According to many, success is predicated on the level of effort you put forth towards being successful.
Do I believe in putting forth an effort? Absolutely.
Do I believe in developing skills? Of course.
But there’s a subtle difference between trying to become successful and actually becoming successful.
Most people (including myself) miss the mark all too often.
Why It’s Impossible to Try to Become Successful
“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.” — Viktor Frankl
Success is like a cat. Oftentimes, if you try to approach a cat directly, it will run away from you.
If you ignore the cat for a while, it might come sit in your lap.
Like the cat, success can be fickle.
If you think of success as something you’re chasing, by definition it means success is trying to avoid you.
Cheetahs chase Gazelles.
Cops chase criminals on the getaway.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of aiming your efforts solely at the end goal. I fall into this trap every other day.
I remind myself to focus on becoming a better person, with better skills, a better attitude, who treats people better. If I get those things right, perhaps success will grace me with its presence.
We’re in the midst of this artist-entrepreneur driven era where everyone wants to be successful.
I believe success is possible for everyone, and you should start projects and build a life you want to live.
I don’t have the authority to tell you the “right,” way to go about doing this, but here are some suggestions that could help.
Don’t Do Anything Just for Money
Successful entrepreneurs get started in one of two ways, either they build a business around something they enjoy, or they find an interesting problem to solve.
Are there successful entrepreneurs who are cold and calculated about getting into business strictly for money? Sure, but without some level of satisfaction from their business, can they really consider themselves happy?
Money likes people who like what they do.
Everything I’m doing now came from my interests. I love to communicate, so for better or worse, I’m building my creative career and business around communicating. That means writing, speaking, and any interesting combination of the two I can use to make an impact and an income.
I could go into real estate, or start an Amazon drop shipping company, or start a digital marketing agency, but I don’t want to. Maybe I could even thrive doing one of those businesses, but without the enjoyment or drive, would I make it to the finish line?
This is what happens when people chase the next “get rich quick,” scheme regardless of what it is. Money is alluring and motivating, but usually not enough on it’s own.
If you do something for enjoyment and get great at it, the money will come.
“Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.” — Albert Einstein
It’s ironic. The more you focus on what you want, the less likely you are to get it. Unless you add value to other people, you won’t be successful.
While my first book was a successful experiment, it didn’t live up to my expectation of selling a bazillion copies.
Arrogance gets in the way of mental clarity. I was arrogant when I thought my book would do huge numbers for no other reason than the fact I thought it would. My arrogance kept me from running a proper pre-mortem so see what could go wrong with the book launch. It kept me from working on the title a bit more until it was appealing. It kept me from going the extra mile and adding the infrastructure I needed prior to launching the book.
I was more focused on how many books I could sell as opposed to how valuable my book was. I’m still proud of my work. I did make money. But how much did I leave on the table by not maximizing the value I was creating?
If possible, try to remove yourself from what you’re creating and look at it objectively.
If you’re not careful, you can get blindsided by the blind spots of your expectations. The blind spots come from arrogance.
Don’t focus on how many new clients you can get for your agency. Focus on how you can be the most valuable provider in the industry.
Don’t focus on how many people will read your writing. Become a better writer.
When it comes to winning audience members, getting customers, or influencing people, they can tell when you’re just trying to extract something from them instead of making it a mutual exchange between value and money/attention.
You can weasel your way to the top with charisma and charm, but you can cement yourself in an industry or niche if your work becomes so indispensable people can’t do without it.
Work for the Sake of Work
Sometimes my writing flat out sucks.
I’ll wake up in a bad mood, be a little bit groggy, or something else will fog up my mind. I’ll sit there for a while with nothing good to type, but eventually, I type something.
Even if the entire writing session resulted in unpublishable work, it’s still better than not sitting down to write at all.
Because I’m doing the work.
The work is what leads to success, but you work for work’s sake.
I don’t write because I want to be a famous author. I write because it’s what I believe God, the universe, or the powers that be put the seed in me to do.
We all have these seeds.
Yours could be for art, or landscaping, or decorating, or coding, or stand-up comedy, or fixing cars. But you definitely have a seed. In fact, you have multiple.
Successful people are the ones who watered their seeds and let them grow into a successful life — the key words being let them.
The work itself has no promise or guarantee of results. I might very well write 10 books before one of them does big numbers. I could write 10 books with none of them doing big numbers. But the odds are, if I write 10 books and genuinely improve my writing and marketing each time, something good will happen.
But I can’t make it happen.
Stop Trying to Be Successful
Remember when we talked about the idea of chasing success? When put into the context I put it in, it sounds odd.
Now, let’s think about hacking.
Maybe you shouldn’t try to hack your life. You hack into servers when you’re trying to steal information.
Maybe, just maybe, you should try to live your life.
I’ve had times where I’ve ignored my one-year-old daughter smiling at me because my eyes were fixed on my computer. I passed up the opportunity to feel the warmth of my child, to be successful.
This is just one of many instances where I’ve taken my eye off what’s really important in life to chase some vague notion of success.
There’s a balance involved in being productive and living well.
Work, but don’t overwork.
Plan, but don’t obsess.
Pursue, but pursue the journey of getting better inside, not outside.
Take your eyes off the prize, become the best you can be, live a little, and success will show up when you least expect it.