“How to be successful” is such an open-ended concept that no one person can provide a sufficient definition. When you’re looking for answers on how to be successful, aim to find the definitions that best match your tastes and preferences.
Deep down, you know what success means to you.
I’m here to help you unearth the things you already know, remind you of them, and give you a few insights to nudge you in the right direction.
When it comes to figuring out how to be successful, the first step is taking a look at your life as it is, right now, and being honest about the way your circumstances make you feel.
Does your mind play tricks on you? Sure.
Can desire run amuck and grow out of control? Absolutely.
Either way, you want more from this life and you’re scared to go get it.
Why? Because the process of trying to become successful exposes you. When you don’t try, you don’t have to face the discomfort of your anxieties.
You can bury them. And that’s what most people do.
So, before we dive into any of this, I encourage you to stop hiding.
Do you need to be a millionaire to be successful? No. Do you need to be famous? No. Do you need to have everything you’ve ever wanted? No.
But you do need to, at least somewhat, exceed the outcomes and expectations of the average person, yes. The bar is so low. The outcomes themselves don’t matter, but until you try to excel in life, you’ll never get to learn about yourself in that intimate way.
People who don’t try to become successful are strangers to themselves and wonder why they always have this refrigerator hum of dull pain in their lives.
Get successful, if for nothing else, than to expose yourself to the kind of truth you can only gain through success.
You become more meditative about life by chasing success. You can find true peace and happiness by seeing what success is like and then finding out it’s not quite what you thought it was.
When you don’t try to become successful, you always have to wonder. You feel envy towards others at a deep emotional level for no reason — the Kardasians are a Rorschach test.
I can’t find the exact quote, but in The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, he essentially says all the ills of society stem from a lack of purpose. That energy has to go somewhere, and it does so in many forms from the benign to the devastating,
Out of all the people who claim contentment, I’d say maybe 10 percent of them mean it. The other 90 percent confuse apathy with contentment.
When living the way you live isn’t really your choice, it’s hard to claim contentment. Easy enough to say you don’t care about money when you don’t know how to make it. Easy to say success is hollow when you lack motivation. It takes no effort to claim humility.
No matter how you express yourself to the outside world, you’ll always know the truth. You have to be with yourself, deal with yourself, and live with the results of your actions for as long as you’re alive.
Now that we’ve gotten that mini-treatise out of the way, let’s talk about how to be successful based on some definitions I’ve learned along the way.
You can’t have control over your life if a third of it is spent doing something for a living that’s any less than a ‘B+.’ Doesn’t have to be a perfect A, but it should be pretty damn good. I’ve talked about how to do that at length here, here, and here.
I’ve racked my brain about the reason why people don’t solve their career problems for a half-decade. The best insight I can give comes from my own life.
When you try to give this process a sincere shot, it just feels so far away. I remember hitting little milestones along the way in the first few years of working on my side-project, but even then it was like “Damn, how long is this going to take?”
I genuinely felt like I’d never quit, but the doubt itself was so palpable. I wrote entire drafts of books I never published because I thought the ideas were stupid. I created a course and scrapped it entirely because I had too much impostor syndrome to launch it. One time, I did launch an email course one time that made a grand total of zero sales.
So what kept me going?
To be one hundred percent honest with you, deep levels of frustration kept me going. I remember one time I had such a bad day at my job at the video store that I broke a plastic DVD case in half. When I worked at my digital marketing job, I once had a client so terrible that I snapped back at them and couldn’t help it.
How tolerable is your situation?
You probably won’t change it until it’s intolerable.
Use your current work situation as motivation. How do you feel about your job? Or your lack of a job? Extrapolate that out to a lifetime of doing what you’re doing right now. How does that feel? Really, try to feel it. The. Rest. Of. Your. Life. doing that job.
Solve the career problem. Why? Because it makes the most mathematical sense. It’s a third of your life.
Some articles that’ll help you are:
The career switch or starting your side hustle and turning it into the full-time gig is the common self-help trope on how to be successful, but what’s the deeper answer?
You want to develop competence.
Competence equals success.
There’s no way to replace the feeling of developing a skill you truly enjoy. When you find something you want to master, you’ll come to understand that you’ll never quite master it, so you’ll always have something to focus on. People who have something to aim for in life tend to have less idle time. And you’ve heard the saying “the idle mind is the devil’s playground.”
