Why do all successful people have to be assholes?

Note: I apologize if the word “asshole” offends you, but for the purpose of this post, I am going to have to use the word quite a bit. Earmuffs please.

I got into a little debate over at On Moneymaking tonight about whether you have to be an asshole to be successful. Jon’s post there suggests that you should accept becoming an asshole if you want to be successful in life.

I know about a dozen people that make over $1 million per year, and I’d imagine all of them are called assholes on a regular basis. The two seem to go hand in hand, and I think there are reasons why.

Extreme Success Requires Extreme Focus

Jon goes on to note that focus requires giving “all of your attention and ignoring everything else” and comments on a pattern for wealthy, successful people that I don’t quite find to be true.

Frequently, they’ll:

  • Leave behind a trail of broken marriages and forgotten children
  • Lose the life savings of their friends and relatives on an ingenious but doomed business
  • Refuse to lend anyone money or give to charity
  • Avoid unnecessary expenses to the point of miserliness
  • Treat everyone that can’t help them as if they’re expendable

In the end, Jon implies that all successful people are assholes in some capacity, and you should be willing to be called an asshole to be successful.

Frankly, I just don’t agree with his suggestion. Even if you put your all into your work and some call you a “workaholic,” true character is what shines through and labels someone an asshole. I don’t think that many people legitimately label you an asshole just because of your wealth or success, and the few that do should be proven wrong by seeing your actions and character.

James Chartrand of Web Content Writer Tips and I went through several exchanges in the comments before finally coming to the realization that we actually agree. You can follow our long exchange in the comments.

James and I both agreed that you don’t need to be an asshole to be successful, and although you may run the risk of being called one, you don’t have to act like one to be a success.

From James:

Do people need to be assholes to be successful? No. But they do need to be focused and have drive and determination. They need to put themselves out there – and risk being seen as assholes.

The basic gist of my argument is simply this:

I don’t think that to be successful, you need to give up not being considered an asshole. Yes, stop obsessing about what others think, but don’t let that also lead you to fall into a philosophy of accepting your asshole-ism.

There’s a large difference between being an asshole and being successful, and I hope that many of the future moguls of America don’t take his advice to become miserable people because they think being an asshole is the only road to success.

On a minor note, Jon starts off using these examples as asshole successes:

What do Simon Cowell, Steve Jobs, Dr. House, Bill Belichick, and Donald Trump have in common?

Eliminating Dr. House because he’s not real, I had to argue that Bill Belichick while quiet, internal and often misunderstood by the press is no asshole. As for Steve Jobs, when did taking a $1 annual salary and refusing bonuses when coming back to save the company that you founded make you an asshole? I must have missed something with those examples.

My example of a very non-asshole success: Bill Gates. He is retiring to a life of philanthropy, has a successful marriage with children and I doubt he ever lived miserly during his rise in business. The only hit you have on him is running off with the idea for Windows, but can you blame him?

  • http://www.onmoneymaking.com/ Jon Morrow

    Thanks for the link. If you would though, look at the words I used, such as “called assholes,” “frequently,” etc.

    “Asshole” is subjective. One person can think you’re a saint and another person can think you should go straight to hell.

    The point is, if you’re going to get rich, someone will inevitably think you’re an asshole. Whether or not it’s true it is another story, but you’d better prepare yourself for some people to think less of you.

    Also, Steve Jobs is a renowned jerk, apparently. He covers it up at shareholder meetings for the most part, but I’ve read dozens of reports that say he’s a terror to work with. Others just call him extremely focused. Once again, it’s subjective.

    The same thing goes for Bill Gates and just about every other successful person in the world. Lots of people think Bill is the devil incarnate. Others think he is the savior of the world.

    In other words, you could say that successful people polarize large groups of people. If you’re not ready to be hated by some people, then you’re probably not ready for that level of success.

  • http://www.onmoneymaking.com Jon Morrow

    Thanks for the link. If you would though, look at the words I used, such as “called assholes,” “frequently,” etc.

    “Asshole” is subjective. One person can think you’re a saint and another person can think you should go straight to hell.

    The point is, if you’re going to get rich, someone will inevitably think you’re an asshole. Whether or not it’s true it is another story, but you’d better prepare yourself for some people to think less of you.

    Also, Steve Jobs is a renowned jerk, apparently. He covers it up at shareholder meetings for the most part, but I’ve read dozens of reports that say he’s a terror to work with. Others just call him extremely focused. Once again, it’s subjective.

    The same thing goes for Bill Gates and just about every other successful person in the world. Lots of people think Bill is the devil incarnate. Others think he is the savior of the world.

    In other words, you could say that successful people polarize large groups of people. If you’re not ready to be hated by some people, then you’re probably not ready for that level of success.

  • http://www.wannabemogul.com/ jacob

    Hi Jon,

    I appreciate you joining the discussion. I understand that “asshole” is used subjectively in your post, but the definition of asshole that you seem to raise up is what I don’t accept.

    You say all these rich, successful people “are assholes” and only say once that the dozen people you know are “called assholes.” If your intention is simply to imply that you will be called an asshole by being successful, it seemed more to me that you were lifting an asshole state of mind as the road to success.

    When you idolize Dr. House for his cheating and manipulating and then list off the characteristics that frequently are associated with these “assholes,” you construct a model for success that I can’t accept.

    As your post said: “We hold up cases like those as ‘how not to be successful,’ but really, I think it’s exactly the opposite.”

    My translation: This is how to be successful.

    I know you ask the question whether people are willing to have people “think” they are assholes, but the entire post suggests that a miserly, miserable life as an “asshole” is the way to go to find success. That is what I don’t agree with or accept.

  • http://www.wannabemogul.com jacob

    Hi Jon,

    I appreciate you joining the discussion. I understand that “asshole” is used subjectively in your post, but the definition of asshole that you seem to raise up is what I don’t accept.

    You say all these rich, successful people “are assholes” and only say once that the dozen people you know are “called assholes.” If your intention is simply to imply that you will be called an asshole by being successful, it seemed more to me that you were lifting an asshole state of mind as the road to success.

    When you idolize Dr. House for his cheating and manipulating and then list off the characteristics that frequently are associated with these “assholes,” you construct a model for success that I can’t accept.

    As your post said: “We hold up cases like those as ‘how not to be successful,’ but really, I think it’s exactly the opposite.”

    My translation: This is how to be successful.

    I know you ask the question whether people are willing to have people “think” they are assholes, but the entire post suggests that a miserly, miserable life as an “asshole” is the way to go to find success. That is what I don’t agree with or accept.

  • Tom Alan48

    There are two types of successful people.  The first type are people are those who are extremely talented at something.  They will be successful regardless of anything.  The second type are people who are not particulary good at anything but are determined to accumulate wealth.  I don’t know that you have to be an asshole but I do think that these people have three things in common

    First, money is almost always  the most important thing in the world to them. 

    Second, they tend to be “glad handers” and cameleons; that is, they’ll shape their personalities to whatever it takes for them to be socially accepted.

    Third, while not necessarily criminal in the legal sense, they tend to look out for number one; an example would be a doctor giving self dealing advice.  They tend to lack ethics.

    If the above three things describe you, are you an asshole???  You decide

  • Ng

    How are we defining asshole? Because even though he does good things, Bill Gates is notorious fbor being an asshole to work with