in his hit song, “It’s Alright Ma.” Success comes from perpetual growth and daily reinvention. It takes nonstop curiosity, sincere humility, and a wide-eyed recognition that who you are must constantly be trumped by who you can be. Successful people view psychic and physical maintenance as crucial to their nonstop well-being as a tune-up is to their vehicle.

Cats are amazing animals. They are also a metaphor for how to live life to the fullest. And, they are smart enough to focus on what matters most, not on the trivial distractions that rob energy and spirit. As Jeff Valdez wrote, “Cats are smarter than dogs; you can’t get eight cats to pull a sled through snow.” Let this year be your year of the cat!

Adapted from Chip Bell’s Dec. 3, 2017, article on success.com


About The Author

Innovating Service With Chip Bell’s picture

Innovating Service With Chip Bell

Chip Bell has helped companies dramatically enhance their bottom lines and marketplace reputation through innovative customer-centric strategies. For the sixth year in a row, Global Gurus in 2020 ranked Bell as one of the top three keynote speakers in the world on customer service. Bell has authored 24 books; seven are international best sellers. His latest book, Inside Your Customer’s Imagination: 5 Secrets for Creating Breakthrough Products, Services, and Solutions (Berrett-Koehler, 2020), shows how co-creation partnerships enable you to tap into the treasure trove of ideas, ingenuity, and genius-in-the-raw within every customer.