Whitney Houston’s Legacy And What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Her Rollercoaster Life

It might seem a bit weird to have an article about a recently deceased pop singer on a blog about Internet Marketing, but bear with me, today we’re talking about Whitney Houston.

There are actually some very valuable insights to be drawn from the rise and fall of someone who scaled to dizzying heights of success in their industry only to see it all slip away and end in tragedy.

In our world obsessed with fame and stardom, Whitney Houston was one of the few people who actually did break through the masses. But like so many who have gone before her, it didn’t seem to bring the everlasting joy and fulfillment we’re all hooked on thinking comes from fame and money.

It’s the strangest thing, no matter how often we hear that fame and fortune won’t make us happy, we never seem content to believe it until we get there. And I’m not excluding myself from this seductive, yet hollow promise.

What Makes Whitney’s Life Similar To Entrepreneurship?

This topic is particularly relevant to us as entrepreneurs because every day we pour our time, energy and resources into building a business and we do this essentially to increase our influence and affluence. In other words, to increase our degree of fame and fortune.

I’m not saying we’re only in it for the money or the notoriety, but in order to make money, we need to attain some degree of fame in our niche to attract clients and generate revenue. So, in our own way, we’re treading the same path as the late Whitney Houston.

The thing we need to understand is what causes us to lose our way. Particularly when the things that promised to make you happy show up in life only for you to find life has as much pain and challenge as it did before, perhaps even more so.

In one of the first posts I ever wrote for Entrepreneur’s Journey, I referenced Daniel H. Pink’s research from his book, “Drive”. In his research, he discovered that we are all driven by two types of rewards, intrinsic and external rewards.

External motivation can and does work very well until our physical needs are met so we can live comfortably, but beyond that, Pink says we β€œhave an innate drive to be autonomous, self determined and connected to one and other. When this drive is liberated, people achieve more and lead richer lives.” Numerous studies have shown that when our innate psychological needs are met, we are motivated, productive and feel happy with the way our life is going.

It Was An Inside Job

Intrinsic rewards are things that come from within us, like having a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment from your work, feeling connected to others, or feeling a sense of autonomy and mastery in your work. External rewards are things like money, recognition, awards, and social status. Clearly, fame and fortune are external rewards.

Here’s what Dan Pink discovered about intrinsic vs extrinsic rewards;

Our fulfillment largely comes from intrinsic rewards. The the things that truly do give us a sense of lasting satisfaction and fulfillment come from within. The intrinsic rewards of connection with others, feeling free and autonomous in the work you do and the life you lead has a far greater influence on our overall happiness and well-being than external rewards like fame or money.

Digging A Bigger Hole Doesn’t Set You Free

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us. It’s clearly shown to us by the tragic examples of gifted individuals like Whitney Houston, who “had it all” on the outside. Yet somehow, having it all on the outside left a gaping void on the inside.

The reason I’m writing this post is that Whitney’s life and death serve as a very powerful reminder to each of us as we race through our days, chasing the elusive things we consider will make us “successful”. Β We may in fact already have at our finger tips the things that we need to feel satisfied and fulfilled.

In essence, the riches we seek truly do come from within. I, like everyone else, am striving to create greater financial abundance and influence through my work. But everyday, particularly through my work as a writer, I get these little reminders not to lose sight of where my true happiness exists. These reminders, like Whitney, tell me that it’s an inside job. No matter how much money or fame I create in my life, it won’t make a shred of difference if I haven’t mastered the inner game.

I haven’t figured this out yet, but even though everyone that reads this post will probably nod in agreement and think, “Yep, that’s right, happiness really does come from within.” I can’t help but think none of us, myself included, really do believe that having more money won’t make us happier. It just seems so hard to fathom unless you actually get to that magic number you imagine will mean freedom & happiness to find out whether it will make you feel better or not.

