Would you like to know the one tip that could guarantee success? The ‘secret sauce’ or ‘silver bullet’? Of course, you would. And so would I, if it existed. The simple truth (at least my assessment after decades of research and achieving success in most areas of life) is that there are no secret recipes for success. No magic strategies, tactics or hidden arcane rituals.
Just one simple principle has delivered and keeps delivering, success in my life and the lives of everyone I know. This principle can be expanded into four tips, which you'll find below. But in reality, it is one strategy. Just keep trying new approaches until you succeed! That’s it. Nothing complicated, nothing fancy.
Humans are the top of the evolutionary tree after 3.4 billion years of life on earth. Not because we are inherently deserving or special. We are just the latest culmination of countless failed attempts. Mother nature just kept trying new approaches and random strategies, most of which didn’t work. If you think the evolutionary tree is like a tree that has grown over time in a straight line until it reached homo sapiens, think again. The evolutionary ‘tree’ probably looks more like a forest that has run amok and thrown out millions or billions of false starts, most of which are stumps or dead twigs. The end result has given us the thousands of successful species that are alive today. But it wasn't just the dinosaurs or Homo Neanderthalensis that didn't make the grade. We haven't even discovered most of the evolutionary dead ends and probably never will.
But back to more mundane matters. It doesn’t matter if you want a pay rise, to find your perfect partner, build a business, or just keep the pool clean. Just keep trying different strategies. Do it intelligently. But remember; Edison tried about 10,000 times before he worked out how to make light bulbs commercially. People who don’t succeed in life are simply the people who get disheartened and stop trying. Often just a single step away from ultimate success. Thomas Edison probably felt like giving up many times but in his own words "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
Winston Churchill said it especially succinctly in five words, “Never, never, never give up”. He also said, "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts”.
"There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”
- Colin Powell
You will fail. A lot. But it doesn’t matter. And none of this is new thinking. Tiger Woods spoke of his thoughts on failure when he said "We fail more often than we succeed. You can’t let those failures get to you because they will erode your confidence and chip away at your psyche.” Henry Ford and Walt Disney are household names synonymous with success today but both of them are among the countless successful people who went bankrupt before achieving their success.
Apparently, it takes an average of 32 years to become a millionaire, according to at least some surveys. Thomas Stanley and William Danko, in The Millionaire Next Door, claim the average millionaire goes bankrupt at least 3.5 times. I also read a survey of people who had become millionaires by the age of 30 which asked them how many businesses they had been involved with. The average was 18. (Sorry, can't track down the source right now; but hey, this is just my musing anyway so you can either track it down yourself or accept that 67% of all statistics are made up on the spot.) These numbers ring true in my experience. I’ve started or been involved with about 18 businesses. I've also been technically bankrupt twice, avoiding declaring bankruptcy only by the skin of my teeth and the help of friends plus massive credit card debt which took a lot of time and hard work to pay off. It sucks (or at least it did each time) but it’s OK. You pick yourself up one step at a time and keep moving forwards. Calvin Coolidge is one of my personal heroes, if for no other reason than his contribution of this memorable message:
"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
The inspirational tale of Soichiro illustrates the value of learning. Soichiro was a young Japanese bicycle repairman who worked and lived in a wooden shack in the remnants of post-World War 2 Japan. Nobody could afford much of anything at the time and business wasn't exactly booming for bicycle repairmen. But he saw a business opportunity which involved attaching basic motors to bicycles. Engines were expensive and hard to come by, so he decided to make his own. Enduring failure after failure as his engines stopped after only a few hours of runtime, he enrolled in night school to learn how to forge metals. He stayed just long enough to discover the techniques he needed to forge reliable pistons. The last name of this bicycle repairman was Honda. In 1948, this self-taught engineer established Honda motor company and oversaw its expansion from a wooden shack to a global leader in the automotive and motorcycle markets. He repeated this sort of ‘just in time’ learning many times. And most other successful people can tell of similar learning experiences.
I’ve lost count of the number of training courses I’ve attended, but it is easily in the hundreds. When I was living in downtown Sydney in 2000, I managed to get to between 1 and 5 free seminars per week, while working full time. It was easy for me because I lived in the city and could walk to lunchtime or evening events, but I was living in the city by choice and access to learning was one of the main reasons. I also paid for a number of courses, many of which were only a few hours in duration, but others required a few days investment. Since leaving high school, I’ve averaged something like 1 or 2 books per week and 10 to 20 days per year of formal classroom training. If that sounds like a lot, it is. But, based on years of experience in life and the workplace, one dedicated day of training per month (or 12 per year) is a good rule of thumb. If you pick courses that you enjoy or at least ones that have a big enough ‘why’ you will be motivated to succeed. People who have a ‘why’ will always find a ‘how’. The same applies to any goal. Having a 'why' will keep you motivated despite the inevitable setback.
