Most success “stories” are steaming piles of BS.
Yes, billionaire Jack Ma couldn’t land a service position at KFC. Yes, Steve Jobs couldn’t afford college and lived off free meals from a temple. Yes, Halle Berry slept in a homeless shelter.
The problem with all these narratives? The success came before the story.
For every successful person with a touching tale, there are 1000s of others who have failed – and 1000s who succeeded in silence.
Yet, we’re suckers for Hollywood drama because our egos like feeling special.
But the harsh truth is that the biggest part of success is a monotonous grind, far from glamor.
“The only way to become excellent is to be endlessly fascinated by doing the same thing over and over. You have to fall in love with boredom.” – James Clear
If your ego chases a story, you will stand in your own way. You’ll expect the perfect relationship, being a master at your craft from the start, or your dream job right off the bat. That’s stuff for fairy tales.
The success comes before the story – but what comes before the success?
This Is The Mindset You Need To Get Better Every Day
“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” – Epictetus
Being a beginner is both the best and worst part of any effort.
In my first month of writing, I made $0.22. I felt like I had no skills and knew nothing – a painfully accurate observation. But it’s normal. When you cook a new dish, start a new job, or pick up a golf club for the first time, you won’t be Gordon Ramsey, Gary Vee, or Tiger Woods.You’ll be a nobody knowing nothing – and that’s beautiful.
It means your learning curve will be massive because you’ll have the beginner’s mindset:
- You’re open to new ways of doing things.
- You’re willing to learn what others teach you.
- You’re humble enough to admit mistakes and do better next time.
Then, your ego takes over.
You stop flirting with your wife because you assume she’s attracted to you anyway.
You dismiss useful suggestions at work because you assume you know the best way already.
You close yourself off to new ways of thinking or doing business because you assume you’ve found the holy grail.
Your thinking starts to narrow and you lose what Zen Buddhists call Shoshin – the ability to approach every situation as if it's the first time you’ve been placed in it – even if you’re at an advanced level.
“If your mind is empty, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
But how do you keep the beginner’s mind and the massive opportunities for growth and success that come with it?
Approach every situation by exploring all possibilities first
When you look for solutions to problems, your mind goes through two phases: Idea generation and evaluation. Without the beginner’s mind, these phases merge and your inner critic weeds out promising seeds before they can grow into sturdy trees.
- “This will never work.”
- “It’s too expensive/time-consuming/crazy.”
- “I can’t do it this way.”
You rob yourself of potentially great ideas. Paypal would never have become a successful billion-dollar company if its founders said “no, this internet-money thing isn’t going to work because people don’t trust it.”
Instead of cutting yourself off, explore your ideas freely and thin them out after.
Be willing to look like a fool
Most people are more concerned about image than results. But you can’t get good at anything if you don’t make mistakes – that’s how you learn. My first lifts in the gym looked terrible. My first writing made me cringe. My first suggestions in meetings made everyone’s eyebrows rise like a Boeing 737 after takeoff. But without the first step, you can’t take the next ones.
Get your reps in and you’ll get better with each.
Always be open to improvements
Once you’ve found what works, it’s easy to assume that it’s the best way to do it. Spoiler alert: In 99% of cases, it isn’t. Jiro Ono has been a Sushi chef for over 50 years. Now 96 years old, his restaurant was crowned the “world’s best” numerous times and is credited for continuously innovating modern sushi making. Yet, he still finds ways to improve his craft every day.
Always keep improving.
Sometimes, You Have To Choose Between Feeling Good And Making Progress
Intensity feels good.
A workout that makes your heart beat like a 90s techno song. Passionate sex that fogs up the bedroom windows. Pulling a long night at the office to bring that pitch to perfection.
You feel like you moved the world, yet these are merely drops in the bucket.
If you turn a faucet on full stream for a minute, you’ll get out a few glasses. But one drip every ten seconds over a month – that’s a whopping 18 gallons. Slow and steady. Drip, drip, drip.
“Intensity makes a good story. Consistency makes progress.” – James Clear
This sounds boring, I know. But you have to fall in love with boredom.
Big achievements require lots of work. It took me years and over 200 articles until my writing took off. You can’t wait for inspiration and motivation to write that one perfect article that will make your dreams come true. If you have ambitious goals, you can’t accomplish them all at once. That’s why consistency is key.
So if you’re serious about success, follow these principles:
Find something you can do every day
If you choose a battle that you can only stomach once a week because it drains you so much, chances are you won’t be consistent. Can you put an hour into your side hustle, appreciate one thing about your partner, or take a walk every day? Good. If you can’t, find something you can do and stick to it. Standardize before you optimize.
Doing something is better than doing nothing
One of the most dangerous ways of thinking is an all-or-nothing mindset. You can’t always nail it. Sometimes, you’ll have to take the L and do half of what you wanted to. That’s okay.
When it comes to building habits and consistency, repetitions matter more than weight.
Fall in love with the process
Changing your behaviors, forming new habits, and seeing tangible results can take months. You have to push the plane for a while until it takes off. You have to find a way to stay motivated until the autopilot takes over.
Fall in love with the process. Can you make your reps better, your productivity higher, or your conversations more touching? As Bill Walsh said: “The score takes care of itself.”
Don’t Get Lost In The Story
Three years ago, I quit a prestigious Master’s program to write full-time. My scholarship advisor shook his head, my mum shook her head even harder, and my grandma almost broke her neck showing me her left and right ears in rapid succession.
Two years ago, I proved them all wrong by earning more than I would have in a 9-5 (unless I was willing to sell my soul, dignity, and firstborn.)
One year ago, I got dumped by my girlfriend in a deeply traumatizing way, but I pulled myself together and got back on track.
At the beginning of this year, I fulfilled my dream by moving to a tropical island and living a few minutes from the beach.
Then, my business went up in smoke and I had to start a new one.
Life will always write a story, mostly one you didn’t expect.
Don’t get lost in it.
Keep the beginner’s mind. Explore all possibilities. Be willing to look like a fool. Find ways to improve.
Choose consistency over intensity. Find what you can do every day. Do something instead of nothing. Fall in love with the process.
Success will come – and with it, the story.