“No amount of experimentation can prove me right. One experiment can prove me wrong.” Albert Einstein.
At least I think the quote is from Einstein. I Googled it. And who cares if the quote originally came from Einstein or not. You people who write posts about quote verification have too much time on your hands. It’s a good quote. That’s all that matters.
There are no surefire ways to become successful. but there are definitely some “success killers,” you should avoid at all costs.
Use the process of inversion to get what you want. Here’s how inversion works — you think of the things that will lead to failure and you don’t do them.
Also, let’s talk about the word successful and get a few things out of the way first. I — like every other human being (in the Western world) — wrongfully attribute the majority of the word success to things like money, status, and attention.
Through my writing, I try to break that caricature down and replace it with reality. I do this for both you and for myself. The process of growth is the breaking down of these caricatures. The rate of success of doing so is low (it’s not easy to change your own mind and unlearn ideologies) but it’s worthwhile and small gains make major changes in your life.
With that said, I’m going to share some things successful people never do (or at minimum don’t make a habit out of. If you have a tendency to do any of the things listed below, no worries. Just stop doing them.
Fail To Take Action
Doubt is the undefeated champion. Its win percentage versus success of any kind makes the New England Patriots look like a JV team.
What is it about doubt that hinders us so much? It boils down to the idea that there are some perilous consequences around the corner if we fail — our inferiority will be exposed to the world and ourselves simultaneously. Failure shatters the image that “you have the potential to succeed.”
I’ve been on the other side of failure. And the thing is, it feels really bad. There’s real pain involved. But, that pain subsides, and you keep trying over and over again.
Scars form stronger tissue. You need scars. Scars are a reminder you leaned in. In real life, a lack of scars means you literally never left your bubble and ventured into the world — the “bubble boy” eventually can’t leave quarantine because they have developed no immunity. This happens emotionally. The longer you wait, the worse failure feels, so you might as well rip the band-aid.
While you’re busy suffering from “paralysis of analysis,” successful people are out there making moves. They fail fast. They learn by doing. They use their mistakes to become better in the future. No, you don’t want to approach your mission without a plan, but you can’t stay in the planning phase forever. Once you figure out what you need to do, you need to start doing.
Quit After The First Try
Don’t plan to fail, but realize your first attempts — just as an empirical matter — won’t work.
You’re not going to become an overnight success. You’re going to fail miserably at some point. You’ll probably fail multiple times before you reach the point you’re aiming at.
Henry Ford created two car companies that failed before the Ford Motor Company took off. J.K. Rowling had her book rejected by multiple publishers. Abraham Lincoln lost a ton of elections. But because they persisted after their initial attempts, they became legendary. Do you have what it takes to persist when things aren’t going your way?
There actually is a point where quitting is valid. If you try at something really hard for years with little movement, you should quit, because you’re probably inept in some sense you can’t change. But those situations are rare and it won’t do you well to use this method of thinking as a crutch.
You usually only have to continue to try for a relatively short amount of time before you gain traction. Many people quit in a time span so short that it didn’t even make sense to start in the first place.
Find something you can commit to. I’ve quit a lot in my life. But I haven’t quit writing because I feel like I was put on Earth to do it. The secret usually lies in finding out what those things are.
Think They Know Everything
It’s funny. The people who feel they have the world figured out most actually know the least. Proper education causes you to increase your level of known ignorance — the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know all that much.
There’s nothing wrong with having an opinion, but it’s a fatal flaw to think you have things figured out completely. Successful people are curious. They realize that they’ll never know everything. They never stop learning. They’re always improving.
Unsuccessful people have stubborn minds. They’re the type of people who give you business advice but they’re broke. They think they can solve foreign policy issues but can’t even solve their own issues. Keep an open mind and always try to see both sides. Successful people don’t think in black and white. They think in shades of gray.
You might be thinking — there are some people who don’t change their mind and have extremely high status. The expert. But I can think of nothing more unsuccessful and meaningless than building a level of status so fragile that changing your mind would undo it.
Lie To Themselves
Here are some truths that are hard to say.
Some people are broke because they manage their money poorly and don’t make decisions. These type of people won’t do well regardless of how much money you give them — see lottery winners.
Some people who are in marginalized classes aren’t unsuccessful because of their class, rather as a consequence of their own actions.
