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This is the Real Reason Why You’re Not Succeeding (Yet)

3 Counter-Intuitive Reasons Why Success Seems so Elusive (To All But the “Chosen Few”)

“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge” — Plato

You desire success, just like everyone else. You want successful relationships. A successful career. A successful life.

You’re always trying to reach that elusive peak, but the peak keeps receding from view. If someone offered you an insta-success pill, you would take it in a heartbeat.

Or would you?

Actually, the real reason why you’re not successful (at any endeavor, whether it’s in the domain of business, relationships, or health) is not because it’s really all that difficult to succeed. It’s not.

You may not realize it, but if you’ve been working hard and doing all you could for years with little returns, then YOU are probably the reason for your lack of success.

And I don’t mean that you’re being lazy, or that you’re using the wrong strategies.

That all may be true, but there is another, deeper reason why you’re acting “lazy” or butting your head against a wall:

You’re sabotaging yourself.

1. You’ve mis-defined “success”

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” — Albert Schweitzer

It sounds self-evident, but you cannot succeed at something you don’t want to succeed at.

Internet and the media have given us all a picture of success that looks like Oprah, Steve Jobs, Brad Pitt, and (most recently) the kid-next-door who became a multimillionaire by creating a hot new app in his parents’ basement and is now digital nomad-ing his way across Brunei.

After watching and reading so many such stories, you may have started to believe that you want that, too.

But maybe you don’t.

Maybe, deep down, you really don’t care about becoming a famous startup CEO or digital nomad, but you THINK you do, because that’s how society has defined success.

It’s like the invention of the diamond engagement ring.

The Diamond Delusion

Before the De Beers company came up with their “diamonds are forever” marketing campaign to convince everyone that a diamond engagement ring was absolutely necessary for a meaningful proposal, diamonds were just rocks.

Pretty rocks, yes, but rocks nonetheless.

But advertising and society have created this idea that diamonds are an inextricable part of romance and love and marriage and yadda, yadda, yadda, and now look:

Whenever people get ready to propose, nowadays, they spend a lot of time and effort considering HOW they want to do it, but they never consider WHAT they want to do it with. They don’t even have to think:

The diamond engagement ring is a no-brainer.

After all, it is THE epitome of love and romance.

…Or is it?

Without the De Beers campaign and the massive buy-in from people everywhere, diamonds would still just be meaningless pretty rocks.

If you really think about it, diamond engagement rings are a huge liability.

They get in the way when you’re trying to use your hands or take a bath, they’re easily lost or stolen ($20,000 can accidentally fall down the drain when you’re washing dishes or get lost at sea when you’re trying to enjoy a swim), and they’re not even colorful.

You could get the same effect with shiny glass.

But the reason why they are so valuable is because people want them.

Correction: people THINK they want them.

Thanks to one diabolically clever ad campaign.

So what kind of success do you think you want?

What does success mean to you? Making a lot of money? Achieving recognition? Following your passion?

The thing is, most people don’t have a “passion,” an all-consuming drive to do or have something.

And that is a good thing. Because such an all-consuming drive usually requires immense sacrifices — sacrifices which not everyone can afford.

Most people could become very skilled at a variety of things, they just need to choose one or two and stick with it.

So if you are one of those folks with a clear dream and path in life, and an all-consuming dream, then good for you. Your definition of success is probably quite clear (win Olympic gold, make $XM, etc), and when the goal is clear, you are more likely to achieve it.

But if you are one of those folks who aren’t quite sure what your passion is, either figure it out or accept the fact that you don’t have ONE particular passion, and that’s perfectly alright.

Just don’t confuse your definition of “success” with those who do.

There are different kinds of success, just as there are different kinds of goals, and if you misdefine one or the other, you will sabotage yourself.

2. You want to be accepted

“A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him.” — David Brinkley

Another major reason why you don’t want to be successful is because it’s lonely at the top.

Successful people, by definition, tend to be in the minority. And as such, they are often misunderstood, disliked, and lonely.

