Success….And What It Really Takes To Achieve It

rich successful lifestyle

So what does it really take to reach success? There are a lot of myths, the “he says”, “she says” out there but does anybody really have the answer? Success is subjective and has a different definition for each individual.

So let’s take a look through the ages at what is considered as “success”, and what is needed to reach a level of high achievement in various areas of our lives.

 

Geniuses Aren’t Born….They’re Made

Books like The Da Vinci Curse by Leonardo Lospennato does a good job of summing up a problem of our time: that anyone striving to be a universal genius will inevitably fail. Because today, unlike in Da Vinci’s time, there’s so much competition out there in every field that only people who devote themselves to one subject are successful. Anyone who wants to be a professional high flyer, the “Father of the Year,” a star violinist, a globetrotter and an art connoisseur all at once should either rethink his priorities or feel satisfied about being incredibly mediocre in each of these fields. After all, it’s rare for a genius to be an all-rounder.

 

The secret trick: lots of practice and even more mistakes.

Alleged geniuses like Mozart, Goethe and Picasso are not famous the world over for their unique inborn gifts: they were simply lucky enough to be born with a certain amount of talent that they could then cultivate with a whole lot of hard work and dedication.

Anyone who wants to emulate a genius should take note of the fact that neither Mozart nor Einstein changed his profession every couple of years. One reason why Steve Jobs was so successful was that he put all his energy into one thing – and in the process sacrificed his chance of ever winning the “Father of the Year” award. It’s not to say that this path doesn’t have potholes, traffic and detours, but instead that only people who experiment without fear of failure and accept that they can learn from it are bound to produce great things.

 

Napoleon and the light bulb: getting rich by thinking?

Over 100 years ago, Napoleon Hill asked himself whether the success of outstanding personalities could be explained by a formula. Did they all use the same toothpaste? Did they all follow the same traveling priest? Hill’s answer, which he used as the basis for his book Think and Grow Rich, was far more rudimentary: for him, success and wealth were the consequence of having a clear goal and a burning desire to achieve it. And so, we can reinforce what we already knew about Mozart, Einstein and Jobs:

They all worked hard and were ready to accept mistakes and failures.

Even after more than 10,000 failed experiments, Thomas Edison was not discouraged from achieving his goal of inventing an electric light source. He was driven by the desire to make his dream a reality. After years of hard work, he finally succeeded with the invention of the light bulb. Writer Fannie Hurst’s story is similar: she had to cope with over 36 rejections before a single short story was published in a newspaper. Once that happened, her career as a successful novelist and playwright took off. Her burning desire was stronger than the frustration she felt about various rejections – and she was ultimately rewarded with success.

 

How To achieve success - one bite at a time

 

But all this raises a new question: if the path to success is so obvious, why are there so few people who take it?

Keeping all your options open is the road to mediocrity.

Dan Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational talks broadly about why we human beings use our gift of rational thinking and decision-making so infrequently. Or, to give a concrete example, why we promise ourselves we’ll stop eating sweets so we can look good in a bathing suit, yet, as soon as we’ve filled our shopping carts with fruits and vegetables at the supermarket, we still break down and throw in a chocolate bar on our way to the cash register. Or why, once we’ve fulfilled our dream of having a Porsche, we want a Ferrari. Or, finally, why we put off making decisions and keep all other options open in the meantime, even if it means taking the road to mediocrity or, worse, to a state of constant dissatisfaction.

People are obsessed with keeping their options open, even when it hurts them in the long run. We humans try to keep our options open as much as possible: in our education, our careers and our choice of romantic partner. Some might say that, in an uncertain world, it makes sense to leave open as many avenues as possible, but not making a decision also carries consequences. A person indecisive between two career paths, say architecture and IT engineering, may not whole-heartedly pursue either, and hence end up a mediocre architect or programmer.

Which, in turn, raises the question of how to solve this dilemma. Although countless books have an answer to this question, at the moment we’d like to focus on one classic and one recent bestseller.

