Success Is Not an Entitlement

Yesterday, I received a rather disturbing email message from someone berating me for sharing what he felt were some aspects of my success via my FaceBook Fan page (mostly relating to discussions about my business travel and corporate meetings I did from my lake home over the summer).   I have to say it brought me down a bit so I went to my library and picked up a book I wrote about 7 years ago called Masters of Success.  I read a piece in it that I wrote called “Success is Not an Entitlement” which I hoped would re-focus my mindset after receiving this vitriolic piece of email.

I’d like to share an excerpt from it with you here today in my blog.  I’ve updated some of the material in brackets.  The excerpt at the end about “being lucky” goes out to my email critic.  I hope everyone (including my critic) can see some value in this message.

Everyone wants some degree of success. We might want it in different forms, but I’ve never met anyone who didn’t want to be successful at something important. This is good. I believe everyone is entitled to pursue success.

But success itself is not an entitlement.

Not long ago I was talking to someone I’ve known for years about my personal success, the growth of my business, and some other personal goals I’ve recently met. He said, “Man, you’re lucky! It must be nice.”

 “Yeah, I’m lucky,” I responded. “Let me tell you the secret of my luck.  First, I went to college for ten years. During that time, I started several businesses, and for the next [twenty five years] I worked really, really long hours.  Along the way, I mortgaged my house a couple of times for one of the business and I wrote [twelve] books.  If you apply that kind of effort to whatever you do, you too, can be just as lucky.”

 He laughed and said, “Okay! Okay! I get it!”

 Did he really get it? I don’t think so, because he hasn’t changed his behavior or started making different choices.

 For about twenty of my twenty five years of hard work, I didn’t feel very lucky or incredibly successful. It took time, effort, hard work, and decent choices before I felt a modicum of success. The problem is that many people want to go from point A to point Z and bypass all the challenges in between. They work hard, so they “deserve” the success they want.  And they tend to resent the success that other people have!!!

 Success is not an entitlement. It’s not a right or a claim that we should have. Yes, people have the right to pursue success, but that’s it. Success is most often earned, not handed over because you are entitled. If being successful were that easy, everyone would have the success he thinks he deserves. I think I was in my thirties before I truly understood and internalized that idea.

I’ve been trying to instill this wisdom in my nine-year-old son [now 17] by teaching him my “mantra of success.” [Years ago] I asked him, “Trey, what’s the secret to success?” He said, in a young boy’s slightly bored singsong tone: “The secret to success without hard work and good choices is still a secret, Dad. Can I go out and play now?”

OK, maybe nine was a little young to start the training. But maybe not.


True success is the result of hard work, period.  I love my business, I love helping people, and I’ve achieved a level of success doing both.  I am very grateful for my success and proud to have achieved it in a way that benefits others and helps them grow their businesses as well.  I am also very blessed to be able to open my home and a large part of my life to the people from my companies, and to give back to the world through the BNI-Misner Foundation

From time to time, I share comments about these things on my social media sites and true friends are most welcome to share in the positive conversation about these things.  If it troubles anyone to read about these things, however, I certainly won’t be offended if they unfriend me.

25 thoughts on “Success Is Not an Entitlement

  1. A very timely post Ivan and is in the same vein as the blog I will be posting. I have known you for a long time, when I was an AD and came to my first conference for BNI. You invited us ALL (30-40) to your house for desert, it was a very modest home that you opened up whole heartedly to us all. I remember when it was just you, Beth, a few others working those long ours to ship our items take our calls, and show up and help us when we asked. Over the years, business has grown, I have grown, and there have been times when I have ask you to mentor me, help me, or teach me and you have been more than generous with me and many others who have asked. Unfortunately there are so many people out there who have not seen those long hours of midnight oil. You once told me you were the 21 year Over Night Success!

    What is the point of our success if we can not enjoy it and share it with others. Why does that sharing have to be considered bragging, I personally love your excitement and love that you share it with us and allow us to be part of your life.

