When you succeed, it’s easy to romanticize the process looking backwards. You tend to smooth out the rough edges of your story.
I write personal development books. I’m in the business of giving advice through my experience, but I can only tell you what I’ve done, what I’ve learned, and what I’ve experienced.
You may take the exact same steps I’ve taken and end up in a different place.
You can give the same amount of effort as someone else and not do as well as them.
No successful person rushes to admit how much of a role luck played in their success. They’d rather tell you they knew it would work all along.
Not me. Today, I’m pulling back the curtain and talking about the path that got me here today — you’ll see the effort, trial, tribulation, and luck that comes with being successful.
It was 2014. I was 24 years old and lived in a dorm room.
I should’ve had my degree and a nice job by then. The college town I lived in should’ve been a distant location in my rearview mirror.
Instead, I was stuck in that town without the degree, without the job opportunities, and without hope.
All my life I was told how much potential I had, how smart I was, and how successful I’d be. But there I was…a nobody. Throughout my life, I had ups and downs in motivation.
There were times I did well — really well — but I’d always fall into a hole of laziness. I was in the hole again.
How did I get out?
I Genuinely Got Fed Up
Your life won’t change until you say screw this. Inspiration works well enough, but being truly fed up gives you superpowers
It wasn’t like my life changed instantly, but I recall everything getting better after the day I literally said out loud, “I’m not going to live this way.”
I had just got a job as a manager at a video store. To prepare myself to become a better manager, I started watching videos on Youtube — TED talks, interviews with successful people, motivational speakers, etc.
I came across Tai Lopez and his videos on his “steps to live a successful life.” He had a bunch of free videos on different personal development products. At the end of the videos, he prompted you to check out his program — 67 Steps to Building Wealth.
I was lost, stuck, frustrated, and didn’t want to live this way anymore. I decided to put my scepticism aside and do something to change my situation, so I bought the program.
The Learning Phase
The program was 67 days long because research shows it takes 66 days to build a new habit — he added a bonus day for fun.
It came with a recommended reading list of 150 books. I bought ten of them right away.
Each day consisted of a new video on a different personal development topic. First thing in the morning, I grabbed a pen and paper and watched the video while taking notes.
I’d spend my mornings watching the videos and reading books from the recommended list. I had a fifteen-minute walk to work one way (I had no car at the time) and I’d listen to audio versions of the lessons on my phone on my way to work and on my way back. I listened to the audio while going to the gym, when I walked around town, basically whenever I had a spare moment.
67 days later, I wasn’t a millionaire, but I had a new lease on life, a healthy reading habit, and hope for the future.
As luck would have it, I found the perfect opportunity when I was prepared for it.
Opportunity + Preparation = Success
People have a hard time with uncertainty.
Think about it. If you could look into a crystal ball and see an amazing end result, you’d have no problem taking the steps in between. Since you don’t have a crystal ball, you can feel stuck because you’re not sure what direction said steps will take you or if they’ll even take you anywhere.
Whenever I receive a message from a reader I tend to respond with something along the lines of start learning. Start doing, preparing, reading.
I know they want the exact steps, but I don’t have them.
I do know this — it won’t matter if the right opportunity comes if you’re not prepared for it.
How do you prepare?
Learn. Learn. And then Learn some more.
Read as many books as you can get your hands on. Reading gives you magical powers. It just does. I’m not going to get into the details but I can attest to the power of reading a ton of books.
Find people you look up to and learn about their stories.
Keep a journal and take notes on what you’ve learned, what you want to do in the future, goals you have.
I don’t believe in the law of attraction in the most literal sense, but the universe does have a way of catching up to your effort. If you simply commit to trying to be better, you’ll sharpen your opportunity spotting vision.
How Lady Luck Found Me
I was nearing the end of the personal development program. Around that time, a friend of mine asked me to write articles for a website he just started.
See, during the process of learning new concepts and trying to improve myself, I’d been sharing these ideas on Facebook, except they weren’t normal statuses. They were like small essays.
I was writing.
Had I not been trying to develop myself, I wouldn’t have been sharing my ideas. Had I not been sharing my ideas through writing, no one would’ve noticed my message. If no one noticed my message and gave me an opportunity, I don’t know if I would’ve started writing — which was something I’ve always known I wanted to do deep down.
See how that works?
