Derek Sivers

Entrepreneur, programmer, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

Character predicts your future

In 1991, when I ran the tape room at Warner/Chappell Music in New York City, I had an NYU intern named Nick Ruechel from Germany. He was a few years older than me, had recently moved from Cologne to New York, and seemed really driven to do whatever it takes.

He was a very hard worker, but also great at befriending the managers at the company. He put himself into the center of existing success (the company, the managers) and both learned and worked to earn his place in that world.

We lost touch for 17 years, but I knew he would be successful at whatever he chose to do. It was just in his character. He had the right approach.

So it was no surprise when I met him in New York this week, and we caught up on the last 17 years. He had thrown himself into photography, assisting increasingly successful photographers, learning everything he could, until he got the best possible job: first assistant to Annie Liebowitz for over three years.

Now he's a successful freelance photographer, specializing in portraits of jazz musicians. Happy and healthy. Of course. (See NickRuechel.com.)

We compared notes about our other colleagues at Warner/Chappell Music, and where they were 17 years later. Again: no surprises.

One manager, Jocelyn Cooper, seemed so clearly destined to rise to the top. She was very effective and just a little aloof, so that she really came across like a natural leader. Back in 1990, I could tell she was going to be very successful, and sure enough: she is.

Another manager, though he was a fun guy, seemed too moody and unfocused. Sure enough, he flamed out of the company, and is now bitter, unfocused and unhappy.


In March 2009, at the SxSW Music Conference, I was on a panel called “Artist as Entrepreneur”, with successful independent artist Rachael Sage.

The moderator was asking her about specific tips and techniques. How did she get the word out? Where did her big breakthrough come from? What was the key to her success so far?

At the end, I had to say, “I've known Rachael since 1996. She was the first artist on CD Baby. She's so driven, ambitious, and hard-working that she would have been successful no matter what industry she chose. It's her nature.

(To be fair, I've noticed the same thing about myself.)

So what does this mean? It's just fate? Nothing you can do? You're either the successful type or you're not?

Of course not. But it's true that how you do anything is how you do everything.

Your “character” or “nature” just refers to how you handle all the day-to-day things in life, no matter how small.

And luckily, it's completely under your control, and seems to be a great indicator of future success.

Photo by Nick Ruechel