Last week, a friend of mine told an interesting story. In the last two years, he has seen a number of significant dreams come true, including publication of his first book with a major publisher. As a result of these developments, he has been able to quit his job and live his dream of writing full-time.

As usual, from a distance his success looks like pure luck. However, it’s actually the result of more than seven years of hard work, failure, disenchantment, recommitment, and more hard work. In many ways, it was anything but certain – but in many other ways, it was only a matter of time.

I don’t know about you, but that’s encouraging to me!

As I reflect on my friend’s story, I’m struck by a number of realizations about success. Frankly, I think we all tend to buy in to an important inaccuracy, which I’ll unravel below. However, in truth, we have every reason to stay encouraged.


“We over estimate the event and under estimate the process.”

– John Maxwell

Want to succeed? Start with a realistic picture of success!

We are often mistaken about the true nature of success – we think it comes easily if it comes at all. This inaccurate assumption often causes us to lose heart because if we don’t detect some kind of meteoric rise happening in our lives, we assume we’re not succeeding. As a corollary, we chalk the success we see in other people’s lives up to Providence or serendipity, and it becomes very easy to give up on our own, seemingly far-off dreams.

Thus, a more accurate picture of success is an important first step in actually succeeding. It equips us to be more realistic in our expectations, deal more positively with our inevitable failures, and learn to be flexible as we invest our time and energy for the future.

That’s one reason I love the image above. You may recognize it – this image went viral a couple of years ago. In fact, I cannot even figure out where it originated for a proper attribution. But it clearly demonstrates the stark contrast between the true nature of success and our assumptions: Success is rarely if ever simple and linear; Instead, it’s much more convoluted, involving twists and turns and trial and error.

So what can we say about the true nature of success?

Well, first off, it’s evident that we need to guard against allowing temporary setbacks to become self-imposed restraints because temporary setbacks are inevitable. Sure, there may be some repercussions, but it’s critical that we maintain a willingness to swing the bat. Otherwise, we have no chance of hitting the home run we’re each hoping for!

Second, we should also inoculate ourselves against “the myth of what if,” “the great by-now hoax,” and “the farce of fictional conditions.” While it may be convoluted, success isn’t generally something that we ‘discover’ and it doesn’t usually occur by accident. Instead, it’s something that we cultivate, one step at a time. Thus, these excuses are always toxic, stunting the growth of our success if not killing it off completely.

Third, and most importantly, while success cannot be planned, it can be anticipated! When we’ve developed a profitable routine and sought the guidance necessary to learn from our mistakes, success is often just a matter of time. These disciplines ensure that we continually clarify our vision of success, invest our efforts to the necessary ends, maintain objectivity, and act intentionally – and anybody can embrace these disciplines and put them to work.

“Success cannot be planned, but it can be anticipated!”Click to Tweet

The final word on success.

I once heard a successful businessman reflect on conversation he had with a wealthy old farmer. Though generations apart, the two were seated next to each other on a flight back to the Midwest from Hawaii. The businessman asked the old farmer what he would say to a young person looking for success. The farmer’s answer was simple, but profound: “It’s a long way up the hill.”

In truth, success often takes more time, effort, and sacrifice than we’d like to believe. It’s a long way up the hill, and the path is never straight. Instead, chances are that we will face innumerable obstacles and detours.

But we have reason to stay encouraged. If we can fight off inaccurate assumptions, recruit the help we need, learn from our mistakes, and allow detours to sharpen our vision, we can each cultivate the success we’re hoping for, one step at a time.

It’s no longer a matter of ‘if;’ It’s only a matter of ‘when.’

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth post in a series dedicated to helping you recognize common excuses that inhibit your ability to live your dreams. Don’t miss the others! Subscribe via the link in the upper, right-hand corner of this page.

Leave a Comment: How do mistaken assumptions about ‘success’ manifest in your life? How does accepting that ‘success’ is generally a convoluted affair encourage you to press forward?

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