Once is not enough when it comes to achieving excellence and success. We want to do it over and over again.

Sustain excellence

A single success cannot sustain. If we don’t achieve new successes, we will stagnate and, sooner or later, deteriorate.

Excellence is therefore not only the end part, the fruit, of the praise model for achieving success. It is also the beginning of a new cycle, one that will lead to more excellence, to success unlimited.

Some people achieve success at an early age, but then something happens and they fall, never to rise again.

When we experience a setback, we must be able to pick ourselves up and move on, eventually, to greater heights. We must keep repeating this pattern, in an ever upward spiral of success unlimited.

A person who fails to pick himself up lacks resilience. He never built his success in the first place. He may be gifted with intelligence or talents, or lucky to be born into a favourable family environment, such that success comes early.

But because that person never creates his own success, he does not know how to reproduce it once he fails. When we learn to reproduce excellence and success, over and over again, we learn to achieve excellence and success throughout our lives. We acquire a lifetime excelence formula.

One-hit wonders

In pop music, there are a number of “one-hit wonders” who become successful and famous because of only one song.

The dance tune, Marcarena, was a multi-platinum smash hit in 1996 that sold over 4 million copies in the United States alone. In 2002, it topped the list of 100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders compiled by the American cable network, VH1. Many people still know the tune and dance to it. But few know the artistes behind the tune – Los del Rio, a Spanish music duo made up of Antonio Romeo Monge and Rafael Ruiz.

Sukiyaki topped the US pop charts in 1963 and remains the only song sung entirely in Japanese to have ever topped the American charts. It, too, was a one-hit wonder. How many people know the name of song writer – Kyu Sakamoto? How many know that the words of the song tell of a tragic story, even though the tune is bright and cheery? How many know that Sakamoto died in a Japan Airlines crash in 1985?

German organist and composer, Johann Pachelbel is .......dubbed ‘the original one-hit wonder’. His ‘Canon in D Major’, better known as Pachelbel’s Canon, continues to be widely performed today, some 325 years after it was composed around 1680. Pachelbel has more than 200 musical compositions, but they remain largely unknown, even to serious classical music lovers.

Being a one-hit wonder is still a major achievement especially if your work continues to be popular after more than 300 years. The one-hit wonder is definitely better off than the “no hit, no wonder”.

But the one-hit wonder will never surpass those who sustain a successful career over decades rather than years or months. These are the people who change with the times to avoid becoming has-beens.


The band of guitarist Carlos Santana was formed in 1966 and reached the height of its popularity in the late 60s and early 70s, following its performance at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. Until the 80s, Santana enjoyed moderate successes. By the end of the 90s, Carlos Santana was without a recording contract. In 1999, Santana made a stunning comeback. Supernatural, the album it released that year, had two tracks that topped the singles charts while the album topped the albums chart. Supernatural swept nine Grammy awards, including Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Song of the Year. Santana became the comeback story of the year. This is what success is all about. It is about reaching ever greater heights, not hitting a high point once and then dropping off.

Mike Tyson

Former world heavyweight champion boxer Mike Tyson succeeded and then lost all he had. During his 20-year career, Tyson’s income exceeded US$400 million. Yet in 2004, before his 39th birthday, Tyson was US$38 million in debt. In Automatic Wealth: The Six Steps to Financial Independence, Michael Masterson writes: “That could make him the world’s poorest man. With a negative worth that large, Tyson is 160,000 times poorer than the average wage earner in Sierra Leone, the poorest country in the world.

“By every recognised standard of accounting, he is poor. Extremely poor. But he does not think so. And that is part of the reason he got so poor in the first place. The faster the money came in, the faster it went out… The purpose of this is not to shake a finger at Tyson, but to alert you to the dangerous temptation to spend more when you make more.”

Broad-based success

The truly successful person is one who is successful in many different aspects of his or her life. If you make lots of money, but fail to manage your finances properly, you are a failure. If you build a business empire but you have no family and no friends, you may have succeeded in business but you have failed in life. If you hold a high position and are well respected in your organisation, but your own children do not respect you, something is amiss. If you are a top student, but you don’t know how to socialise, your classmates will call you a nerd!

Another important aspect of success is health. What’s the point of being ‘successful’ if you spend your life in hospital and your money on medical bills? If you cannot walk, cannot eat and cannot do a lot of other things? Or if you die before you reach middle age? You need to be healthy to enjoy the fruits of your success.

Life has many facets and we need to strive for success in as many areas as possible. Where we don’t quite succeed, at least we reduce the extent of our failure.

