When you look at Forbes’ list of the World’s Billionaires in 2020, you’re likely to recognise some familiar names; Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg. But there’s a man in the ranks that you’ve probably never heard of before. And it’s not surprising. He’s renowned in his home country of Spain for never making public appearances. A notoriously private man who has always done things his own way.
His name is Amancio Ortega. He’s a pioneer of fast fashion. The founder of one of the world’s biggest fashion groups, Inditex, known for its popular fashion chains like Zara, Massimo Dutti, and Pull & Bear. The company has more than 7,500 stores around the world, and Forbes lists Ortega in 6th place on its list of billionaires, estimating his net worth at over $67 billion dollars.
His success as an entrepreneur is unequivocal, and for decades, he has shared his fortune with countless charitable causes. But his private demeanour has often manifested in resentment, and his admirable efforts have been met by criticism from Spanish political leaders.
There are times where his success coupled with his silence has led to suspicion, speculation, and unfounded envy. But Amancio has not succumbed to societal pressures. Recognition and notoriety are not his goal. In a rare appearance at a conference hosted by the Inditex in 2007, he shared a powerful piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs that shed light into his remarkable perspective:
“One can’t live with too much optimism, or complacency”
Don’t be too optimistic
This is a controversial perspective, but a powerful one nonetheless. It appears to go completely against the Law of Attraction; the theory that you have the power to attract your thoughts into your life. But arguably, it does not. His advice isn’t about relinquishing ambition or focusing your work to achieve the outcome you desire. You don’t have to become a pessimist or even a realist.
‘Not being too optimistic’ is about being humble. It’s about realising that no one owes you anything. Things don’t just happen because you want them to. You get whatever you work hard for.
Amancio was born in 1936, during the beginning of the Spanish civil war. He grew up poor in La Coruña, Spain, and received no formal education. At the age of thirteen, he began to work as a delivery boy for a shirt-maker who made clothes for the rich.
Working hard had nothing to do with success, and everything to do with survival. He had to work for his family. Everything else was peripheral. It’s perhaps why notoriety to him remains redundant to this day.
He literally couldn’t afford to be too optimistic; to assume that everything would work out in the end. There was too much at stake if things didn’t do well. So he became a relentless hard-worker, prepared for every possible scenario.
There are very few things in life that you can control. Even when you’re in control of the input, the outcome is seldom guaranteed. Appreciating this reality as an entrepreneur is crucial. It requires an acceptance that not everything will go your way; the key is to adapt and bounce back regardless. It requires preparation; having the foresight of potential eventualities and having a back-up plan so that you can adapt and bounce back swiftly.
Don’t be complacent
There’s a very fine line between contentment and complacency. Contentment is an emotional state of satisfaction with your own situation. It’s self-acceptance. On the other hand, to be complacent is to be smug; to have a sense of calm satisfaction with your own abilities or situation that prevents you from trying harder.
Contentment allows you to reward yourself for your achievements, without losing that desire to constantly self-improve. But complacency saps ambition.
It’s contentment that will favour successful entrepreneurs. Accepting your situation for what it is, however bad, and putting steps in place to turn things around in your favour. American entrepreneur, investor, and bestselling author, Tim Ferriss, explained this well during an interview with Professor Brené Brown.
“There was a lot of self-loathing driving performance. And for a long time, I viewed any type of self-acceptance as complacency…you need to be your own devil whipping yourself in the back to try harder. What I’ve realised is that…there are two types of self-acceptance…I could accept all of those things as true because they are, those are my experience. And then for some of them, I could take steps to improve upon those things. There’s a situation I need to fix, great, let me go fix it.” — Tim Ferriss
Ambitious people often think contentment is bad. There’s certain guilt and shame when you think of being content. There’s a fear that accepting yourself and your circumstance equals staying there. But contentment and progression aren’t mutually exclusive.
Being content is a powerful way to be present; a state from which to build on. It’s complacency that should be avoided because it does the exact opposite. It prevents you from being present. Complacency blinds you to your actual circumstance; it’s a false perception of yourself and your achievements.
Sometimes it’s the quiet ones who have the most valuable things to say. The silent thinkers who get to work and do things on their terms are often those that have the most to teach.
Nine words can unveil the logic behind someone’s private demeanour. In a world where so much of our attention is absorbed by the media, it’s important not to forget that powerful lessons can be found in the most private of places, from the quietest of people.