I wasn’t directly preparing for a writing career. I just wanted to be better, smarter, ready.
In a way, I’m lucky. The arrows of circumstance aligned and gave me the passionate path I’d been looking for. But I wouldn’t have been ready for the opportunity had I not already been working on myself.
“Work hard at your job and you can make a living. Work hard on yourself and you can make a fortune.” — Jim Rohn
Another coincidence occurred right around the same time I started writing. A colleague of mine published an article on Thought Catalog — a contributor driven media site. I was in awe. In fact, I was jealous.
How’d she find her way onto this site? Her post had something like 10,000 views on it. At the time, I’d kill to have that many people read my work.
The old me — the one who hadn’t been working on himself — would’ve stopped there. He would’ve sighed and told himself he wasn’t capable of doing the same thing. But since I’d been training myself to spot an opportunity, I decided to follow in my colleague’s footsteps. The rest, they say, is history.
How I Found a Mentor By Accident
I submitted a post to Thought Catalog, and they published it!
The site had a submission form on it. Contributors would send a post through the form, it would go to one of the editors or producers on the site, they’d decide if it was worth publishing and get back to you if it was.
When it was time to send my second post, I couldn’t use the form on the site because of the settings on my tablet.
I emailed Lance, the editor who published the first story, directly. He accepted the post and told me it was okay to continue sending him messages instead of using the form on the site.
After I sent him five or six posts in a pretty rapid fashion, he told me he wanted to spend more time working one on one with me to hone my writing skills.
Lance became my writing mentor because I was already motivated. Once he saw I was dedicated to putting in the work, he wanted to help me.
Had I simply emailed him and said, “I have dreams of becoming a writer, will you be my mentor?” he would’ve said no.
People sometimes ask me to be their mentor, but they often have the same problem. People who ask me to be their mentor almost always never have anything going for themselves.
The idea of mentorship is hot these days. But think about it. Why would someone who’s busy themselves want to take on your entire life for no reason?
It doesn’t make sense.
To find people who will help you on your path to achievement, start learning and doing on your own. You can’t expect to outsource the entire process of personal development to someone else.
Anyway, with Lance helping me hone my writing, it was time to get to work.
Work, Work, Work
I don’t remember the exact number, but Lance and I worked on I’d say four or five dozen posts together.
I was engaging in deliberate practice.
Maybe you’ve heard of the 10,000 rule which states you need to practice for 10,000 hours to master a skill. Deliberate practice contributes to mastery because of one important aspect — feedback.
Practicing on your own has its benefits, but the second pair of eyes gives you insights you’d never find on your own.
Lance and I worked together for a year. After that, I was ready to fly solo.
I try to remember how lucky I am to have had these things happen, but I also remind myself of the process of wanting to be better, in general, contributed to it all.
Iterate, Iterate, Iterate
I’m talking to you now about four years removed from the initial point of wanting to change. I want you to keep that time frame in mind. Getting where you want to go won’t happen overnight.
In my case, I never much thought about the long-term process. I found success almost on accident.
I started doing. After doing for a while, I’d stop to reflect, learn more, and do again.
Throughout my personal development process, I kept copious amounts of notes:
Every turn of the way, I created something to reference. I checked my progress without ever peering too far into the future.
I used the iterative process to develop myself both personally and professionally.
Most people do it the opposite way. They make this big declaration of what they’re going to do, even if they haven’t done it yet. This causes problems for multiple reasons.
First, making a large commitment turns something plausible to something daunting. Second, in a weird way, your brain almost gives you credit for thinking about doing something big — you can lose your motivation because your mind already declared victory.
Instead, try using a series of experiments and an iterative process to see what’s around the corner.
My writing career did not move in a straight line.
I wrote, read posts from other writers on becoming a better writer, took courses, launched books, launched products, succeeded, failed, and documented everything in between.
Mistakes aren’t the problem. Not learning from mistakes is the problem. Once I settled into my writing career, I just kept trying things to see if they’d work. If they did, I doubled-down. When things didn’t work out, I tried a new strategy.
If you keep a distant, vague, and aspirational idea of the person you want to be in the back of your mind while taking concrete steps in the present, you’ll get there, even if you don’t necessarily know where there is.
Ayodeji is the author of You 2.0 — Stop Feeling Stuck, Reinvent Yourself, and Become a Brand New You. Want a free copy of my first book? Get it here.