These things are hard to say and believe, but in the cases where they’re true nothing good will happen until the truth is exposed and accepted.
Only you know the answer to that or have the ability to discern what’s really going on in your life. Who’s the real oppressor? It’s hard to admit it’s you.
Successful people don’t make up stories about why they aren’t where they want to be. They’re honest with themselves.
They know what they need to do to be successful and they know if they’re working hard enough to get there. Rationalizing your situation and neglecting to face the truth will keep you stuck in the same spot you’ve always been in.
Fail To Learn From Mistakes
When you make a mistake you have two choices. You can a) take nothing away from it and wallow in self-pity or b) see your mistake for what it truly is — a goldmine of information. It’s okay to make mistakes.
It’s not okay to make the same mistakes repeatedly. Mistakes provide feedback on what you need to do better the next time. When your project fails or you encounter setbacks, sit down and write out the reasons why it didn’t work and what you’re going to do next time.
I look at mistakes as a path to the truth. I can’t do well wondering if x or y will happen if I try z. Nothing actually occurs in the hypothetical realm. If something isn’t meant to work out, it’s better to figure that out as fast as possible and start over.
This iterative process will help you become the strongest version of yourself.
Start Without A Plan
All plans are bad plans, but a plan is better than no plan.
A life without direction lacks meaning and purpose. I can’t say this objectively, but it’s what I’ve deserved. When you believe the world is random and that there is no meaning, the inevitable action is diving into nihilist thinking. I’ve never met a happy nihilist.
If there is no step one, how do you put a foot forward? Many people claim they don’t know what they want to do with their life. It’s true, it’s hard to know.
You can only hypothesize and test. So do it. Make a crappy plan and see it out. Make a plan so laughably simple and easy you have no choice but to follow through with it.
Believe In Luck
What I’m about to say is counter-intuitive. Your life is largely a matter of chance. If Bill Gates replays his life one million times, he becomes the CEO of Microsoft once — he had the advantage of being a white educated male with the access to the right technology at the right time and be the first to market.
It’s easy to fall prey to thinking that the reality of chance means you have no agency in your life. It’s what most people do — yell at the sky at the 1% who are there largely as a result of luck.
Your beef isn’t with them or with a cruel world that doles out favor disproportionately. Thinking this way is, at best, counterproductive, and, at worst, damaging.
You have the agency to increase your odds of success. There are no guarantees, but probability is on your side if you persist.
You put yourself in a position to be lucky by putting in the work. You may have luckily met an influential person — but the hard work behind it was getting to know all of the players in your field. You may have luckily got your work noticed — but the hard work behind it was putting it out there all the time, even when nobody was paying attention.
And you’re already lucky. Lucky to be alive. Lucky to have a chance at all.
Use The Word Impossible
Wanting to live your life your way on your terms is…irrational. The evidence says so. The deck is stacked against you.
So why try? Well, you have nothing better to do. Life is suffering punctuated with periods of joy. You have nothing to lose.
I don’t want to be responsible and pragmatic. I want to aim for the moon, fall back to the concrete, pick my broken bones up and reassemble them, then start jumping all over again.
I’m ordinary, but I want to be extraordinary. Maybe it’s a selfish aim. Ok, I’m selfish then. So what? It’s my life.
Your life is yours, too, and what kind of life is it if you move all of the things you really want to do into the category of impossible? Again, only you know.
It’d be easier to rationalize this thinking if the things you wanted to do were actually improbable — I won’t be an NBA star — but we all know most ambitions don’t fit this definition.
The limitations you put on yourself have nothing to do with reality and everything to do with your mindset.
Self-improvement is pointless. You’re going to die and fade into the abyss of time. It makes more practical sense to chase pleasure and live the YOLO life or move to Tibet, relinquish your possessions, and meditate for ten hours a day.
Alas, I try to improve. Why? Because even our lives are meaningless in a universal sense, they’re universally meaningful to each of us while we’re here.
You’re a self-interested monkey. Might as well get the best from it. Might as well self-actualize. Maybe we’ll evolve into a species who no longer needs growth an invention — the robot overlords will handle that — but until then, failing to grow contradicts your programming.
This is why the world has become difficult in many ways. We think we’re better than the monkey, but let the monkey-mind run our lives.
There’s humility in following your rational self-interest. And, in my opinion, it’s the best option we have for now.