There’s a pretty funny and good example of what we’re all probably thinking but not saying about how we really see this whole more “money = more happiness” situation by an 8 year old in an interview with Ellen Degeneres. When Ellen tried to tell her that happiness didn’t come from having money, you needed to focus on happiness first, she replied, “Ok, I’m happy, but I’ll be happier with a billion dollars.”

Thanks Whitney Houston for blessing the world with your truly magnificent gifts, and for helping me remember where it’s really at.


About Neroli Makim

Neroli Makim is an intuitive artist and writer who loves exploring Creativity and its relationship to personal fulfillment and professional success. She educates people about Creativity, what it is, why it’s important and how to access it within themselves. For more information, visit www.yourcreativesuccess.com.

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  • Whitney’s death for me served as a reminder that we need to have something deeper as the source of our happiness…and I’m not talking about religion. You are right Neroli; it is an inside job.

    As entrepreneurs if all we have as our purpose is to make money or have influence, when we become ‘successful’ it will be a hollow success indeed. There should be something more driving us; a deeper motivation.

    I think Carrie Wilkerson calls it knowing your WHY.

    I was nodding my head as I read your post – even to the part where I read the 8 year old’s comment. I guess it’s just human nature. πŸ™‚

    • Hey Sharon πŸ™‚ Thanks for your comment, i totally agree on finding your “why”. A lot of very successful business people I know always state that you need to have a compelling reason why you want to make money if you ever want it to happen, otherwise when it gets really hard, you won’t have a good enough “why” to keep going. Cheers, neroli

  • I believe that having more money won’t make me happier. I believe this because I’ve gotten things in the past that would have seemingly made me a happier person, but my desired items that I’d received didn’t make me any happier. Actually, the one thing that makes me happy and continues to do so on a daily basis is self-actualization.

    • So true!
      I was just journaling today about what success means and how most of the material things I have desired at one time or another I wanted mainly because of the feelings I thought they would bring me.

      The greatest, most difficult journey of my life has been achieving those states without attaching them to a material possession.

      • Hey David πŸ™‚ I guess all this makes for an interesting life and learning experience anyway huh? Hope you find those intrinsic rewards more frequently on your journey, cheers, neroli

    • HI kevin, yeah, same for me. I’ve got things that i was really striving for in the past and felt very hollow afterwards. It’s a weird feeling isn’t it? I’m glad you find a lot of fulfillment in self actualization, I think there’s a lot to be found there AND all the successful people who are actually happy that I know spend a lot of energy on it as well πŸ™‚ cheers, neroli

  • Whitney was making a comeback. She did not die from an illegal drug overdose. She died from prescription drugs just like so many others before her. According to the CDC prescription drugs kill more people than car accidents. Something is very wrong with this picture.

    • Hi Vernette, I agree with you about prescription drugs & pharmaceuticals being pretty dangerous with side effects etc that have way more harmful effects than a lot of other things. I can’t comment on what was really going on for Whitney at the time of her passing as I don’t know. Either way, it’s still a great loss of a wonderful woman. cheers, neroli

  • Well said….

    We also have to remember that happiness is temporary. If we base our happiness on temporary things, our happiness with be temporary.

    What we really want is joy. Joy is something that is deep within us and can be felt through the ups and downs of life. Joy is knowing who you are what you are capable of. No one can take that away from you…

    • Hey Teresa, I love your comment and the distinction you make about happiness and joy πŸ™‚ For me, my feeling is that everything is fleeting and in a constant state of change, but there’s a place within that seems a lot more constant than most other things, cheers, neroli

  • I am a fan of Whitney and I am really saddened of what had happened. I really appreciate you post about her and how you relate her life on the business. Her life reminds me that pure joys are valuable than any material things in life.

    • Thanks Loren, I think she was an inspiring woman with some incredible gifts, it’s always sad to see anyone’s life end when there’s still so much to give, cheers, neroli

  • Thanks for the post. Whitney was a great singer and people around the globe are going to miss her. The question about money and fame always comes up. I don’t think having more money is the problem. I think the demands of becoming famous and having to be on all the time in public is the real issue.

