“Work hard and you’ll be successful.” What is the basis of this statement, and how do we create an action plan to make it happen? The most successful people, perhaps those defined as “high performance” people, often wake up early, work upwards of twelve hours a day, and bet the farm on every action they take. You can spend an hour on YouTube watching motivational or business development videos on the subject, and it’s hard to deny that the people in those videos are successful. It’s also easy to consider that it doesn’t matter what walk of life you originate from–anyone, from any social position, can put the time in and become rich, if they find the right formula, watch their timing, and are willing to risk everything.
There are other factors though. Roughly 10% of the population doesn’t have enough intelligence to join the military, let alone become a high-performance businessperson. This isn’t their fault–intelligence is a factor of nature, and IQ is something we’re born with. While often disparaged, IQ is a good indicator of whether or not a person will be successful, so long as they remain properly motivated. It doesn’t have to be the often, though not always, paper-thin motivation of motivational speakers either; it is far more likely that the motivation they have comes from some form of inner drive. Which is not to say that motivational speeches don’t help; Admiral William H McRaven came up with one of the most effective motivational speeches I have ever heard, and it frankly changed my life. In fact, I doubt I would have been nearly as receptive to the books and speeches made by other speakers, who I have spoken of ad nauseum, had I not heard his “Make Your Bed” speech given in 2014 at the University of Texas at Austin commencement. In the last four months, it has dynamically changed how I handle my day to day life, and how I handle stress and challenges.
Therefore success can be measured as a function of motivation and IQ, although to what extent each factor of that function plays a role in success is unknown at this point, at least to me. As complex as we are, it’s entirely possible that the factors work differently for each person, and why shouldn’t it? We are by far the most complex organism on planet Earth, and we haven’t even begun to figure out the more nuanced parts of ourselves. In fact, we’re so complicated that medical science only recently discovered that the interstitium, that layer of tissue that surrounds our organs and keeps them all in a well organized group, is actually a fully functioning and critical organ. For over a century, surgeons have cut through this tissue with disregard, as it had no obvious function. Unsurprisingly, the Medical community has reevaluated how they do surgery, and less invasive methods are being developed. That Medical Doctors, some of the most intelligent and learned people in our society as a whole, could have missed that they were cutting through an organ ignorant of its function, is just an example of how we don’t know nearly enough about ourselves as a species yet; far from being a criticism of the Medical community, lt is an illustration that we must all strive to learn more about ourselves, and what we are capable of.
So how do we turn this into success? It will differ for each of us, and far from a cop-out answer that it sounds like, there is a reason for that. First, most of us don’t even have a definition of what success would be for us, let alone how to achieve it. That would be your first goal–to determine what you want out of life. It doesn’t matter what that goal is, because there are any number of factors that will affect it; for a person that has clinical depression, the goal might be staying out of bed for more than an hour at a time. For a person that is “high performance”, whatever that means, it might be getting to a million dollars. There are several factors that we need to consider before deciding what goals to set, and the underlying criteria for success are. We each define success differently, and have different goals to achieve it.
The biggest mistake people make when they decide what their view of success is, is to keep it far too abstract. Without a concrete picture of what you’re aiming for, how are you supposed to know if you’ve achieved it? Even if your life goal is still an amorphous blob of the unknown, having a short term or immediate goal is important, and either voicing or writing that goal down in concrete terms is critical to achieving it. If you voice it, you affirm to yourself, and others what your goal is. If you write it down, you have a record and means to hold yourself accountable for its success. Most importantly, if you do fail to achieve your goal within the required or expected time frame, because a goal must by its nature be contained within a time frame for it to be a goal rather than a dream, do not take the failure personally; use it as an opportunity to learn what you need to either attempt it again, or if that’s not possible, to use what you learned in your next endeavor.
Remember, everything is an opportunity; even failure. Success comes by recognizing opportunities as they come, and taking the risk.