Finding something to aim for in life kills a bunch of birds with one stone:
How do you get there, though? What are some of the ways you can learn how to develop this mastery?
When I first started writing, Jon Morrow, James Altucher and Ryan Holiday were the writers I modeled most. I didn’t copy them, per se, but I watched their writing and tried to imagine the thought process they used to create such amazing work.
I copied their habits.
To this day, I still use James’s technique of writing 10 new ideas per day. When I wrote my first two books, I used Ryan’s notecard method for gathering useful quotes and insights to add to his writing, a technique he learned from Robert Greene. I owe much of what I learned about blogging to Jon. I found his website one day, read every article on it, and implemented his advice to a tee.
At first, you emulate people who inspire you. Next, you will discover how you’re different from them and develop your own style. In general, understand that people have already been on the path you’re trying to achieve. Use these people.
The trick to becoming successful using this strategy?
Don’t just be a fan.
Everyone has heroes and people they look up to. I looked up to all these writers, sure, but I planned on reaching their level one day. I didn’t see them as superhuman.
That’s the key insight you learn from finding people to model yourself after. They’re just people — flesh, bone, blood, just like you
Writers have said they model themselves after me. Well, guess what? I was once an insecure novice writer with no experience. Just like my predecessors were.
Come for the crown and understand that this emulation period is just a springboard to catch up with your heroes and even pass them one day.
In 2020 and beyond, there are more than enough resources to help you learn how to be successful at basically anything.
If you want to shortcut the process, find a paid resource.
Buy a course or get a coach, period. It’s the most straightforward path. The problem with trying to find the information on your own? While it’s all out there, somewhere, you’ll waste time trying to piece it all together and it’ll frustrate you so much that you’ll quit.
Instead, a paid resource puts all the information together in a streamlined way.
If you’re a self-starter, online courses work well. If you know you need more hand-holding, get a coach. Simple. For me, when it came to things like learning how to blog, courses were enough.
But I have a coach now because some of the higher-level aspects of business required a second pair of eyes. My coach has given me insights in a few sentences that would take me months to find on my own.
I just bought a course on growing your YouTube channel even though I got it to 3,000 subscribers on my own. Why? Because I’m tired of flailing around trying to piece it together on my own,
Stop flailing around and trying to piece it together on your own. Get rid of all that anxiety that comes with having to make every decision on your own. Someone else has already figured out what to do. Pay them. You shorten your learning curve and put skin in the game at the same time.
Would you have done something like going to college for free? Maybe. But the fact you paid for it made you go to class. The same logic applies here.
You never want to feel like you’re totally certain about your worldview or your level of knowledge. You never want to fall under the impression that you have the ‘golden touch.’ Instead, you always want to iterate. You always want to update your software, so to speak.
Most people are unsuccessful because they’re stubborn. They want to be right instead of getting it right.
If you can’t pivot based on feedback, you’ll never be successful. If you can’t take criticism and adapt, you’ll never be successful.
I hired top-notch editors for my new book. They chewed my ideas to shreds, to the point I felt like taking their criticisms personally, but I didn’t. I listened and their ideas made me a better writer and thinker for it.
The fundamental delusion you have is the fact that you don’t have the outcomes you want in life yet you somehow feel defensive about people disagreeing with your worldview. If you’re so correct about the world, why aren’t you successful?
Ideas are a means to an end, not your identity. If you can separate your ego from your ideas and behaviors, you’ll continue to make smarter decisions over time. You don’t want to be right. You want to become less wrong.
I have a pragmatic and worldly view of success. That’s clear.
But the way I look at it, figuring out how to become successful provides the deepest level of spiritual growth possible. You can’t facilitate all the steps to being successful without mindfulness, regulating your emotions, and finding mental clarity.
The earned sense of pride that comes with freeing yourself from the shackles of society hits you on a spiritual level. How can you be a ‘free spirit’ if you’re not free?
It’s not about the outcomes. It’s about what you had to do to get them.
Money in and of itself doesn’t matter at all, but it buys the freedom to not have to think about it. How can you focus on your spiritual growth if you’re living paycheck to paycheck? You can’t unless you’re deep into zen for real.
How do you have time to contemplate the deepest levels of wisdom about life if you’re stuck in the rat race? Sorry, I just don’t see it.
Get yourself out of ‘survival mode’ first.
Make the proper trade — a few years of your life upfront for the rest of your life to figure out how to be happy.