    • That’s a good point Cory, I agree with what you’re saying. In fact, a friend of mine and an incredibly successful businessman who likes swearing says, “Having money doesn’t make you a better or worse person. It just amplifies who you already are. If you’re an asshole when you don’t have money, you’re just going to be an even bigger asshole when you’ve got it.” he-he πŸ™‚

  • Although I believe in part what you say is true – there is something more fundamental at work here. You see it in very successful celebrities and it is also very common amongst the executive business world.

    The the fact that once you have tasted great success, it is often very hard to repeat – and one always feels this pressure to be that great once more. No matter how successful they are afterwards, unless they reach their peak height again, one feels somehow like they are less worthwhile, or that they are no longer successful.

    Great painters of eras gone used to talk of ‘the inspiration visiting them’, or talking to the ghost in the corner. They believed that inspiration was a being that entered them at certain points in time. That way they never felt the pressure to always be the best of the best – rather they accepted they were ordinary with just moment of brilliance.

    Many people speak of having a ‘purpose’ for your being – but that is only ever half the story. I recently spoke to an author who was terrified to write her second book, because the first had been such a huge success. Once you reach the great heights, then there becomes an expectation to always stay there. This is the reason why celebrities and business execs crush themselves after great careers…

    It is this expectation that celebrities and us as business persons need to learn to handle. Maybe the idea that inspiration is not within us, but visits us will encourage us to change the way we look at the long drop from dizzying successful heights.

    • Hey Dee! How’s it going? Good to see you πŸ˜‰

      Now, have you, by any chance been speaking to Elizabeth Gilbert or watching her TED presentation as that’s precisely how she speaks about her experience of fame & fortune. It’s a very valid point to bring up, and you’re quite right. Anyone, business people included, who often taste high levels of success find it hard to top or repeat it.

      I also agree that there are currents of energy, or you could call them muses, spirits of inspiration etc. that are flowing through the mass collective life current we’re all connected too. And when you feel these bursts of inspiration, by all means, run with it! It’s pretty fun πŸ˜‰ Biodynamic farming practices are actually an in depth scientific study of harnessing these kinds of currents and using it in agriculture. Really fascinating stuff but pretty out there even for me to grasp!

      Anyway, I hope you’re well and business is rocketing along. On a side note, I just had to look up how to spell ass to write in the previous comment…I honestly don’t write ass enough to even know how it’s spelled! He-he πŸ™‚ cheers, neroli

  • I was a teenager when I found myself in a movie house watching The Bodyguard starring Whitney and Kevin Costner. I was star-strucked with the song I Will Always Love You and became a Whitney fan from that moment on. It’s sad to lose another great voice indeed… RIP Whitney…

    • Thanks for your comment Enchong, it is sad to lose someone whose gifts touched people’s hearts, cheers, neroli

  • I like the connection to Pink’s book Drive. I recently read his book and thought it was very insightful. I’m not much of a Whitney Houston fan, but I like the way you connected celebrity and success with our need to feel happy.

    • Thanks Thomas πŸ™‚ That was a cool book huh? I’m a pretty big fan of Pink’s work, and particularly fascinated by his research for “drive”. I met him briefly 2 years ago, and plan to meet him again sometime & be in the position to get an interview with him – that would be cool! cheers, neroli

  • Having children that grow up in the 1980s and 1990s meant that many Whitney Houston cassette tapes were purchased! Who could ever forget “I Will Always Love You?” Thanks for the great information on her legacy and what we can learn! Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks Walter πŸ™‚ Aaaah the ’80s & 90’s, what memories huh? πŸ™‚ cheers, neroli

  • There is no question that fame and money do not bring happiness so your point is well taken. However, based on what I have read about Whitney, I think your article misses the mark in attributing that issue to her. Whitney did not live the life of a star. She lived well but apparently have millions, by one account $100 million to charities. She gave back a lot to Newark where she grew up and also helped many of he younger artists. I read one article by one of her assistants which said that she took care of a lot of people.

