And how to be one of them
Whenever I see someone who’s Successful, I wonder, “What’s their secret?”
Some people, no doubt, get handed an easy life. If your parents pay for you to go to college and then hand you a job, it’s hard to fail.
But other people face insurmountable setbacks, and still manage to catch up. What keeps people going when the odds are against them?
It takes more than just hard work. Successful people tend to focus on certain areas. They reflect on their desires, form goals, and are resilient in the face of setbacks. They also enter a state of flow: Enjoying and being engaged in their work.
Focus on your personal vision
What is success, anyway? It’s different for everyone. For one person, it might mean being CEO; for another, it may be working part-time and caring for children.
Have you ever known someone who pursued a certain high-status career, like a lawyer, because that’s what her parents expected of her? That’s a recipe for misery.
Contrast that with someone who’s in his dream job. When someone is completely joyful about his work, he’s likely doing exactly what he’s always pictured himself doing.
Focus on what you want. This may mean switching careers, being an entrepreneur, or freelancing. It may mean going back to school, and telling your family that you can’t fit the mold they put you in.
You can’t expect a job that’s perfect 100% of the time, but a career that you love, instead of tolerate, will give you a better chance of being successful.
What are your goals?
If they’re not written down, you may have a harder time accomplishing them. One study found that Harvard business students who wrote down goals and had plans to reach them were significantly more successful than the rest of the class.
Some people see that study and think, Okay, I just need to write down goals. Got it. But the key is actually having plans to reach those goals.
It reminds me of the old joke about a man who constantly prays that he will win the lottery. Throughout his life, he prays that he’ll get the money, and thinks about what he’ll spend it on. When he dies and enters heaven, he asks St. Peter why he never won.
St. Peter replies: “You never bought a ticket!”
If you rely on success to just come to you, it’ll never happen. If you focus on what you want and make a plan toward getting there, you’re much more likely to succeed.
Some people always seem to bounce back. They view challenges as an opportunity to learn and grow, and try again. They take care of their physical health — sleeping and eating right — because they know that when they feel great, they perform well.
Face a setback? That just means they need to try a different approach.
This quality is called resilience. Fortunately, it’s something you can cultivate and improve over time.
Part of resilience is accepting that you’re not perfect, and that you won’t always get what you want. However, if you keep trying, there will be more chances to succeed in the future.
Flow: enjoying the process
The difference between activities we enjoy (like video games, playing sports, or creating music) and things typically thought of as drudgery (housework, homework … pretty much any type of work) is flow.
In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as a mental state in which people become absorbed in a challenging activity, and enjoy the process.
Many artists describe being “in a groove,” an uninterrupted state in which they feel productive and creative. Athletes are “in the zone” when they are fully engaged in a game. Whatever the name, the mental state is powerful and leaves people feeling accomplished.
How does this translate to, say, an office job?
Try viewing your work as a pattern, not a list of tasks. Listening to music can also cut distractions and help guide you to a feeling of flow. Trying to beat a timer, something crucial in many sports and video games, can also help you focus. But a key part of flow is enjoying your work.
Success doesn’t come overnight. It takes careful reflection of your personal preference, chasing goals, resilience, and enjoying the work you do. But by focusing on the right areas, you can achieve just about anything.
Why Certain People Become Successful was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.