For example: I grew up in a family that did not drink.

We weren’t aggressive teetotalers, it simply never crossed any of our minds to drink. None of our relatives and virtually none of our friends drank — not even casually — and it just wasn’t part of our lives.

So I was in for a bit of a culture shock when I started college.

As a resident assistant, I was regularly called upon to bust underage dorm parties, or take care of residents who had drunk themselves sick.

I would see freshmen guiltily hiding their tell-tale red cups whenever I or my on-duty partner walked by.

My fellow RAs and I cleaned puke out of hallways, saw alcohol-poisoned students rushed off to the hospital, and stayed up all night with drunk freshmen to make sure they didn’t stop breathing or choke on their own vomit overnight.

The whole situation puzzled me.

Why would people risk their health and academic status to guzzle an illegal (for 18-year-old freshies), foul-tasting liquid that made them sick as a dog the next day?

Sure, there are people who can drink responsibly, without getting sick or causing a scene, but drinking still didn’t seem at all worth it.

As author and former addict Allen Carr pointed out, there’s literally no good reason to drink alcohol, which is actually a poison (take away the water and flavorings, and a small amount of pure alcohol will kill you).

Alcohol really has only two “desirable” effects:

  1. It numbs one’s feelings and inhibitions, which I suppose explains why extremely stressed or unhappy people turn to it.
  2. It act as a social lubricant.


  1. Numbing one’s feelings, in the long run, is not healthy — physically or mentally. There are more effective ways to deal with negative emotions than ignoring and squelching them, only to have them pop up, worse than ever, once you’re sober.
  2. And the only reason why alcohol is a social lubricant, is because society (ie, the people around you) deems it so.

Without the approval of society, people would look at drinkers — ALL drinkers, not just alcoholics — the way they look at smokers. That is, with distaste and pity.

But, for some reason, everyone has decided to agree that alcohol is desirable — at least in small amounts.

So people who don’t drink and have no desire to, are left on the outskirts of social gatherings.

I choose not to drink because I don’t like the taste and have no wish to acquire it, prefer to save money, and want a clear brain so I can pursue more important things.

But while I was in college, it seemed like few of my peers agreed.

I was fortunate to go to a school where I was able to find a few pockets of people who, like me, did not drink. But I know others who weren’t so fortunate.

What do you value more? Success or social acceptance?

My own roommate once told me:

“I’m so glad you don’t do the party scene like other people. When I first came to college, I was invited to a frat party and I didn’t really want to go, but I thought I should try it out so I could make friends. Then I met you and I realized I didn’t have to do the whole drinking-at-frat-parties thing to have fun and make friends.”

I am also glad I don’t drink, but I realize that’s mostly because I was lucky enough to have grown up in an environment where drinking was a non-issue.

Someone who grows up in a drinking culture, however, might find it much harder to pursue a non-alcoholic life for health (or any other) reasons. They may be shamed by their drinking friends/neighbors/family members, or feel weird and out of place at social gatherings.

You may not WANT to do what everyone else does, you may WANT to preserve your health and pursue meaningful activities, but when faced with the fact that 99% of your peers aren’t interested in supporting you, you will likely end up going with the crowd and giving up on your principles and dreams.

So another major reason why you sabotage yourself and prevent yourself from succeeding is probably because you don’t want to rock the boat.

  • Most people drink, so if you don’t drink, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb.
  • Most people aren’t millionaires, so if you make a ton of money, some people will resent you for it — or try to mooch off you once they realize what you’re worth.
  • Most people are busy-busy-busy all the time, so if you live a relaxed, organized life, they’ll hate you for it.
  • Most people are in a perpetual state of stress and depression, so if you are healthy and optimistic, they’ll laugh at you and call you naive and stupid.

Even if others aren’t actively antagonistic toward you for being “different” than them, they will likely not understand or want to accept you, and perhaps even exclude you from their circles.

For some, this is too great a cost.