 

Efficiency vs. effectiveness: a small, but subtle difference.

Stephen R. Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a classic in the advice and productivity genre. Like Napoleon Hill, Covey investigated what it is that makes people who have made extraordinary achievements different from others. The book relies on mantras such as “first thing’s first” and “sharpen the saw,” i.e., it encourages readers to prioritize and keep themselves balanced. He argues that, in order to have enough time to do so, you have to understand the difference between efficiency and effectiveness:

Many people work towards meaningless goals. They simply worry about being efficient rather than effective. Being efficient, i.e getting the maximum amount done in the shortest amount of time, is pointless if you don’t know why you’re doing it. Not knowing what’s really important to you and what you’re working towards is like climbing a ladder which is set against the wrong wall. To avoid this, it is important to first be clear about your long-term goals. To this end, it can be useful to ask yourself the Funeral-Questions:

What do I want people to say about me at my funeral? What sort of person do I want to be remembered as? What do I want to be remembered for?

That’s why answering these (admittedly somewhat morbid) questions shouldn’t be too difficult for anyone who wants to put Leo Babauta’s The Power of Less into practice.

 

Productive minimalism, or: why less is more

In just a few years, Babauta has become a guru of productive minimalism. Babauta – once an unhappy, overweight, chain-smoking “Jack of all trades, master of none” – is now a living paradigm of minimalism, practicing yoga, eating healthily, writing, and spending time with his family. His success speaks for itself, and happiness seems to literally ooze out of him. His advice sounds as simple as it does plausible:

Living without restrictions is like shopping without a credit limit. Because the only way we end up concentrating on what’s truly important is when we’re forced to budget. In short, budgeting helps us stop wasting time and energy on things that aren’t actually worth it. By consciously limiting ourselves, we create space for important things and get rid of the unimportant ones. For example, by not taking on unimportant projects, we give ourselves time to spend with our loved ones.

In summary, we recognize that people can only truly be geniuses or achieve success if they work hard and consciously choose certain options over others. Veering off the paths of mediocrity and taking drastic measures is worth it, as Ariely describes in his book Predictably Irrational:

In 210 BC, after the Chinese commander Xiang Yu had ferried his army across the Yangtze River, he set fire to his own ships. He did this to show his troops that retreat was not an option. In response, they fought so ferociously that they won nine battles consecutively.

 

Think about it, have you ever made such a gutsy, all-or-nothing decision or do you know someone who has?

If so, we’d love to hear about it in the comments. Your story just might inspire someone else to take action!

Sebastian Klein. Sebastian Klein is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Blinkist.com. He lives in Berlin and holds a Master degree in psychology with a focus on teaching psychology. Sebastian has invented "blinkist" - a made for mobile format to learn the most important insights from non-fiction books on-the-go and he's dedicating his time to think of new ways of presenting content that better fits into today's reading habits.

20 Comments

  1. justo

    June 20, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    i packed my bag with a one way plane ticket to miami to do some acting work. one shirt one pare of pants. it was all or nothing to get my dream going.

    • Nandini

      July 4, 2014 at 3:45 am

      hi, this is my all time fav website, seems like just out of my mind, persistence and hard work is all it is required to be successful in life,thanks! ..good work

  2. Everyday Power

    April 28, 2014 at 9:17 am

    Great post! I love recognition that success varies depending on who you ask. I also love the reoccurring theme of persistence and effort! Thanks !

  3. Ravi Makhija

    January 15, 2014 at 5:49 pm

    Hi, m following ur articles from sometime now and it has made me more stronger and more go getter.Thans with due rispect Sir.

  4. Casey

    January 14, 2014 at 9:30 pm

    Thank you so much for this, and everything on this site! 4 years ago when I was 16 I left school, moved away from home in Australia to the UK and worked my butt off to achieve my dream of being an international dressage rider. The sacrifice was worth it and within a year I was representing Great Britain in Under 21s competitions :)
    That success doesn’t last though, I am constantly motivating myself to make more decisions to get to the next level, giving up everything that isn’t going to help me get to where I want to be.

