You and I probably define success differently, but we both still want to be successful. So how do you do it?
I’ve asked myself that question a thousand times, and I’m sure you have, too. You’ve probably even thought you had the answer before. You’ve at least seen a few “secrets” to success while browsing the internet. They’re unavoidable!
Get up at 5am.
Exercise for two hours a day, then take a cold shower.
Spend 18 hours a day, seven days a week working towards your goal.
Find the best mentors, beg them to teach you.
It’s insufferable. And does any of it work?
Maybe. I’ve certainly tried the lot. Over the past couple of years, these lifehacks have started to feel anticlimactic. They over promise and under deliver. There’s an old quote I love:
Every overnight success is twenty years in the making.
Albeit, twenty years is a bit arbitrary. The point is overnight successes are a myth. Well, maybe a novelty. There’s the occasional discovery or inheritance, but they’re rarely earned. Usually they’re pawns for someone else to make money!
Okay, so lifehacks don’t really work. How do I become successful? How do I get there? That’s the question we all want an answer to! And I think I’ve finally discovered an one.
To be clear, when I say “discovered,” I mean that I’ve finally been beaten over the head with the same concept enough times that it’s finally starting to ooze into my thick skull. Nevertheless, I’m excited to share it with you.
But first, a quick story.
My wife and I took a trip over the weekend. We went to see some of her family in Indiana (we live in TN). Her uncle’s not doing so well, and it was wonderful to spend time with him and others.
Sitting in a desk organizer on top of the secretary in the guest room was The Magnolia Story, the mini memoir of how Chip and Joanna Gaines met, fell in love, and started businesses (which eventually landed them Fixer Upper). I think you’d enjoy reading it, but that’s not the point here.
According to the book, Chip and Joanna have done two things really well throughout their marriage. They’ve worked hard, a lot, and taken a lot of chances in the process. And they’ve been patient.
They kept at their work for a long time, taking risks, growing inch by inch until they made it to the next step. Then they did it again. And again. And again before they hit it big.
They aren’t the first people I’ve seen this pattern from.
Recently I’ve been reading Principles by the legendary investor Ray Dalio. It’s part memoir, part lessons for life and work, and entirely good. Like almost everyone else, he started small and worked his way up.
He actually messed up so badly along the way that he had to let go of every employee and start over. You don’t rebuild a business overnight! In fact, I believe he had over 15 years of experience before his work really began to thrive.
Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers is filled with stories of people taking 10, 15, 20 years and more to hone their craft and find their own success. Gladwell himself spent close to 15 years as a journalist before making it to The New Yorker, and then it was still some time before he landed a book deal!
So what’s really the secret to success?
It seems pretty simple – and part of me hates it for being so vanilla.
Be active yet patient. Do good work, repeatedly, and wait. Focus on doing your job well, and keep an eye out for opportunity. Instead of looking at the big picture, pay attention to your work today, and do your best. Over time that adds up.
That’s the crucial factor. Time.
I wish it worked differently. I’d love to mix up a concoction that catapults me (and you) to success in a mere few weeks. But that doesn’t seem to exist. Algorithms don’t really work. There’s just a simple formula.
Do a lot, and wait. It’s frustrating how simple it is. At least, that’s what it seems to me.
What do you think?