There is no singlesecret to success. If there were, and if it were straightforward or easy, everybody would do it. But everybody doesn't do it.
Then, I've forgotten many of them and had to learn them again. But I do keep coming back. Here are some of the habits and strategies that have served me best, written in pithy, easy-to-remember formats.
(By the way, No. 17 is the most mind-blowing and interesting on the list. I put it last because if you don't know it, and you haven't read the others, I think it's less likely you'll be in a place to truly believe it.)
1. Remember: "Tragedy plus time equals comedy."
Mark Twain gets the credit for this one. There are very few hardships that can't justify a laugh once enough time has passed. Career troubles, startup woes, personal relationship issues: almost everything gets better eventually. Most things also get funnier.
2. Train yourself to believe.
Henry Ford said: "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right." That's a bit too absolutist for me, but there's a grain of truth in it. The more optimistic you are about your chances of success, the greater the likelihood you'll actually succeed.
3. Do the math.
Whether you're conjuring up a life goal or planning a new customer strategy, do the math. Is there enough time? Will you run out of money? Figure it out. Numbers don't lie. And when they reveal unpleasant truths, they're usually the ones you want to know quickly.
4. Make other people feel good.
To paraphrase Maya Angelou, People won't remember what you say or what you do, but they'll remember how you made them feel. So start with that goal. We're emotional creatures. Create legions of people who will remember you for making them feel good, and who will then want you to succeed.
5. Celebrate small victories.
Warren Buffett talks about wanting to step over one-foot hurdles instead of leaping over seven-foot walls. Prevailing against long odds might be dramatic, but if you want to succeed in life, it's easier if you try to adjust the odds in your favor. Then celebrate those victories as if you just won the World Cup and Wimbledon on the same day.
6. Tomorrow's another day.
It's a cliche. Like a lot of cliches, it's also true. If you live to be 80, you'll get about 29,200 days on this planet, not counting leap years. Each new sunrise is a chance for a new beginning.
7. Failing is fun.
If you convince yourself your road to success will be marked with failures, you turn failure into a game. Each new failure becomes an inevitable step toward ultimate success. Failing becomes playful, success becomes more likely, and the whole thing becomes a bit more fun.
8. Ships rise faster when the tide comes in.
Look at the forces around you, and use them to your benefit. One of my favorite examples: Jeff Bezos started Amazon after realizing internet use in the 1990s was growing at an insane annual rate, with millions of people discovering it each week. That was a pretty good time to start an internet retailer.
9. The 80/20 rule rules.
You're probably familiar with the Pareto Principle, the notion that 80 percent of yield comes out of 20 percent of effort. Actually, I think this is probably more like "95/5." The trick is to analyze, reflect, and have the courage to focus on the 5 percent. (Remember: Do the math.)
10. "Job done" feels better.
I get overwhelmed when I have a lot of things to do. The only route to success I know is to tackle the shorter, easier things first. (I'm literally doing that right now, by finishing this column before tackling other tasks.) Plus, nothing feels worse than 20 half-completed jobs.
11. Just ask.
Oh my God. How many times do I have to learn this one over and over and over? I am constantly surprised to learn how much you can get in life just by asking. The trick is most people don't have the courage (or maybe the insight) to ask for what they really need.
12. Multiple anecdotes do not equal "data."
Related to doing the math: Don't mistake your personal experience for universal truths. Just because you like something doesn't mean there's a market. Also, just because something comes easily to you doesn't mean you can't charge a premium for it.
13. Friends matter, and family is a choice.
They say you become the average of the five people you spend the most time with. My colleague Jessica Stillman wrote recently about a study that suggests your brain can only focus on 150 people in the world at any one time. Choose them wisely. Meantime, whether your family is the one you were born into, or the one you've created, cherish them.
14. Take care of your health.
I'm not going to tell you to watch what you eat or drink, or to exercise, or even not to smoke. You can figure all that out by yourself. I'm just going to say a healthy body is the one thing we all take for granted until we don't have it anymore. Take care of it while you can.
15. Sometimes it's a sprint.
You know how people say life isn't a sprint, it's a marathon? That's only sometimes right. Sometimes, life is about rushing to meet a goal, or beat the sands of time, or even to outlast a challenging situation. Sometimes, it's even about beating somebody else. Sometimes, it really is a sprint.
16. Eventually it all ends.
Everything ends. Your life will end, mine will end. Time is the only resource that people don't ever figure out how to make more of. More money? Yes, at least sometimes. More people? Sure, we can do that. But time is finite. (Except that maybe there's something pushing infinity in No. 17.)
17. There are 7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars.
I get anxious. I get worked up. When I'm at my worst, I try to remember this truly life-changing number: 70 sextillion.
That's a seven with 21 zeroes after it, like this: 7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, and it represents the low estimate of how many stars we believe exist in the universe.
That means that there are one trillion stars for each person on the planet. It's weirdly and wildly comforting to me, because it makes me focus, at least for a second, on how insignificant my problems and challenges are in the grand scheme.
Then I get back to work. Because tomorrow's another day.