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Lesson #4: Be Honest
It is this same honest attitude by which Cowell judges himself that he also judges others. In his decades in the entertainment industry, Cowell has learned that one of the secrets to success is honesty – both with oneself and with others. He has no delusions about what he is and is not capable of. He knows both his own strengths and weaknesses and is honest with himself in admitting them. He is also quick to point out the strengths and weaknesses of others, believing that knowledge of this will help someone on the better path to success.
When “Pop Idol” first aired in the U.K., Cowell was a very different judge from the one that has made headlines today. He was polite to and supportive of all of the contestants, whether or not they actually performed well. But, upon reflection, Cowell admitted that he found the whole thing false. Because the judges were too conscious of the cameras, they were not as honest as they would have been in a normal audition and Cowell vowed from thereon out to tell the truth. Immediately, Cowell knew he had stumbled onto something. His brutal honesty had become an instant hit with audiences, who dubbed him ‘Mr. Nasty’. The show’s success skyrocketed in large part to Cowell’s honesty.
But, Cowell wasn’t just being honest for the sake of good television. “I met someone the other night who is 28 years old, and he hasn't worked a day since he left college because he's pursuing a dream he'll never, ever realize,” said Cowell. “He thinks he's a great singer. Actually, he's crap. But nobody has said to him, ‘Why have you been wasting your time for eight years?’”
Cowell believes that in order to succeed, people need to be honest with themselves about their abilities. “If you want to win, you have to realize that good is not enough,” says Cowell. “You've got to be great!” Recognizing that you are better at one task than another will set you on the path to success.
“I haven’t done anything particularly harsh,” Cowell says in response to critics of his brutal honesty. “Harshness to me is giving somebody false hopes and not following through. That’s harsh. Telling some guy or some girl who’ve got zero talent that they have zero talent actually is a kindness.”
Cowell was ambitious but he knew enough to understand that ambition alone would not get him wherever he wanted. He needed to be honest with himself about his skills and abilities and work with what he had. Chasing empty dreams, for Cowell, was simply a distraction from a more appropriate path to success. Once you were honest with yourself about what you could and could not do, you would be that much closer to success.
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