Misconceptions of Success

I‘ve listed seven and a half of what I see are the most common misconceptions of “success.”

(Edit on Aug 29, 2020: I have been blessed with opportunity in my life and willfully prepared myself to be in a position to explore more opportunities. This will probably lead to another article, but the main reason is that I learned in my 30s that getting G.O.O.D. (Get Out Of Debt) is a key part of being prepared. If you are overcome with debt, you will have a tough time taking on a new opportunity.)

1: Success means having a lot of money.
While it is certainly better to have money than have not, there are more important things than money. The most important thing to any person is health. Ask any person who is unhealthy how much they would pay for good health, if you are wondering. Ask someone in a wheel chair what they would pay to have their legs back, for example. Health comes first, then money.

2: Success comes from working hard.
A lot of people work hard their whole lives and end up broke, destitute and in poor health. Success does not rely on hard work although it may be necessary from time to time. Success comes from working smart. Pay attention to what is going on around you and work on the right thing at the right time. Don’t forget that successful people take time off to recharge their batteries as well.

3: Successful people were born rich.
Yes there are some inherited fortunes out there but most research shows that unless the ancestors took careful time and consideration in building and protecting the fortune, the heirs were quite capable of squandering it, and in a hurry. For every inherited millionaire (or lottery winner for that matter) there are a million scammers with “get rich quick” schemes that will take away that fortune, and quickly.

4: Success comes from luck.
There is no such thing as luck. There is only being prepared when opportunity presents itself, and recognizing that opportunity. When opportunity and preparation collide, you “get lucky.”

5: Go to college, get a good job and you will be successful.
While a college education may be a good thing, it does not guarantee success. It certainly does not guarantee a “good job” if such a thing exists. Most jobs are not guaranteed and do not offer lifetime security. Those that do (government jobs for example) are being closely scrutinized and there is a trend to take those hefty pensions away. Formerly, you could get a government job right out of school (with a local government even) work it for 20 years, retire with a full pension, and even go get another government job and end up with 2 guaranteed pensions. With the recent backlash at the rising cost of government, this option (and others) may not be there for much longer. Also, every job involves someone else controlling your destiny, which is not ever a good thing.

6: Be persistent, stay focused on one path and you will be successful.
Oddly enough, most successful people today have changed their paths many times in their lives. For them, success is more of a mindset than an ability. Along with happiness, success to them depends on their state of health, and state of mind.

7: Successful people make their vacation their vocation.
Changing your favorite hobby to your business may sound like a good idea, but then what are you going to do to relax? It’s important to keep some activity separate from your professional or career life that you can use to enjoy your existence. You don’t have to make money at what you do.

7 and a half: Successful people take more than they give.
Not true. Truly successful (happy) people are always giving back, and not just for tax deductions. They give back in a multitude of ways. Here are just some of the activities that give back: Mentoring, coaching, volunteering, contributing, tithing, performing, speaking, teaching, etc.

Here is a suggested exercise to determine what “success” means to you. Write down your answers to the following questions and read them over carefully:

Today is ___ _____ 20__ and I am ___ years old.

Ten years ago my situation was:

The things I am most proud of over the last ten years are:

The things I wish I did differently over the last ten years are:

Ten years from now I will be:

The most proud of:

Happy I did:

Sorry I didn’t do:

Back Story: My Success Interviews
In the mid 90s I was working as a corporate pilot. I spent a lot of time at General Aviation (what the public calls “private”) airports, waiting for clients to go do their business and return to be flown home. I decided to take advantage of that down time.

I would wait for a flashy corporate jet to arrive, or maybe even a fancy turboprop (a King-Air for example) and greet the people when they walked in with a question: “Do you own that plane?” When I was directed to the owner I would then ask, “Do you mind if I ask you a question? How did you get to where you are now, that you can afford a beautiful plane like that?”

I must have asked that question to at least 150 wealthy people. I wish I kept better notes. Here is what I remember.

  • All of them took time to talk to me. They all enjoyed talking about their success.
  • Almost all were business owners. NONE worked for a government organization. Some owned charities though.
  • Very few of the business owners had bought the business. They had sold many businesses but rarely bought one.
  • All of the business owners offered me encouragement. They were impressed that I would ask that question. Most gave me their address (this was before email) and asked me to stay in touch. (I still do with some of them.)
  • All of them treated me with deference, as if I were an equal. That impresses me more today.
  • All of them discussed failed businesses or ventures and what they had learned from them.
  • Most of them had developed a repeatable system, easily duplicated with proper training.

I was surprised at how few of them actually talked about setting goals. They were mostly what you and I would call “deal makers” or negotiators. They were prepared rather than planned. No one gave me a “way to plan success.” The impression I got was that always being prepared when an opportunity presented itself often led to a win. Many also suggested I “learn from other’s mistakes.” I’ve remembered that one.

I often wonder if the stories would be the same today. I don’t spend as much time sitting around airports as I used to. Time to change that I guess!