What is success and how to become successful are big, important questions that, up until recently, I didn’t spend much time thinking about. Don’t get me wrong, working hard and wanting success have constantly been on my mind my entire life. I just never took the time to define or think about the actual steps for getting there.
This is an ambitious post motivated by the 20-year anniversary of the start of my career in financial services. To answer the question of what success is and how to become successful, I’ll share my personal experiences and share how you can become successful, or even more successful than you already are.
What is success?
Have you ever thought about it or asked yourself this question? What does success mean to you?
It’s a very subjective thing and it’s easy to compare ourselves to others, which is not a winning practice. For example, if I were to compare my success to Jeff Bezos, I’d be a pathetic loser.
Consider the archetype of a “successful” first-generation American: someone who arrives in the US and becomes a millionaire. Would you consider this person to be more or less successful than someone who inherited $100,000,000 and turned it into $200,000,000?
Success for you could be holding a 9 to 5 job, having a family, and going to church every Sunday. Or it could be starting a nonprofit and helping at-risk youth in your community. We’ll never know what it means unless we ask ourselves the question.
Success for me
Success, to me, is deciding to allocate important resources (time, attention, effort, money) towards an endeavor, working hard on the chosen activity, and doing everything in my control to complete the task.
Early in life, this took the form of tennis where I became a top-ranked junior and went on to be a Division 1 Scholarship athlete. I’ve enjoyed success at every stage of my career in financial services from working with clients to recruiting and developing new advisors. I’ve enjoyed my community work as a mentor and President of an alumni association. My daily podcast, LifeBlood, has been named a top podcast and gets a ton of downloads. My current endeavors in Financial Wellness through Money Alignment Academy afford daily challenges and I relish the work.
The basic formula for success
- Think about and decide what you want. Sounds easy, but I’m consistently amazed at how many people are just going through the motions, doing what they’ve always done, and getting what they’ve always gotten.
- Decide and commit. Once you’ve figured out what you want, put a plan together, and commit to the activities required to achieve your goals.
- Learn how. Odds are, new learnings will be required. Determine your knowledge gaps and identify where you can get the information you need.
- Overcome fear, doubt, and anxiety. These are ever-present and perfectly human to experience. It’s what you do with them that makes the difference. Recognize when you’re having these feelings, then embrace and move past them.
- Work hard. Desire is the common denominator of success. If you want the thing badly enough, you’ll work as hard as it takes to get it. If you find you’re not motivated to work hard, perhaps you’re not aiming at the right target.
The requirements for success
Work to get better everyday
- You eat an elephant one bite at a time, walk a thousand miles one step at a time, and achieve success one day at time. We all want what we want right now, but achieving something meaningful takes time. Lean into it.
- We celebrate the athlete sticking the landing to win Olympic Gold and the singer hitting the highest note to close the show, but often forget to recognize the consistent effort that led up to the successful execution. Practice and commitment on the path to success are often unseen by others, but the recipe for helping us to perform when the lights are brightest.
- It’s been said that showing up is 90% of the battle. Whether it’s true or not, if you’re not showing up everyday (or on the days you’re designated to do so), you’ll never know what you might miss. There will be days when the last thing you’ll want to do is roll out of bed, or go into the office, or head to the gym. Those days are the most important. Deciding to do what you know is required will get you closer to the success you desire. Deciding to take the day off will get you exponentially further away from your desired state.
Choose discomfort over comfort
- For a muscle to grow or fat to burn, pain is required. Sure, you can take a pill, find a hack, or take a shortcut, but any gains you make won’t be earned and you’ll likely give the gains back.
- We take things personally, think others are out to get us, and feel hurt. Becoming aware of our emotions and feelings, recognizing what causes or triggers them, and becoming better at handling our reactions will help you get stronger emotionally.
- Mental strength and toughness, also known as grit, is more important than physical strength. When things don’t go your way, will you give up and take the rest of the day off, or will you recognize it as a short-term setback and continue doing the work that’s required?
- Have you heard that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with? Will that average get you the success you desire? Finding and cultivating new friendships, business partners, and relationships can be challenging and takes effort. It’s more comfortable and easier to leave things the way they are. But, as the saying goes, if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’re going to keep getting what you’ve always got.