    Thanks for all that you do, and thank you for being willing to help me be great too!

  2. Ivan, I know that the hard work you have put in to become a success has enabled many, many others to begin to achieve success as well. I have no idea where my business would be with out BNI but also the personal growth that I’ve experienced is imeasurable. I’ve met you several times throughout my BNI lifetime of 5 1/2 years and am proud to be working with you in the capacity that I am now. You and Beth are both approachable people who are looking to help others. A person who finds fault with that would find fault with anything and they must be an incredibly unhappy person. Keep doing what you’re doing, we all appreciate you! Thank you so very much.

  3. Ivan, thank you for sharing your story of success and the wakeup call about how you got there. You are an inspiration, and it is an honor to learn from you! I also love how you live what you write; the fact that you went back to a book you wrote 7 years ago and leveraged it to continue making a difference in your life today is really a testament to the power of your work. You are a role model as an author, as a successful business person, and as an authentic carer for mankind… and if anyone misses that…they are really missing an opportunity to learn from the best, to grow themselves, and to make a real difference in the world as you continue to do.

  4. Ivan,
    I am working with a group that is starting the core process. Many of these members are thankful for the advantage they have to be part of something wonderful. I have my own story on how BNI helped our business but I have to say if this is luck then you are the luckiest person I know , a streak like that for 25 years? I think there is a lot of hard work and dedication that is not seen by others.

    Thank you for all you and Beth do all over the world!

  5. Ivan,

    Thank you for giving those of us out here still working long hard works a reminder to know that our day will come. Thank you as well for BNI, it has done wonders for not only my business but for me as a professional.

  6. Ivan,

    If 10 years ago someone would have told me that at some point of my life I would be writing two books and starting my own company, I would have laughed out loud at them. And that laugh wouldn’t have been just a chuckle!

    I attribute where my life is today to the people that I have met and befriended through BNI and that is all your doing. You have created an organization built around the idea of helping one another and being successful in our lives because of the help that we give. How anyone can be upset that you are now enjoying the result of your hard work is beyond me.

    I look forward to another 25 years of BNI and the success we all can achieve by following your example.

    Kevin Snow
    Area Director, BNI MN

  7. Ivan, I think it is unfortunate that the person judging your success doesn’t know you better. Yes you are successful and that success has rewarded you in many areas of your life. What the person judging your success isn’t aware of is the number of business people you have impacted. That is understandable. I don’t think you know the number of people you have impacted and how you have changed their lives.
    If this person only knew how generous you are with your “success” they wouldn’t have even considered sending such a message. I have known you in business and personally since 1997. I feel you are one of the most generous and gracious person I know. “Givers Gain” and “How can I help you” is at your core. I have been on the receiving end of this for many years. If anyone needs evidence of this just take a look at the BNI Misner Foundation. I feel blessed to know someone with your moral fiber.

  8. Ivan,

    I have known you for 21 years now through BNI. I have been in the very, very modest home where you started BNI in your garage. Some people believe that successful people were born with the silver spoon and special advantages. They do not realize nor appreciate the time, the fears, the sweat, and the tears that come with starting a successful company.

    What is even more impressive is to look at the literally thousands of people around the world that you have helped become successful in their own businesses. You have openly shared your wisdom and knowledge with people on how to grow their business and it has made an impact on many, many lives.

    Also, the fact that you and Beth started the BNI-Misner Foundation and that the Foundation has given away over One Million Dollars (USD) for children and education says a lot about both yours and Beth’s character. For example, building schools in India and purchasing school uniforms and desks in Kenya have helped many children.

    I am proud to be your friend and cannot imagine what my life would be like if I had not met you all of those years ago.

  9. Thanks Ivan,

    Here is a great quote from Pat Riley.

    “When a milestone is conquered, the subtle erosion called entitlement begins its consuming grind. The team regards its greatness as a trait and a right. Half hearted effort becomes habit and saps a champion.”