So if your desire to be like “most people” is greater than your desire to succeed, you will sabotage yourself.

3. You know you aren’t ready

“The secret of success is to be ready when your opportunity comes.” — Benjamin Disraeli

There is something freeing about being a small time writer with only a few thousand followers. I don’t have far to fall.

I’ve got space to explore and experiment. I can write what I want. I have a bigger margin of error than those established writers who are on the Medium leaderboards.

If I write something less-than-perfect, that’s okay because in the grand scheme of things, no one’s going to read it.

But shove me into the limelight and I start to get nervous.

I remember when my first article went semi-viral. I’d dashed it off, journal-entry style, and never expected it to start trending. Even though the phenomenon only lasted a couple days, I wasn’t too sure how I felt by the time it was over.

On the one hand, it was a very personally meaningful piece that I wanted to write for a particular group of people, and I was glad that extra exposure meant more chances of the message getting into the right hands.

On the other hand, I didn’t really want it to be read by EVERYONE. I couldn’t help thinking: What if they misunderstand? What if they think poorly of me? What if someone I know reads it? Etc., etc.

You may feel the same way about your endeavors.

We would all like to be successful, but first, we have to change our ways of thinking. We have to grow stronger, wiser, bolder.

Be → Do → Have

Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar came up with the concept of Be-Do-Have:

In order to Have success, you must Do certain things. But in order to Do certain things, you must first Be a certain kind of person.

If you are not the right kind of person, you can’t perform the right kinds of actions to have whatever it is you want.

The thing about success is that when you have it, you also have more responsibilities, more risks, more eyeballs watching your every move.

Not everyone is ready for that.

We all know of child stars who shone brightly for a few years, then grew up into washed out, desperate, messed-up adults.

And popular Medium writer Anthony Moore once wrote an article about how $10M could destroy certain people.

Success is weighty.

It takes a certain amount of maturity, humility, and level-headedness to handle all the burdens that come with success, and quite frankly, until you enough of those qualities, you will sabotage yourself. You have to.

Because if you succeed before you’re ready to handle it, you will destroy yourself.

How to stop sabotaging yourself

“If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.” — Jim Rohn

If you are regularly sabotaging yourself, you can stop. It’s quite simple:

1. Get clear about what you really want

Consult trusted loved ones, your values, God, and take stock of the ideas and values that resonate most with you.

Take a media fast to clear your head of the insiduous voices of advertisers and get back in touch with what is truly meaningful to you.

2. Figure out who to listen to and cut the other voices

In this information age, we are constantly flooded by marketers and advertisers trying to get our attention.

But not all ideas and products are worth buying. Based on your answer to #1, choose to listen to wise, honest, humble people who will help you get to where you need to go, and ignore the rest.

3. Prepare yourself for success

Not by studying your industry and taking classes on marketing and product development.

But by developing your character, and your expectations.

Depending on what kind of success you are going for, you will have to become a certain person, take certain steps, make certain sacrifices.

You’ll never be able to completely anticipate all the twists and turns and surprises you will face on the road to success, but just as no one plans to climb Mt. Everest without significant prior training and proper equipment, you also should not pursue great success until you are trained, equipped, and ready.

Just like physical inflammation, which is designed to protect our bodies from toxins, self-sabotage can be a protective mechanism.

It kicks in to help us avoid unsuitable goals, social isolation, or dangerous situations that we aren’t ready to take on.

But self sabotage, like inflammation, can also be a problem when we ignore the message it’s trying to tell us and let it get out of hand.

So when you find yourself sabotaging yourself, don’t ignore it. Figure out WHY you are doing it, and deal with the root of the issue.

Once you’ve resolved with the real problem, you’ll find that the mountain peak of success you’ve been aiming for isn’t that elusive, after all.

In fact, you’re standing on it.

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Sarah Cy

Sarah Cy


(aka The Scylighter). Writer, musician, reader, daughter. Join our Merry Band, become a Brilliant Writer, and dazzle your readers! BeABrilliantWriter.com