Success doesn’t mean Lamborghini’s and mansions. It doesn’t mean being the most high-status person in the world. It definitely doesn’t mean having to Lorde over people and brag. I define success in a simple way: you do what you really want to do with your life and you don’t hurt other people in the process. Simple.
You can be a successful or unsuccessful accountant, entrepreneur, stay-at-home parent, whatever. Success has nothing to do with what you do and it has everything to do with why you do it. That being said, successful people tend to have a set of unusual traits. And by unusual, I simply mean things that most people just don’t do.
I’m not casting judgment on anyone, but I’d bet that most people don’t fit their own definition of success, whatever that definition looks like. Once you figure out your definition, adopting these traits will help you along the way.
I saw this video once where a guy started dancing alone in the middle of a crowded park. At first, he looked silly. Most people wouldn’t put themselves in a situation where they looked goofy in front of a bunch of people, but he genuinely seemed to be having a good time. After a while, another person joined him. Then, a few more joined in. Next thing you know, there was a full-blown dance party in the park.
What does this story have to do with being successful? You can’t get what you want unless you’re willing to look foolish from time to time. And you’re willingness to put yourself out there will inspire others to join your cause. They’ll follow your lead because you’ve proven that you have an important trait, a trait that most people wish they had and feel deeply drawn to when they see it in others.
Your willingness to look stupid means that you don’t let the weight of other people’s opinions dictate what you do. It also signals that you know an important truth — the less seriously you take life the better your chances of success. This is why it works so well to think of life as a game.
When you’re both committed to pursuing success and also understand that none of this, especially the opinions of others, really matters, you’re free to live a life of abundance. There’s no better way to reach this attitude other than to actively put yourself in situations that risk embarrassment and rejection over and over again until you get what you want.
It’s easy to convince yourself you don’t want what you want when you don’t think you can get it. A lot of people in society have a perverted sense of contentment and humility that they formed as a coping mechanism. And since we have so many people that hide their real desires and settle, there’s a ton of pressure on you to do the same.
Think about it. From the media to the institutions of our society, and even the people closest to you, there seems to be this message that you’re somehow selfish for being honest about what you truly desire. Then we all end up playing this BS game with each other where we interact in this passive-aggressive way because we’re all so damn stifled. Successful people have conviction and self-belief. These traits tend to turn people off because it makes them feel inferior.
If you’re unapologetic about the life you want to live, it will bother some people. Learning to be honest with yourself about what you want means you have to separate your wants and needs from the entanglement they have with the judgment of others.
If your life would be any different if you could avoid judgment from others and still get what you want, then you have some work to do. If your life would be different if you had an unshakeable level of confidence in your ability to achieve anything, then you have some work to do.
We all have some work to do. The point isn’t to beat yourself up about your lack of uber confidence. The point is simply to at least be sincere with yourself about what you want in the first place. Then you have an honest baseline to measure yourself against.
Imagine you were able to look at yourself five years into the future. Imagine this person was the person you’d become had you focused on your long-term results instead of your short-term emotions. If you could see that person operate in real-time if you had some sort of proof that your efforts would work out, would you follow the difficult steps it takes to become that person?
It’s crazy how life tends to work. You can let short-term emotions get in the way of your success day in and day out for an entire lifetime. Time passes like a blink. The long-term is coming either way, so it makes sense to do the hard stuff now, so why don’t we all do it? Lots of reasons. Your brain is literally wired to focus on the short-term over the long term. Also, the little blows you have to deal with in the short term might feel so bad at the moment that you just don’t want to feel those emotions again.
In general, it’s just hard to visualize long-term results while you’re stuck in the nitty-gritty grinding it out every day. It’s just hard. You have to race resistance over and over again constantly. I don’t have an amazing answer to remedy this other than to think about that future person long enough and hard enough to do what it takes in the present moment.
Find areas of your present life to fuel you for the future. I like to use frustration as fuel. I let the present moment hurt so badly that change seems to be the only solution. Not saying it’s healthy, but that’s what I do. Once you’ve gone through one self-improvement arc where you change your life in a major way, start a business, complete a project, build a catalog, etc, you realize you can do it over and over again. You no longer dread the long-term and you learn to love the process.
Most self-improvement writers don’t talk about the ability to properly know when to quit. You have a limited amount of time each day as well as a limited amount of time in this life. How do you know which pursuits to stick with and which ones to ditch?
Successful people are self-aware enough to know the difference between a situation that shows long-term promise but isn’t working out yet vs. something that isn’t worth their time no matter how hard they try.
Nat Eliason had an interesting quote in his article about the downside of hustle culture:
Working hard is great, but struggle porn has a dangerous side effect: not quitting. When you believe the normal state of affairs is to feel like you’re struggling to make progress, you’ll be less likely to quit something that isn’t going anywhere.