  10. Ivan,

    I am constantly impressed with the quality and variety of people involved with BNI on all levels. You have created an environment that allows us to experience business, communication, and personal growth as a foundation for success and excellence. Mediocrity is NOT the style of BNIer’s, nor it’s leaders! I have learned so much from so many who willing and generously share their thoughts, time, and resources. I can only hope that I’ve been able to give as well.

    There will always be people who feel the need to criticize others in order to feel better about themselves and get their “15 minutes of fame”. Ignore the spiteful pettiness of those who aren’t willing to rise above their own jealousy – they will be seen for what they truly are.

    Embrace all you’ve given and done! Celebrate the lives you’ve touched through what you and Beth have created! And accept our heartfelt gratitude for creating a path we can follow!

  11. As an employee for 25 years, I have seen Ivan’s work ethic and his actual love for BNI on a daily basis. The care and concern he has for this business is just like that of a father caring for his own child, nurturing it, and proudly watching it grow.
    Yes, BNI has brought him success, however, it was a direct result of all the tireless hours and his constant striving for unmatched quality.
    And, as fruitful as BNI has been, it never ceases to amaze me how much he puts right back into the company.
    Most of our staff has been with us for at least 10+ years, and it is not uncommon for employees to want their own relatives to work here as well.
    He has really cultivated a family out of all of us who work here at BNI Headquarters.

  12. Ivan,

    Thanks for the great blog posting. It reminded me of the saying: everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die to get there…

    “Small” people are usually envious at other people’s success, I have come to realize that people like that are not great to be around anyway.

    Thanks again for the inspiration, gave me the perspective I needed for today 😉

  13. Ivan,

    Wow, judgement is a very scary thing. Out of all of the mentors and role models that I have had in my life, I can honestly say that YOU have given me more time, more encouragement, more inspiration, and plain and simple more “offerings of help” than any other! Your generosity ALWAYS amazes me! I am thankful to have you in my life as a mentor, as a friend, and as a role model. Your success has been fueled by helping others! That is a fact!

    Just remember this, your Nobody until Somebody is talking about you!

    Dawn Lyons
    BNI SF Bay Area

  14. Ivan,

    I joined BNI 8 years ago. I was a rather shy floral designer just trying to make ends meet week to week. After joining the organization I quickly realized I had joined a family…..a family of supportive and educated business people that wanted to help me become as successful as I desired. And, they did just that–they embodied BNI’s philosophy of Givers Gain. Fast forward eight years and I am proud to say that I have been an Area Director for BNI for four years now and have the opportunity on a daily basis to pay back the good deeds of those who took me under their wings and supported me on living a dream. I coach over 600 BNI members on becoming better networkers and growing their businesses through a successful referral marketing system. Not only do I still own that small flower shop, but now I also own a team building consulting business, and am in the process of starting another consulting business through a contact I made in BNI. And, that once shy man is now a motivational speaker on stages throughout the US. All of this would have never been possible were it not for the advice and support of the wonderful people I have met in BNI. So, all I can say is…..thank you for creating this opportunity for us to come together and use your platform to help each other build our businesses. There will always be critics–even the clergy have non-believers, antagonist, and just plain miserable people they have to contend with daily. But, one thing I know for sure is that there are approximately 150,000 business professionals around the world that have increased their business revenue due to the concept that you made available to us through BNI. We all thank you for that!

  15. Ivan,

    “We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service relationship to humanity.” –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Your critic only saw what they chose to see. He/she read about and saw pictures of a successful man traveling the world, having experiences that most people won’t in a lifetime, and then sharing his experiences with those that he truly cares about. What he/she didn’t see is everything you stated in your article: the hard work and dedication that got you to that place.

    The critic(s) may interpret your adventures and stories as braggodcio; yet those who know you know a) that’s not the real Ivan Misner and b) every ounce of your success was earned though more than two and a half decades of effort.