People who succeed strongly in one area often sacrifice other aspects of their lives. Some pop and movie stars are addicted to drugs, alcohol or sleeping pills. Others have failed marriages. Many highly successful people do not get to spend much time with their family. Such people may well leave great imprints on humanity, but their personal lives suffer. Are you willing to make such sacrifices? If not, you would be better off aiming for moderate, broad-based success.

Eugene O’Kelly

Eugene O’Kelly, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of KPMG, re-evaluated his success. As the head of one of the largest accounting firms in the US, a US$4 billion company with 20,000 employees, O’Kelly had power and prestige. He felt that he “sat atop the world.” That perspective changed when, in May 2005 at age 53, O’Kelly was diagnosed with brain cancer. He was told that he might not live beyond September. He wrote: “But the job of CEO, while of course incredibly privileged, was relentless. My diary was perpetually extended out over the next 18 months. I worked weekends and late into many nights. “I missed virtually every school function for my younger daughter. Over the course of my last decade with the firm, I did manage to squeeze in work-day lunches with my wife. Twice…”

O’Kelly lived his final days spending more time with his family, and writing about his final days. On September 10, 2005. O’Klly died. His wife Corinne wrote the final chapter of his book, Chasing Daylight: How my Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life.

It is not uncommon that the prospect of death makes people reevaluate what they want out of life. In the process, they often strike a new balance and re-define the meaning of ‘success’.

The myth of ’balance’

“Stop trying to ‘have it all’ and accept that trade-offs have to be made to get ahead in life,” advised Dr Angela Livers, Global Director at the Centre for Creative Learning, during a Women’s Leadership Programme in Singapore.

“The notion of ‘work-life balance’ is a myth. The reality is that trade-offs between work and personal life are inevitable. “A woman may feel that if she chose family first, she would be considered less successful, but those are the expectations of others.

If her husband is supportive and her children don’t have a problem, then she doesn’t need to worry.

“If you are struggling every day, trying to break the glass ceiling, then maybe you need to think hard about whether this is what you want to do.................... ...................Don’t go for success by the definition of others..”

Dr Livers was giving her advice to women, but I feel it applies equally to men. Men, too, might end up neglecting their families – neglecting ‘family success’ – as they pursue career success at all cost.

Philip Jeyaretnam

Philip Jeyaretnam is a prominent Singapore lawyer and Senior Counsel, the Singapore equivalent of Britain’s Queen’s Counsel. He has been President of the Law Society since 2004 and is also Adjunct Professor at the Department of Building at the National University of Singapore. He serves on the boards of the National Arts Council, Singapore Tourism Board and the National Kidney Foundation. He is also an accomplished writer. Despite his full schedule, Jeyaretnam goes home for dinner with his family every night. He tucks his two sons into bed every night and spends an hour with his daughter at the Botanic Gardens every morning, before going to the office. He visits his 80-year-old father, former lawyer and veteran Singapore opposition politician J B Jeyaretnam, at least once a week. “The core of everything else is always the family,” he says.

Lim Soon Hock

Lim Soon Hock sits on the board of directors of about nine organisations, including public-listed companies and government statutory bodies. In 2006, he was appointed Chairman of the newly formed National Family Council. In a newspaper feature about his new appointment (The Straits Times, 28 May 2006), Lim remarked: “If we add up the time we spend e-mailing, I’m sure the findings will be shocking. This is precious time which we should be spending with our loved ones instead of attending to e-mails or surfing the Internet.”

Lim has set a goal of not assessing his e-mails on weekends. He also makes it a point to take his younger son to school at least twice a week, even though it means waking up about an hour earlier. “I don’t begrudge missing a few hours’ sleep each week for the chance to bond with him, even if it’s just a 20-minute trip.” He makes it a point to speak with his aged parents on the telephone daily, and to call his wife two or three times a day. The couple has been married 30 years.

Dr & Mrs Baey Lian Peck

Businessman and community leader Dr Baey Lian Peck, and his wife, Daisy, celebrated their ..50th wedding anniversary with ..a lavish dinner party with 600 guests that included Singapore’s President S R Nathan and Mrs Nathan.

According to a newspaper report: “When the video showed Mrs Baey saying to her husband, ‘I will follow you wherever you go,’ there was hardly a dry eye among the guests.” Mr Baey said of the secret to his long and happy marriage: “We understand that we are not perfect and we give way to each other. It is not sacrifice but out of the love we have for each other.” Mrs Baey added: “We are husband and wife and should stick together whether it’s during successful or difficult times.” We all need to find our own balance. Thus, I encourage you to define your own success and choose the type of success that you want. Choose to be successful according to your own definition. And act on it.

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PRAISE is simple, yet powerful.

Use it or miss it. The choice is yours.

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