What Does It Take to Achieve Lasting Success?

4 min read

man standing on top of rock mountain during golden hour
man standing on top of rock mountain during golden hour

Success is elusive.

Most strive for it, but very few attain it in a way that is deeply satisfying and lasting. Just as you climb one mountain, another beckons you. This is, in large part, due to our understanding of success.

What is success, anyway?

To be successful can mean many things to many people.

Many of us stick with the established conventions of success. Unfortunately, this drives reactivity and makes authentic success even harder to attain.

Authentic is the key word here.

After all, how do you feel successful about a goal you didn’t consciously set yourself?

Like your DNA, your definition of success is unique to you and must be clearly and honestly defined -- by you.

As Ray Dalio puts it, "you must have accurate self-knowledge." To get there, you must be brutally honest with yourself and watch for societal and familial programming, biases, and fears in getting clarity. (95% of our initial “programming” was completed by age 7.)

Your definition of success must vary, even if slightly, from someone else’s because no two people are the same.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about attaining success.

No matter how you define your ideal of success, the journey won’t be smooth sailing.

And why should it?

Would you really value it if it were all sunshine and rainbows? We can’t appreciate the sunshine without the clouds.

But first, let’s dispel a couple of myths:

First, true “overnight success” usually means 15+ years of hard work, failures, and growth.

Second, how can you climb a mountain (i.e. achieve success) if you don’t actually, well, climb it? And that, by definition, isn't easy.

To believe that success is a straight beeline to the top is delusional. Not only is it not a straight line, but success means achievement of some kind, and there’s no achievement without growth.

How the hell are you going to grow if it’s a straight line without opportunities for growth?

How much will your success cost you?

Long-term success isn’t achieved in the future; it’s built by the choices you make today. And you make hundreds of choices every single day.

The problem with having choices is that you have to trade one choice over another.

Economists call this opportunity cost.

Say you’re buying a book on a topic that deeply interests you. Not only do you incur the cost of the book from the price you pay ($25), you also give up all the other options you could have used that $25 on. Each time you spend on something, that's the resource you can no longer spend on something else.

This is true of money as is of everything else in life. Including the most precious resource: your time.

Let’s say your vision of success includes being in your best shape and working in a senior level position. The opportunity costs might be giving up on pizza, spending time exercising and working (instead of, say, scrolling social media sites), limiting time with friends and family, and so on.

The point here isn’t to make you feel bad for watching those re-runs of Office, but to encourage you to define your success and make conscious choices. Perhaps “chilling” is how you define success, so watching TV may mean success to you and--contrary to the popular belief--that’s OK! Good for you!

Your success is yours to define and pursue!

That said, having a clear understanding of this cause and effect can help you avoid regret and surprises. It can also help you understand that massively authentic success is a million small choices and decisions that compound over time.

In my line of work, I frequently hear “I want to be X” but rarely do the daily activities align with that goal, which is why there are a lot of dreamers, but a few doers.

Are you willing to persevere in the face of failure?

The question is not of whether you’ll fail, but of when. And when you do, the test is whether you let the failure freeze and shame you into inaction, or whether you persevere, learn from it, and try again.

The brutal truth is that success is full of uncomfortable, often painful, setbacks. No person who has achieved massive success has done so by walking down a smooth path.

You may be familiar with some of my favorite famous examples:

  • It took Thomas Edison’s team thousands of failed attempts before they successfully invented the light bulb. This technology forever changed the way we live.

  • Albert Einstein couldn’t speak until he was 4 nor read until he was 7. He made a lasting contributions to science.

  • Michael Jordan didn’t make the cut for varsity basketball in high school, missed 1,000’s of shots, and didn’t win his first championship until 1991--seven years after starting his career in 1984. He is considered the greatest basketball player of all time.

  • Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first job as TV Anchor in Baltimore. She’s gone on to, well, become Oprah.

  • Abraham Lincoln’s story is even more fascinating!

No matter what path you choose to take, you are going to experience failure.

The question is, will you let those failures define you, or will you see them for what they truly are: opportunities to learn and grow?

Steps to authentic success.

  1. Clearly define what authentic success looks like for you.

  2. Understand what actions you’ll need to take and choices you’ll need to make--today. Only you can decide this.

  3. Be honest about the price you’re willing to “pay”. It’s often true that the bigger the dream, the higher the opportunity cost.

  4. What got you here won’t take you there. Be humble and open to learn.

  5. Success often means failing a lot but never losing your enthusiasm. Enjoy the journey!

Clarifying these questions can sometimes seem daunting or confusing, so don't hesitate to contact me for a coaching session. The first one is on the house!

Finally . . . The Buck stops with you.

You, and only you, are responsible for the success you have in your life, both its authenticity and its scope.

Don’t waste your energy by unknowingly choosing the wrong idea of what success means; define it for yourself by listening--really listening--to your heart.

It takes courage, honesty, resilience, and hard work to be authentically successful.

Finally, the biggest opportunity cost in life is not pursuing your own unique version of success.