    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s once said that “the strength of criticism lies in the weakness of the thing criticized”.
    That being said, if the writing of 12 books, building two successful, international companies over a 25 year period from the ground up, being a wonderful husband and dad, being a humanitarian who is generous with his social and financial capital as he is with his giving spirt, and someone who has empowered and helped individuals from all walks of life to create a pleathora of successes in BNI — be it the Directors, trainers, support staff and of course, the members of BNI and clients of Referral Institute,
    then I say the critic’s argument fails.

    Keep doing what you do and loving what you do and don’t let them get you down!

  16. Criticism like this does leave a nasty taste, however, one must overlook that and be comforted by the flood of messages of support you will receive and thoroughly deserve.
    Apart from the many comments already made, I want to pay tribute to you and say thank you for the total devotion by you and your family to the bigger BNI Family.
    Your stamina to visit conferences and members right around the world with hardly a break and to be still smiling and chatting to members well past midnight after an exhausting day.
    Your visits to Australia and NZ have not been a holiday. You have hardly left any time for rest and recreation.
    Your Podcasts, EVERY week, your finger on the BNI pulse at all times motivating us all to achieve our own success.
    We owe you so much. Thank you, and please do not feel discouraged!

  17. Hello Ivan,

    Unfortunately in life there will always be people who look at a glass and say it’s half empty as opposed to half full, who look at the situation they are in and ask “why” instead of taking positive action, people who begrudge other people’s success.

    I am a member of the BNI Cork City Chapter since May 2009. I had the pleasure of meeting you at our annual conference in Clontarf Castle. I was impressed at how approachable you were and how you share your wisdom.

    I am glad that I am one of the many thousands of people around the world who have been “exposed” to your Giver’s Gain philosophy. I would like to think I always believed in the principle, it just was not always clear to me.

    Being part of BNI has been good for my (growing) business. In the process I have met many great and wonderfull people who have embraced your philosophy and are living it.

    Thank you !

  18. Ivan,

    Most of us have heard the phrase, “The harder I work the luckier I get.” That certainly applies here, but there is so much more to your success than hard work.

    I have had the pleasure of meeting you a number of times during my years in BNI, and note that you wear your positivity for everyone to see. Of course the BNI culture is very positive as a result of your leadership. Whether or not your email critic is a BNI’er, this is certainly a person who doesn’t know you very well.

    I hope you’ll tune out this “static” – and keep up your good work! After all, so many of us continue to benefit from your efforts. Thanks for all you do.

    Steve Wein
    Area Director BNI MN

  19. Ivan

    As always thanks for sharing, it is always amazing how others believe you are not entitled and they somehow are!.

    Any real entrepreneur knows this, there are times when we have all felt like giving up, and there are times when life both emotionally and monetary are tough.

    When most people start up a business they think about what they are going to get not what they are going to have to give up and that is the difference between entrepreneurs and others.

    I am happy for your success and long may you and your family continue to enjoy the labors of your and their hard effort.

  20. Ivan,

    Thank You so much for sharing that story. I am seeing this more and more right now. It is nice to know that we can take these things and turn them back into something positive. I love how you refocused and got back to business! I will strive to do the same. 🙂

  21. Ivan, success like respect is earned and you have certainly earned both and sacrificed many things to achieve your long term goals. It takes discipline, commitment as well as knowledge. It takes a lot sometimes to pick ourselves up, continue on and not give up, each time learning from our mistakes and things that didn’t go ‘according to plan’. I’m sure that this comment from your illustrious critic created an impact on you. On a positive note an article came about from it and many supportive comments from friends and colleagues who do really value the opportunities that you so generously bring. Thank you for all that you do.

  22. Great post Dr. Misner. It’s liberating to remove ourselves from the mass mindset of scarcity though occasionally, others choose to rain on our parade. Fortunately, the hard work, perseverance, and day in/day out commitment to excellence can never be taken away from us. Thank you for your inspiring words and for laying out a path of abundance that has shown the way to many who continue to follow.

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