Success often appears as a mesmerizing myriad of practically impossible achievements, often breathtaking in its final form. Our society’s romanticization of success typically paints it as a dramatic culmination of either pure genius or complete serendipity. Stories of best-selling authors, fitness icons or powerful business leaders rarely divulge the laborious journey behind their epic triumphs. Instead, we are served the polished final product, devoid of the sweat and toil that went into its making. The truth about success is much more ordinary, profound and actually, quite attainable. Today we explore the misconceptions around success and the actual efforts this illusive achievement demands.
What is Success?
Clearly a detailed definition of success is different for everyone. We are all unique beings with unique obstacles, opportunities and desires. For our purposes today, we can generalize the meaning of success to living a good life of health, wealth and happiness. While success tends to be difficult to define, it is easy to recognize. We all see people who we know are successful and you certainly know it if you got it.
Focus: A Common Thread
One common misunderstanding that unsuccessful people tend to have is this idea that diversifying their efforts into lots of opportunities is important. “I like to have a lot of irons in the fire,” they may say. However, a common thread of successful people is their singular focus. The irons-in-fire guy often thinks that when one of these ideas takes off then I’ll shut everything else down and focus on whichever one is working. Sensible as this seems, the truth is that any one of their ideas would probably do the trick if they’d just put all of their effort into it. By splitting attention across many irons, they are actually keeping any one of them from ever getting hot enough to actually mold. As boring as it sounds, nearly everyone who has succeeded in anything has done so by narrowing their focus down to one thing and becoming the absolute best at it. No one wants half-baked attempts; everyone wants true and honorable experts.
In reality, the path to success is a slow, often tedious process of building increasing value, piece by piece, day by day. Metallica, the iconic band known for its massive success in the music industry, embodies this truth well. Lars Ulrich, following the release of their 11th album, clarified it this way: “I wish I could romanticize it and tell you that we’re sitting down with a destination in mind, but it’s basically just work. You write one song, then you write another song and eventually you’ve got an album.”
Contrary to the image of a divinely inspired artistic process, Lars reveals that their legacy was the result of consistent work — crafting one song at a time, gradually building toward another album. This reflects a less glamorous, yet much more accessible truth about success — it is a product of work, not inspiration.
The Grit of Daily Effort
True success is the product of a daily grind, forged from focus, dedication and perseverance. It comes from mundane repetitive actions that accumulate into extraordinary results over time. This process is typically invisible and uncelebrated, overshadowed by the end result that it leads to. Yet, it’s in these quiet moments of consistent work that our skills are sharpened and is the reason our goals are realized.
Success is not the result of a singular, monumental event, as it often seems, but rather from a consistent series of bite-sized actions. It comes from the discipline to continue when things get tough, the resilience to overcome failures, and the patience to keep going even when results aren’t immediately visible. It’s about showing up every day, putting in the effort and persistently moving toward your goal.
With this realization we can reframe our approach, understanding that our success is being built every day, with each and every action we take. Resilience and the ability to bounce back from failure is what actually paves the way to our most worthwhile achievements. Simply put, success comes from refining your focus, learning from your mistakes, adapting and continuing to forge ahead in the face of adversity. Even simpler, it’s just work. Cheers.