A word on self-care
Be mindful that we’re not machines. To be successful, we must value ourselves and practice self-care. Julia Cameron encourages us by saying, “Treating myself like a precious object will make me strong” and Jordan Peterson suggests, “Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.” Our bodies and minds require care and rest. Reject the idea that a human can work 24/7 and, instead, recognize the need to recharge your batteries daily.
Let’s talk specifics
Here’s what I’ve learned about myself over the first 42 years of life as it pertains to success.
Success is Complete Ownership
A complete ownership of self
- I have a profound belief in myself and I’ve been immensely self-confident for as long as I can remember. (I’m sure there are many people who would swap cocky for confident, but I’m the one typing). Whether or not this is innate, it’s a belief that gets stronger everyday I show up and do the work I know I’m supposed to be doing, or gets weaker when I don’t. When I was nine, my mom dropped me off at the local tennis course for lessons over the summer. After a month, without asking, I signed up for a tournament and won second place. When it was over, I showed up at home with the trophy.
- It’s all about winning and losing. What makes people (including me) so angry about participation trophies is that it robs kids of this reality. You’ll win and you’ll lose. That’s a given. You must work to do everything you can to position yourself for success. When you’ve done that, let the chips fall where they may.
- Know your stats. If you know you’re great at math, a pop quiz doesn’t scare you. If you’re a great public speaker, you’re fine doing an impromptu presentation. On the flip side, if you do not know what you’re good at, you won’t be able to effectively gauge risk. I did not know what I wanted to do when I grew up, even in college. My plan was to become an attorney because they wore suits and could make a good living (I’m not kidding!) Upon graduation, I took a year off before going to law school and ended up meeting someone who suggested a career in financial services. Because of my record of success, the job sounded like something I could do and be successful at, even though I’d never considered it. My belief in myself and my record of success gave me the courage to take this risk and to throw myself into an unknown and uncertain situation. Without those things, I would never have done it and therefore wouldn’t be where I am today.
- Own your mistakes and wrong-thinking. One of our superpowers is our ability to learn and grow when we’re wrong or we misstep. The thing is, we don’t really like doing it.
Today, the term we use to describe when a course correction is needed is “pivot” which is a fine term. When I was seven years into my career, I decided to move from a sales role into a management role. Along with this decision, I also decided to relocate to California. All told, I spent three years in this new role and market before I recognized I had made a mistake. Although I had exhausted an immense amount of time, energy, and money, I knew it made more sense to move back to Arizona and continue my career in management. I made a bad decision and corrected it. I spent another three years in the managerial role. I believe I was an exceptional recruiter, a decent manager, an awesome trainer, but a lousy corporate executive. When I was weighing the decision to go into management, I knew I would struggle with the perceived “corporate bureaucracy” and I was right. So after six years, I again recognized I had made a mistake. This is when I decided to start my own company.
It’s important to recognize when we make mistakes and when our thinking is wrong. Our ability to be as objective as possible with ourselves and to question our own thinking is a powerful tool which needs to be cultivated.
A relentless desire to learn and understand
- Be willing to learn. Remember, there was a time when you couldn’t walk, talk, and you pooped your pants on a daily basis. Just because you’re whatever age you are today doesn’t mean that you have anything figured out or that you’re not capable of learning and applying new information in your life. The more we can question what we know and think about any given topic, the better. I was once called uncoachable by someone who didn’t really know me, and I’ve always considered it a massive insult. I knew myself to be someone who recognizes when I’ve made a mistake. Wherever you’re at in life, you have the capacity to take in new information, to critically think about it, and to then apply it in your life.
- Appreciate the art and science. With most anything you do, there’s an art and science to it. In business, the art is how you’re presenting your product or service to potential customers. The science deals with how many potential customers you need to present to to earn a customer. To reach the highest levels of success, an appreciation for both of these is needed. Whatever you’re working to become successful in, become a student of the art and science required to get there.
- Overcome doubt and apprehension. Most of us experience some form of imposter syndrome when thinking about or doing something new. When I was thinking about podcasting, creating my financial wellness company, or even getting into meditation, there were times when I asked myself, “who am I to do this?” Embrace that emotion and let the feeling wash over you. Then learn how to do it and get started. You’ve got one shot at life. Just start.
