How To Be Successful
Simple, though not always easy
Someone once emailed me to ask,
“What belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life? And what two things do you think makes people so successful?”
Bud, I don’t even have to give you two. I only need to give you one. (And actually, you know what? I’ll break that one into two just to humor you and really get down into it. See “how to get” it, below.)
It’s not planning. It’s not passion. It’s not introversion or extroversion. It’s not intelligence.
The number one thing is PERSEVERANCE / GRIT
Taking action, regardless of setbacks, rather than making excuses. Pushing through. Relentlessness. Work ethic — but even in the face of adversity. Hunger.
I read a shit-ton of biographies, autobiographies and memoirs, and one thing I’ve noticed across all of these amazing people? Their response to incredible challenges, situations where most people would fold — but they kept going.
The difference with successful people isn’t that they never experienced setbacks — it’s that they didn’t stop.
I know a lot of readers just skimmed this post for “the one thing” answer and a lot checked out after reading it, like: “yeah yeah yeah okay — I get it!” Which is adorably ironic, because they don’t. Many of us — myself included, often — don’t internalize what perseverance, grit and relentlessness means enough to harness it.
Perseverance is not surface-level.
If you think perseverance means making a show of productivity, or working half-heartedly, without alignment with a deep underlying goal, then you’re wrong.
Perseverance isn’t stand-alone. It’s always rooted in something stronger than itself.
In other words:
Grit and relentlessness may be the number one CAUSE of success, but they themselves are EFFECTS of something deeper.
How to get grit
The two things that make it up:
1.) Knowing with absolute specificity what you want.
2.) Wanting it more than you want anything else.
Get those two things, and the rest resolves itself. You won’t need plans, you won’t have to fall back on or recall your “passion.”
What “want” looks like
It means not having to be told what to do. It means ownership. Most of us slack on this — myself included.
As Tim Grover wrote in Relentless,
“Tell yourself what to do, and stop waiting for others to lay it all out.”
Desire is intrinsic and instinctive, not extrinsic or authority-based. It’s action and ownership over excuses.
It’s not thought. It’s not even emotion, really. It’s energy; certainty; flow.
How do you “know what you want?”
Fam, I don’t know what you want. I can’t tell you that, because I’m not you. You need to work out the details for yourself.
But: you just know. Engage and see where you lean. Whatever is authentic; whatever makes you energized; whatever gives you flow and certainty and power.
What “specificity” looks like
It either has metrics defined in the goal (lose 50 pounds) or parameters are defined by external systems (win a chess tournament.)
But “lose weight” is not a goal. “Start a business” is not a goal. “Be the best basketball player” is a goal, but “play a sport” is not. Be a top chef, yes, “learn to cook” no. “Find a hobby” is not a goal, and neither is “discover my passion.” If you think any of those are, your real goal is “figure out your shit.” And the solution isn’t to sit around daydreaming up a big plan, or “soul-searching,” because that quickly becomes navel-gazing. The solution is to chase what interests you.
What wanting it “more than anything else” looks like
Here’s what people don’t internalize:
Wanting it ‘more than anything else’ means: making sacrifices.
If you are truly “all-in” on one thing, you give up other things. So: what are you willing to sacrifice to get what you want?
This is why I have absolutely zero patience for people who claim to be “100% focused” on things like “finding a spouse by [x age]” — but then immediately cite a checklist of total bullshit.
Fam, no. It’s adorable to hold out for both when you have time. But as you get down to the wire, you have to decide: you either want someone within that timeframe — and you’ll relinquish your lame checklist, or you’re willing to hold out for perfection — and risk never finding them. You are always choosing one of these, whether you actively do so or not.
And it’s the same with any goal.
Perseverance is not inspiration or motivation or “feeling like it”
Serrriously fuck off with this shit.
I say this all the time, but:
‘Inspiration’ and ‘motivation’ are the greatest crocks of the universe.
Too many people think that successful people are more “motivated.” Dawg, I don’t even know what that means, but if you mean “relentless hunger,” then go get it — you have everything you need.
Anything who’s accomplished anything of value does it outside of the hours of feeling “motivated” to do so. Successful people do it regardless. I’m not saying you don’t get inspired — that’s wonderful, Susan — but inspiration is never what carries anyone to the goal line.
Elizabeth Gilbert called it “working like a mule.”
In his book Relentless, Tim Grover wrote, of the hard work required of excellence:
“I’m not telling you to love it. I’m telling you to crave the result so intensely that the work is irrelevant.”
He also wrote,
“You can read clever motivational slogans all day and still have no idea how to get where you want to be. Wanting something won’t get you anywhere. Trying to someone you’re not won’t get you anywhere. Waiting for someone or something to light your fire won’t get you anywhere.”
So what will, you ask? It’s like you didn’t even read, because the answer is:
- Knowing with absolute specificity what you want.
- Wanting it more than you want anything else.
And how do you know “what you want?” To reiterate:
It’s either screaming in your face, or others are. Sometimes it’s both, but you only need one.
Do the work — even when it’s hard
Be uncomfortable with the uncomfortable.
Keeping going when things get hard. Because they will.
And if you want it badly enough, you will.