So what is your 'why'? Do you want to earn more money? How about a 30% pay rise? According to “The Economic Value of College Majors,” graduates with a bachelor's degree earn an average annual salary of $61,000 over the course of their career, while those with a graduate degree earn $78,000 annually. Do you think that sort of a pay rise would be enough to keep you motivated for three years of part-time study? If you do the maths on investing 50% of that $17,000 in the stock market over 40 years at 9% and achieve a modest 2% average annual pay rise you'll be pleasantly surprised (or you can just read the answer at the end of this article).
If and MBA sounds overly ambitious, perhaps a 5-day project management course would lead to a 10% pay rise or improved job prospects? Need some leadership experience? Have you thought about service with a volunteer organization to pick up those leadership skills? Or maybe you're just having challenges with training your dog? Anger management? Relationship trouble? At the risk of repeating myself, but just for emphasis, there’s no secret. Just try something different. Perhaps, you’re just having problems with aphids in your rose bushes? Don’t give up. There are books and horticulture courses and helpful sales people at the garden centers. The solution is at hand.
Back to one of those not-so-secret truths about success; set a goal. Success = goals. Without a goal, you will never be successful because you have no metric to measure if or when you are successful. Be specific. Use numbers, dates, targets and make sure you understand in advance what ‘success’ looks like. A goal without dates and measures is just a dream. "I want to be wealthy" is a dream. "I will have $1 million in net worth within 5 years" is a goal. The 'how' can come later when you work out if you want to make it via property, stocks or a startup business. But first set a specific goal.
Make it believable. But it should not look easy. On the contrary, it should be something you'll have to work hard for. If you don't think you can build your net worth to $1 million in 5 years then choose 10 years. Or decide to have $500,000 in 5 years. Then make the decision to achieve it. Henry Ford summed up the situation for most of us when talking about life goals when he so eloquently said: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t. You’re right."
THE FOUR TIPS
So there are no secrets to success. But at the start of the article, I promised you four practical tips that can help you with the journey:
1.Set a goal. One that you can measure and that has a timeline.
2. Persist. If something doesn’t work, change tactics and try something new. Never, never, never give up!
3. Try intelligently. Not randomly. Take the time to think it through. Get a pen and paper. Do some research. Read a book on the topic. Do a course. Ask a wise friend or colleague for advice. ‘What’ you do is important so don’t just take a stab in the dark.
4. Learn! Learn more! Never stop learning! If you read one hour a day, you’ll read 50 books in a year and in four years, you’ll have read 200 books. If you stick to one field of endeavor, you can put yourself in the top 1% of experts in that subject with nothing more than one hour per day!
If, or more likely when, you ‘fail’ in an endeavor remember this:
"Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
- Henry Ford
Success is a journey and it's not over till it's over. Enjoy the ride.
Any information contained herein is contained herein. This article isn't excerpted from anything. It's based on little more than the vague musings and limited experience of a biped born in Australia. The author is a member of the homo sapiens species, and arguably bereft of free will, so possibly unable to not write such musings. If you have read this far, you have probably also demonstrated that there is no such thing as free will.
This article is composed entirely of electrons which, quantum physics would suggest, either don't exist or exist in multiple locations simultaneously. You should, therefore, act accordingly or at the very least waste some (more) time looking at other electrons on the interweb thingy on the pretext of researching the Quantum slit experiment. It will help you understand how little you understand about electrons (and by inference, anything displayed on this screen using electrons).
If you liked the story about Honda and are finding it hard to get excited about work today, I suggest you open a spreadsheet, so that you can alt-tab across quickly if the boss turns up but then waste (invest?) 2 minutes with this great sampling of quotes by Honda collected by Joel Brown at Addicted2Success. If you get caught not working, blame me.
If you invest $8,500 per year, with an average 2% per annum increase for 40 years at the long term average for the US stock market (9%) you would have invested $513,417. And your total investment would have grown to $3,545,882.
If your 'Plan B' (more on that topic later in another article) is to work 40 years then retire, that's not a bad worst case scenario. There are better ways to become independently wealthy of course (that's what the '333' theme is all about) but you can probably see my point.
FOR MORE INFO AND STRATEGIES
Leadership is a tricky business, especially when you are starting out. I wrote a short handbook on it for my Supervisors at one point and it eventually turned into this book.