I blame Steven Covey.
Steven Covey’s groundbreaking book the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People is considered by many to the bible of transforming people through adoption of different—and consistent—behaviors. Published nearly 30 years ago, it’s still regarded by many as one of the most influential books ever published.
With the advent of the Internet and sites like LinkedIn, theLadders and other sites dedicated to professionals as well as the profusion of success-related content in online magazines like Inc., Forbes, Fortune, Fast Company and Entrepreneur (among many others), it’s difficult to get through the day without someone publishing a list of sure-fire tips to become more successful.
Some even go so far as to advise “Do these things, and become the next Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Richard Branson”.
If only it were that easy. The world would be changing even faster than it already is. Billionaires would become the new middle class. And all of us would be living happier, healthier and richer (both literally and figuratively) lives.
But here’s the thing: After reading just a handful of such articles, we can see that these “recipes”:
- Rarely agree.
- Include some pretty vague direction.
- Contradict each other.
- Don’t assure anyone of anything, even if they follow every tip to a T.
The “Master List” (from one day of reading)
After doing just a quick scroll through my newsfeed on LinkedIn and a Google search, I’ve compiled a list of more than sixty things guaranteed to make anyone a better leader, happier and, of course, more successful. According to just this handful of articles, all “successful” people do the following.
- They read
- They pursue things that interest them
- They find a mentor
- They use dreams to set goals
- They write to-do lists
- They create multiple streams of income
- They avoid time wasters
- They take ownership
- They stay focused
- They fight for what they want
- They engage with people they admire
- They stay more disciplined
- They make happiness a priority
- They are grateful
- They wake up early
- They learn to be great public speakers
- They exercise
- They network effectively
- They accept blame
- They learn constantly
- They unplug
- They confront their fears/build courage
- They focus on minutes, not hours
- They focus on one thing
- They don’t use to-do lists
- They prevent themselves from self-sabotage
- They come home for dinner
- They use a notebook
- They check emails only a few times a day
- They avoid meetings
- They say “no” to nearly everything
- They follow the 80/20 rule
- They delegate a LOT
- They touch things only once
- They have a consistent morning routine
- They sleep, eat, take breaks, etc., to build energy
- They set weekly & monthly goals
- They turn off all their devices an hour before bed
- They never stop learning
- They change the way they network
- They set aside time for themselves
- They expand their horizons
- They change their scenery
- They focus on productivity, not being busy
- They set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely) goals
- They take a leap of faith
- They exercise and eat right
- They live balanced lives
- They are realistically optimistic
- They network efficiently
- They keep failure in perspective
- They log their progress
- They drink a glass of lemon water first thing every morning
- They set boundaries
- They develop absolute clarity
- They improve their relationships
- They stop being busy, and start being productive
- They change their attitudes
- They care for their health
- They stay organized
- They have passion
- They act now (and decisively)
Now, I’m not saying that these aren’t good suggestions. In fact, most of them are great, and most of you are probably doing a lot of them every single day!
But here’s where lists like these annoy me.
They all fail to answer this one key question: How do these list writers define success?
I mean, a lot of these articles are based on research of some sort. How do they set their criteria for who to interview or survey? Is it people who make over a million dollars a year? A set of top-level execs from a select list of “great” companies? Or people who make a lot of money and consider themselves “successful”? How successful are people who make lists about how successful others are? Would the writers consider themselves successful? Should we consider the writers successful?
I mean, who the hell are these people to tell me (or any of us) how to be successful?
No one can define your vision of success except you. Period.
If I were to survey 1,000 random people, I wonder how they would define what makes a person successful? Make no mistake: I would deem hundreds of my colleagues, contacts and friends successful, but it wouldn’t be based on the same criteriaor say that they’re all successful in the same way. And I wonder: would they describe themselves that way? Maybe. Maybe not.
I mean, there is no way in hell I could get into each of your heads to know whether you believe you’re successful or not. Even if you do consider yourself “successful” (and it’s 100% GREAT if you do!), I’ll bet you still have goals. Or dreams. Or a bucket list. Or things you’d like to improve, or… whatever. How you define your own success is likely to be far different than the way I would define mine.
Make your own list!
Even if you don’t consider yourself ‘successful’ (yet), no one knows better what you need to do to get there better than you–if you’re honest with yourself. Make your own list. Hell, change it every week if you need to. Dream as big as you can. Use these lists for ideas and suggestions, but please don’t delude yourself into thinking that following every last item on a list is magically going to make you rich, or powerful, or the next anybody.
As a final note, there was one list that I didn’t incorporate into my five dozen-plus items from the others. I found it on the Ladders, and was entitled “How to Succeed Like Warren Buffet”. I know a lot of people who do exactly what the article advises, and none of them have as much money or influence as Mr. Buffet. But I will say one thing about them:
They are some of the most fantastic human beings I’ve ever known.
Links to articles/sources for tips and suggestions mentioned in this post.
- 7 Things You Should Be Doing if You Want to be Successful – Inc.com
- 8 Uncomfortable Things That Will Make You More Successful – Lifehack.org
- 14 Things Ridiculously Successful People Do Every Day – Entrepreneur.com
- How to Be More Successful – Businessinsider.com
- 10 Things Successful People Do Every Day – Keepinspiring.me
- 7 Habits of Self-Made Millionaires – Fastcompany.com