Knowing I cannot do it on my own
- Let things come to you. I think this has been the hardest lesson I’ve learned. I’ve known it forever, but it took until I was 40 to actually sink in. For the first 40 years, I ran through walls (figuratively speaking) and thought of success as something no one could prevent me from getting. I didn’t recognize that mindset was preventing me from achieving even higher levels of success. The thing is, greatness is achieved with others. When you allow others to assist you, you’ll go further and you’ll have more fun.
- Find mentors. Adding on to the previous thought, once you’ve figured out what you want to become successful at, seek out people who have already done it or are currently doing it. This will increase your certainty that what you want is possible by seeing it in human form. When you’re able to form a relationship with someone who has been there, you’ll be able to learn from their mistakes and avoid them yourself.
Knowing and living what you believe in
- Live your values. For me, values were a lot like goals and budgeting. Things I knew were important, but never took the time to consider until my 30s. Values provide us with a framework for making decisions. When we’re certain about what’s most important to us, we can take in new information and experiences and more easily evaluate them. Without that framework, we’re constantly having to assess things one at a time.
- My personal values are Friendship, Justice, and Learning. The values for my Money Alignment Academy are Increase Confidence, Live Intentionally, and Build Community. The values for LifeBlood are Encourage, Empower, and Entertain. Knowing these values serve me every day of my life. They help me make the incredibly difficult pivots I described earlier. They’ve helped me change the name of my podcast from Money Savage to LifeBlood (you can read about that here). When you’re ready to think about, define, and start living yours, here’s a resource.
Doing important work you want to be doing
It’s not easy to answer the question “what am I truly good at” or “what do I want to do?” In fact, many of us aren’t doing what we like or what we’re good at or don’t like our jobs at all. Figuring out what you’re good at or what you want to do is fueled by your “passion” or “why”, but those terms have been sufficiently beaten up over the past decade.
If you feel like you’re not currently doing what you want, and you’re having a difficult time figuring it out, that’s ok. Sit down by yourself with a pen and paper daily – no phone or internet. Write down what you’re thinking about. Note what’s on your mind, whatever it may be, what’s bothering you, or what problems you see that you’d like to do something about. From my experience, many of the most successful people became successful because they recognized a problem and worked to solve it.
Once you figure out a passion, start moving towards making that your career. If you can devote one hour per week to it, do that. An hour per day is even better. Just start working towards your goals. I’m doing this by working to help people get better at money, so they can live how they want. I love my work. You can find your passion too.
Know your motivations and be honest with yourself
People are most commonly motivated by
- Autonomy: The freedom and flexibility to complete a task in the manner you see fit
- Control: Ownership of your time and direction of your business or life
- Money: Ability to earn as much as you’d like or enough to support your lifestyle
- Impact: Doing work that’s useful and of value
- Validation and rewards: Getting recognized for your achievements
Fortunately for me, I happened into a career that offered many of these things. That being said, I lied to myself and others for years about not wanting recognition. I’ve always wanted it and I’m extremely proud of the recognition I’ve received. From seeing my name in the tennis rankings as a kid, to being named to Investopedia’s list of the 100 most Influential Financial Advisors three years in a row. There’s little about me that’s modest, but it was out of a sense of modesty that I resisted recognition for the vast majority of my career.
Take the time to figure out your motivations and don’t be shy or self-conscious about it. But make sure your motivations are connected to your values.
I can remember being 27, wearing one of my many fancy suits (today, I have two) in my fancy office (today I work from home) and receiving a small catalogue (more of a brochure) in the mail. It was celebrating my five year anniversary and letting me know I could choose one item in commemoration. While I don’t remember what else was available, I selected a coffee maker (think Mr. Coffee, not Nespresso). While I eventually made it to 10 years with that company, they were not consecutive, so my 10 year anniversary came and went without a catalog or any fanfare. I didn’t celebrate 15 years, so for 20, I decided to indulge myself by writing this.
I hope this post will inspire you to think and write about your ideas on success and to put as many of your resources as you possibly can behind achieving what you want. Though I hope you achieve what you want, keep in mind that true success is contentment. It’s being satisfied with who you are and what you have, while consistently striving to improve and increase your impact. Success is available to you. Good luck in getting as much of it as you desire!