    I think it is unfortunate that when someone has problems we it attribute it to character or values issues. I did not know her so I cannot state the exact reason for her troubles. But I cannot help but wonder if she may have burnt out. The music industry and our media are ruthless and intolerant. Maybe she was trying to keep going when she needed to stop and take care of herself. Maybe she felt she would be letting down all the people who depended on her.

    One of the young stars commenting on her legacy thought she should be remembered as a “giver”. That is how I chose to remember her.

    • Thanks for your comment Maria, i really like hearing about people who give back a lot, she may have always been like that. And you’re right, if so, perhaps she did just give too much of herself?

      Of course, I don’t know either, we can’t really know anyone unless we’ve spent a lot of time creating a close relationship, so all the media reports are just someone’s best guess. cheers, neroli

  • Ann

    We have learnt again that money and fame cannot make you happy. We see it also with the highly paid sportspeople. RIP Whitney

    • Hi Ann, hmmm, i didn’t think of highly paid sportspeople, but you’re right, they face the same dilemma πŸ™‚ Cheers, neroli

  • Hello!
    Whitney Houston was my favorite singer, not just that she was an excellent actress too, very sad that she passed away so early.

    /Best regards.

    • Hi Christian πŸ˜‰ Thanks for dropping by and commenting, and yes, sad when life ends like that, cheers, neroli

  • I have never known much about Whitney Houston if I was not reading this article. She is worth so much to learn, especially as you said, that is the entrepreneurial spirit of a singer.

    • Thanks Trung πŸ™‚ I’m glad you liked the article and that it gave you some new insights and information, cheers, neroli

  • I loved Whitney…a beautiful women…

    My own perspective on happiness…Money may not be the answer…but it sure does give us the chance to have the freedom..to find happiness..!!! it is a shame that fame and fortune end tragic for so many , not just Whitney…There were many as you say..
    The pressure they put upon themselves and by others…
    Look at the success of balance Nicole Kidman as an example. How she has managed to balance her life of fame, money and happpiness…Look at Elle McPherson…perhaps their is more than meets the eye .these two superstars embrace life of fame and fortune as perfect ladies…DIGNITY..
    What was that movie Beyonce played in..??? ‘Dreamgirls’ She finally walked away, she had the courage..I think COURAGE ..is the stronger value to finding that ‘happiness within’….
    and Natalie Wood…I adored that actress…We will never know the truth…

    My dear friend Neroli…I walked too, many times…the strength and courage keeps me going in a world gone mad..the money comes from trusting..the happiness is in loving what we do…not expecting others will fill that void..

    I was so sad to hear about Whitney…
    Happiness is a subject that we could probably all write a book about..:)
    @maria…nice comment….but being a giver does not give you happiness at all times…I am a giver…and now I have learnt I was seeking love and approval by giving so much…their is nothing wrong in sometimes perhaps being a little selfish and learning to give to ourselves..
    My sweet girl Neroli..come over and I will give you the story before I die πŸ™‚ it is a beauty πŸ™‚ and if I was to give it to anyone it would be you..
    I see something within you…I think you have yet to realise…take it as a compliment…:) xxx

    • Anna, you sound like one of those women about to leave this world, saying things about giving stories before you die! I know you’re NOT about to leave this world, as much as any of us can know that anyway…really, our time comes at any moment.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, there’s so much balance needed more than anything I think. Balance seems to be the thing that carries us through anything. Even generosity, as you say, needs to be balanced so that you also take care of yourself and not just everyone else.

      Chat soon πŸ™‚ xxn

  • Charlie

    Is it a coincidence that a professional entrepreneur-blogger chooses to make a remote connection between someone’s life and death and entrepreneurship when that person’s death happens to be one of the biggest and most covered news in the world at that time?