    • Chris

      March 2, 2014 at 5:20 am

      Great article. As I read this, I have just sacked my boss (2 weeks ago) to start a letting agency. And I’m so happy. However I am scared too because I don’t know how things are going to pan out. Never been out of work and always had a pay cheque at the end of the month! I’m giving it my all because I will never go back! #mindtrepreneur.

  5. David Akomitipoju Onyendi

    January 13, 2014 at 10:10 am

    Fantastic article… Its clearer to me what I should drop. Less clutter this year 2014.

  6. JohnOvan

    January 8, 2014 at 6:45 am

    Just, awesome. I finally feel like I am on the right path, and your article just helped me realize that. I burned a significant bridge behind myself, so to speak. Thanks for the good read!

  7. Naomi@startbizquitjob

    January 6, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    Hi Sebastian,

    This post is truly amazing for anyone wanting to progress at anything (so properly 99.9% of the worlds population!).

    I really enjoyed Efficiency vs. Effectiveness – This is where many new start-ups go wrong and the owner never feels like they have accomplished anything. Proper prioritizing changes everything.

    Thanks for mentioning some really interesting books too

    Naomi

  8. Keef (@KeithPMilburn)

    December 22, 2013 at 10:01 pm

    I literally just stopped in my tracks when I read “Keeping all your options open is the road to mediocrity.” That has really resonated with me. Thank you.

  9. arucker

    December 22, 2013 at 12:59 am

    how funny….i decided a month or so ago that 2014 would be my yr to simplify my life…and here comes this article with resources to do just that….crazy cool….

  10. joe mulwa

    December 19, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    I have read this blog for 1 year now and I have never commented….

    But today, I just did because this is the realest article I have ever come across. It resonates with exactly where I am at in my life. Thank you for this great article!!

    • Joel

      December 19, 2013 at 11:56 pm

      Thanks for leaving a comment Joe. Enjoy the site :)

  11. Michel

    December 14, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    It is true that I wanna keep my options open. But that is because I have old tasks, which I haven’t been able to finish and new ones waiting in line, which take the bigger chunk in my thoughts.

    Anyways life is a journey and I want to live without regret, even when that means to remain mediocre for a while.

    • Dominik

      December 18, 2013 at 12:50 am

      Because of the old tasks, left incomplete, we are forced to live a mediocre life. That is why we have to finish them or let them go, in order to have a clear mind. With this clear mind we are able to do great things and live a life beyond our thought capabilities. No excuses, everything is possible or how Bruce Lee said: ” Be water my friend.” ^^

      to Sebastian: Great idea of lettings things go. Minimalism rocks !!!

  12. tnybo24

    December 12, 2013 at 3:19 am

    I up and moved to CHina a month after graduating from college. It was a crazy decision now that I look back on it. I spoke no Chinese, I couldn’t use chopsticks and I had never even been farther than Mexico.

    Well here I am 4 years later and the owner of 2 international companies. But, it really comes down to patience and failing, being comfortable taking risks, and developing a clear mindset of what you are doing and where your going. The later is a really tricky thing to nail down.

    • Binyam

      December 12, 2013 at 4:56 am

      I like that well explained.

    • Mike

      December 14, 2013 at 4:53 am

      What kind of companies do you own?

    • Eswar

      March 18, 2014 at 6:55 am

      Small but really nice, thanks for bringing the essence of having clear mindset and being comfortable taking risks.

  13. Sebastian

    December 11, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    I like how you introduced the concept of minimalism.

    I can literally name every little single thing in my room. I hate clutter and I hate having anything I don’t use.

    If I haven’t touched it for a month it’s gone.

    I just donated more than a grand in clothes cause I haven’t used it in the last couple of months.

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