In searching for the secret formula for success, I’m drawn to articles that promise to reveal what I should be doing or might not be doing enough of. I’ve given up looking for hacks and accept that the combined effects of hard work and time are essential to any meaningful accomplishment.
While each article contains a few nuggets of gold, only so much enlightenment can come from looking externally. The really valuable insight is more often yielded when we’re willing to put ourselves and our actions under the microscope and to be brutally honest about what we see.
I’ve been suffering from the occasional crisis of confidence of late. Rather than merely accepting this, I wanted to get to the root of it. Through the aforementioned listicles, I’ve got a clear idea of what I should be doing if I want to succeed. I wanted to establish what I have been doing instead, and what the pitfalls are that have caught me out in the past.
Here then, are the most significant things I identified, that might explain where I went wrong before.
Being drawn by the goal rather than the process
When I first dipped my toe in the world of personal development, entrepreneurship and side hustles, it was with a firm focus on the endpoint — the money. I wanted to escape the 9-to-5 and was seduced by the hype and the rhetoric screaming out at me from YouTube wantrepreneurs who claimed that the success I craved was within my reach if I’d just invest in their program.
I searched for the best business model (read - get rich quick scheme) that would bring about this shift. Instead, I should have been investing myself in creating and delivering value to others.
I needed to be clear on what I was trying to achieve and why, before determining what I would do to get it. The results, such as money, freedom of time and creativity follow, but these only come if I’m in it for the right reasons. A magical and under-utilized business model isn’t the answer.
Focusing upon the mechanism and the method rather than the message
Instead of focusing on who I could help, the services I could provide and the message I could share with others, I devoted my time, effort and money to build the mechanisms that would allow me to grow my reach.
I invested in websites, domains, enterprise-scale infrastructure for landing pages, software for building email lists, running webinars and serving content. I spent money on marketing without really understanding what I was doing and got the results I deserved in return. I should have been bootstrapping my venture with the free basic tools that would have served the same purpose.
I was more interested in how I’d build an audience and the tools that would allow me to do that, rather than first thinking about what I had to say and how I could help them.
Only by scrapping this infrastructure and getting back to basics have I been able to slowly, organically and gradually start to make some traction. My focus is now upon creating content and services to help those I’m connected with. If there’s a business within that relationship then results will follow.
Spending too much time looking for short-cuts and hacks
I believed that with the right infrastructure and bloody-minded optimism, along with a bit of hustle and grind, the results could be mine. It seemed futile to invest myself in a process and commit to it for the long term when I could be taking shortcuts that others were willing to offer.
I ignored the fact that no matter how favorable the market conditions, good things take time. To create a body of work takes time. To establish credibility in a market takes time. To build a following of loyal fans and customers takes time.
Anything can be done with persistent and consistent effort, but to invest time in search of shortcuts is simply to waste time when you could be using it productively instead.
Thinking I could buy my way to success
I thought that throwing money at my ventures would be a sure-fire way of bringing about the results. It is necessary to invest to achieve, but by investing smartly in support, mentoring and education. I thought that by buying software subscriptions and spending on marketing that I was assured success.
I learned the hard way that spending alone isn’t the route to growth, especially when money is spent as an alternative to putting in the work.
Blaming others, imperfect conditions or lack of resources for disappointing results
It’s tempting to think that we can explain away our lack of progress with excuses, environmental factors, market forces or interference or lack of support from others. I wasted time and effort trying to find external factors that were to blame for my poor performance.
All of this was a means of avoiding the truth; the responsibility lay with me.
Listening to people around me
At times I could have made greater progress if I’d ignored the advice and opinions of others. When people provide their opinions, these are often tainted with bitterness and resentment. Sometimes others are jealous that we’re taking action in a way that they can’t contemplate, through fear.
Many were the times when others would question why I was doing what I was doing, devoting time to what seemed like a lost cause. If I listened, I’d persist but with a greater sense of self-doubt, or occasionally I’d take their opinions to heart and stop what I was doing altogether.
It pays to have the courage of our convictions and to press onwards, regardless of what others might think. If I’d been more selective about who I listened to, I might be in exactly the same position as I am now, or I might be further ahead. At least I wouldn’t feel embittered in any way.
Not listening to people around me
The flip-side of the previous point is the danger of becoming so oblivious to the opinions of others that you miss out on good advice and wise counsel through your own belligerence. I can look back on times when I might have saved myself a great deal of heartache, effort, and expense had I just listened to the kindly advice that was offered to me.
A more balanced stance might be to listen to all advice and opinions but to be a bit more judicious about what I take on board and what I ignore.
Discounting lifelong learning and personal growth and development
For most of my late twenties and thirties, I doubt I read a single non-fiction book. In fact, I didn’t read much at all. I foolishly convinced myself that I’d done all the learning I needed in life and that I was now a complete and finished article.
I’m now trying to make up for lost time and routinely listen to an audiobook or podcast while walking or driving where previously I’d have had my iPod on shuffle. I have a long reading list that’s growing faster than I can knock books off it, and a similarly long list of training, seminars, and events that I want to attend at some point.
A growth mindset is important in so many aspects of life, not just in building knowledge and exercising the brain, but in encouraging skills of lateral thought, eloquence, and mental-agility. All these are essential traits to those pursuing success on any scale. They’re skills we all need for life.
I’m committed to nourishing and stretching my mind both for its own good and in support of my endeavors, and I regularly kick myself for the wasted years when I let it atrophy.
Believing it was too late and that I didn’t have time
We’ve got way more time than we need. The secret is to get started.
As Tony Robbins says:
“Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year and grossly underestimate what they can achieve in ten years.”
We all have time. I convinced myself that I was an old dog with little time or appetite for learning new tricks. For many years I leaned on that as an excuse to not get started in new ventures that might have changed my life. I regret that I wasted those years when I could have started something new and exciting.
As the Chinese proverb goes:
“The best time to plant a tree was twenty-years ago. The next best time is now.”
Not being sure what I wanted (and looking in the wrong places and wrong ways, to find out)
Put crudely, I was convinced I wanted the money that would allow me to have the stuff. I was impatient to earn the money to buy the stuff and see if it would make me as happy as I thought it would, so bought the stuff on credit. It turns out, it didn’t actually make me happy but I was still left with the bills to pay for it. As a result, I now needed to make the money, bringing about additional pressure to succeed.
A certain amount of pressure can help in ventures when it encourages focus and urgency. Having to make a success of something so that you can make ends meet is a whole other ball-game and not one that is conducive to creativity and personal growth (at least not in my experience).
Not acknowledging or being grateful for all that I already had
In sketching out my dream life, I was fixated upon success being at some distant point on the horizon, largely a life comprising things I didn’t already have. Only once I closely analyzed my life did I realize how much of this was already within my grasp.
I craved the ability to be around my family and to see my kids grow up — I already had the freedom to work at home in my day job and that was within my grasp.
I wanted the freedom to enjoy long walks in the countryside near where I live — by getting up a little earlier I am now able to enjoy a long daily walk before I start work, resetting my mind for the day ahead.
These are just two small examples where a little re-framing of my current situation allowed me to appreciate what I already have, and to enjoy it all the more. Success doesn’t have to equate to something completely removed from what we have already.
A little focused reflection has yielded a lot of useful insight into the actions and decisions that have brought me to where I am now. It’s hard to view these as outright failures since each has afforded me significant lessons that I now take forwards in my daily life as I continue to refine and pursue my goals.
Mistakes are only mistakes when we make them more than once or do the same thing twice and expect a different result.
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