    Low. Very low.

    • Wow, low huh Charlie? not as low as your comment it seems πŸ™‚ I thought I was offering something of a reflective piece that expressed gratitude for someone’s life and contribution…not sure how that’s low? cheers, neroli

  • I’m happy when I travel and meet new people all around the world. And I need money for that – simple calculation πŸ˜€ Therefore, I believe that more money would make me happier.

    Yes, I know this is a true simplifying, but that is the most usual thing that you’ll get as an answer to the problem of happiness coming within.

    Anyway, I believe that you are very right. Knowing why you do what you do, and what part of it is your satisfaction is the crucial thing.

    • Thanks Donna, and yes, your last statement about knowing why you do what you do being crucial will certainly make a big difference to how life feels πŸ˜‰ cheers, neroli

  • @charlie…listen mate it is all very well for you to make statement using the words coinincidence an death, but the author of this story is actually gloryfing life and how we should indeed see this…..Perhaps you should try and see it as the author intended….All media write , therefore , this author has all the right in the world to perhaps point out some very good points that is associated with entrepreneurship and happiness…”to quote yourself the biggest news all over the world” ….maybe you should stop reading the biggest news and have a good read of the above…!!! You might learn something much more worth than average media…!

    • Charlie

      I’m saying that she’s doing it as very thought out strategy to get more views, since people will be searching for and sharing about that piece of news. Just like she has those little internal links to her other blog posts as a part of a SEO-strategy. She’s an entrepreneur working in blogs, what do you expect? But I don’t really think it’s as much low as it is normal. I just wanted to be dramatic πŸ™‚

  • As much as I think you were a little high handed in your choice of language, I must say this same thoughts went through my mind when I watched the funeral on TV. Knowing that she started in the Church (as most of them do) and then ending the way she did (again most of them has ended that way!) it shows that not very many are really taking to heart the good news that the Church has for us.

    Yes, money cannot buy happiness and satisfaction, neither can fame. Looking at it from the angle of an entrepreneur, it’s clear that we must lay our foundation right we want the satisfaction and joy that comes from success. Align your business dealings with your core values. And of course, you must ensure that those values are in line with the expectations of the all knowing owner of your life!

  • I think it’s really sad to lose such an incredible talent like Whitney! I watched Kevin Costner’s speech at Whitney’s funeral and his comment said it all, all her life, Whitney desperately sought after the approval of others, she never felt good enough! As a life coach, I work with clients everyday with this same issue. Society labels the world of celebrity as being the picture of perfection; famous people need to feel genuine love and expectance like the rest of us!

    There needs to be a massive shift in our society, it vital that people learn to connect with each over any amount of fame and fortune. No amount of money can ever cover the cost of someone’s life!

  • Pat

    Luke is on point. This is a great article. I agree that Whitney Houston’s story shows us that money and fame don’t make you happy. However as someone who’s followed her career, I don’t think Whitney thought fame and money equaled happiness. She grew up around famous people, and learned very early that fame didn’t bring happiness. Whitney wanted what most celebrities want – to be seen and accepted as a real person (and not a persona). Isn’t that what we all deserve as human beings?

  • Money and success give temporary happiness and can be wiped out by any personal or economic catastrophe. But true abiding joy comes from God. This can never be taken away. The biggest and brightest in the entertainment and business worlds have fallen (including those involved with charitable and other good works), some even ending their lives through suicide or wrong decisions based on emotion, but faith in Jesus Christ gives a peace, joy and wisdom in making decisions that no school or business could give. Often the most successful are only as happy as their bank accounts and prestige, but it’s a veneer that fades through trials – business- or personal-related. Don’t underestimate the peace that faith in Jesus Christ brings (see Bible, Philippians, chapter 4 verses 7-8). I’m not talking about empty religion where you’re going through the motions but feel nothing in the heart, but a real spiritual relationship.

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