You should see some signs of promise early on. Usually, you’ll see positive signs on a path that’s related to your strengths. Yes, you should work hard, but there’s no badge of honor for exhausting yourself and burning out.
Seth Godin also talks about the process of knowing whether or not your project is worth working on in his book Lynchpin. He uses the term ‘thrashing.’ In the beginning, you put all of your efforts into your project and experiment to see what works. If you’re honest with yourself you’ll be able to know whether it’s a viable path because you put all of your efforts into both working hard and trying to poke holes in your idea at the same time.
Also, though, people tend to quit much too early. They’ll give up on something that shows promise simply because it’s going to require a good amount of delayed gratification to pay off. They’ll trick themselves into thinking they’re thrashing, when really they’re trying to skip the necessary steps it takes to get what they want.
My suggestion? Give something you want to pursue a 90-day trial run and measure your results not on difficulty, but promise. Understand that you tend to get exponential rewards in the long run. It usually takes a few years to come full circle. Quitting is a perfectly viable option, but it’s one most people rarely execute the right way.
Self-improvement culture also pushes a toxic mindset that can keep people from reaching their true potential. You also see this phenomenon in company culture quite a bit. According to most self-help gurus, you absolutely most people the top-dog in your field no matter what. Everyone needs to be an influence, a leader, front and center sharing their gifts with the world. Everyone must have a business and all 9 to 5 jobs are a waste of time. In truth, people are needed at many different levels in life and organizations. Some people are more suited to play a support role and would thrive much better in them.
It might make a ton of sense for someone to be a mid-level employee at a top company instead of being a founder of that company. Just like it goes in sports, it makes sense for many people to be crucial role players instead of stars. You don’t have to be front and center to gain recognition. Often, companies misuse their employee’s talents due to the Peter Principle, which is the concept that employees eventually get promoted to a position so high that it makes them appear incompetent.
Most of these traits come down to self-awareness. I got into writing and content creation because I’ve always had the tendency to run my mouth and share my thoughts. I admittedly thrive off of attention. I’m more of a visionary type than a meticulous and pragmatic executer. Often, I’ll look to people who don’t share similar traits to support.
The goal? Get all the way to your personal edge, but then also recognize when you’ve reached a level that makes sense for you instead of trying to be something or someone you’re not.
What often runs through people’s minds when something doesn’t go their way. They don’t think to themselves “You know what? It just wasn’t meant to be this time.” Instead, they make every little mistake and failure a sign of their character and see mistakes as some permanent black marks on their record.
Learning to stop taking everything that happens in your life personally is a superpower. When you’re rejected, you won’t take it as a sign that the person who rejected you is some all-knowing being who decides your worth. You just might not be their cup of tea. Speaking of Godin again, he claims to have been rejected more than 900 times by book publishers. Dozens of publishers passed on Harry Potter. Harry freaking Potter.
Successful people focus on being as objective as possible. Sometimes rejection is a sign that you need to get better. Even then, you don’t take it personally and feel butt hurt about it. You just focus on getting better. Oftentimes I’ll tell newer writers that they’re not succeeding yet because their writing flat out sucks. In my experience, most people can’t handle this level of feedback. But the ones that do make dramatic improvements and succeed.
You’re getting feedback from the world constantly. How you choose to interpret that feedback makes a world of difference. Basically, you want to move through life with this mindset: you’re for some people and you’re not for others. It’s impossible to get everyone to like you or enjoy what you have to offer no matter how hard you try. So, don’t try to get everyone to like you or enjoy what you have to offer. Focus on the ones that matter and move on from the ones who don’t.
Pretty much all these points boil down to perhaps the most important trait successful people have. They’re honest. They’re honest with themselves. They know their strengths and weaknesses. They’re able to make sometimes brutal self-assessments so they can thrive. They’re honest about ‘when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.’ They do the opposite of what most people do.
Most people live in a haze of massive rationalization. They succumb to their biases instead of trying to fight them. They spend most of their lives finding ways to use self-dishonesty as a cope. The thing about lying to yourself? No matter how much you try to bury your true self, you’ll still have a sense of whether or not you’re being true to yourself.
It never fully goes away. And when you avoid the truth you put yourself in a state of permanent tension. This is ironic because you do this to avoid pain. But the pain you face with self-honesty is often like ripping a band-aid when the pain of lying to yourself is like a dull toothache that never goes away and permanently annoys you.
Successful people are honest with other people. They don’t hide their intentions. They persuade others but don’t feel the need to manipulate people to get what they want. Instead of dimming their light to make others feel better, they live an authentic life where they boldly pursue what they want. You can always get a sense of whether or not people are BSing you. Know that they can also tell the same about you.
So, be honest with yourself today. What do you really want? Who are you really supposed to be? Are you living your truth or someone else’s? Are you incapable of change or are you just hiding? Only you know the answers to those questions. And what you do with those answers will determine your fate.