How do you define success? How close are you to achieving it?

Maybe it's a specific life goal. Maybe it's a metric you hope to reach in business. Maybe it's something else entirely.

After more than two decades of interviewing and writing about the world's most successful people, I've realized as different as they are, most of them share some key beliefs.

Everyone has moments of doubt. But the people you want to emulate very likely believe these 20 things:

1.    Nobody cares when you fail.

You will fail. Most of the time nobody will notice, and even if they do, they'll forget. This is a good thing. Try, fail, learn, try again. Repeat as needed.

2.    You choose your family.

Family is a noun, but it really should be a verb. It's wonderful if you were lucky enough to be born into a loving, supportive family. If not, find other people to love and make your own family. (Also, see Truth #8, below.)

3.    Compound interest works both ways.

Money, time, habits: they compound. Good and bad things multiply faster than you can imagine. Head in the right direction, get a little traction, and you'll see results.

4.    People will remember how you made them feel.

So, treat them with kindness. They might not remember your name, or the details. They'll remember the kindness.

5.    Everyone else is scared, too.

All the stuff that holds you back: fear, inertia, complacency? Billions of other people also feel it. There's no shame in fear. Just don't let it rule you.

6.    Twenty percent of effort produces 80 percent of results.

The Pareto principle rings true in almost every aspect of life. The trick is figuring out which 20 percent of your activities to maximize.

7.    Most people quit just before they succeed.

Seth Godin says that the trick is figuring out whether the difficulties you see ahead are a temporary "dip," or a dead end. Don't stick it out forever. But maybe do stick it out a little bit longer to see which you're dealing with.

8.    You will meet a lot of people.

On average, you will meet between 10,000 and 20,000 other people during your lifetime. You'll briefly interact with perhaps 1 million. Whoever you're looking for is out there somewhere.

9.    Math matters.

Almost everyone is good at math, but most people don't know it. The surest path to success in any field is to track and measure things, so that you know what works and what doesn't. (See Truth #2. It applies here, too.)

10.    Broken hearts are part of life.

Getting your heart broken means you had the courage to take a risk with the most important thing you have: your heart. It also suggests you're likely to win at love another time. (See Truths #4 and #7.) 

11.    The long run matters most.

Success and accolades can be fleeting, and the most successful people play a long game because they know this. Try not to make long-term decisions based on short-term criteria.

12.    Time is relative.

It goes by more quickly as you get older, because each moment, or day, or year amounts to a smaller percentage of the total time you've already lived. (See Truth #2.)

13.    Quitting can bring joy.

This seems like it's the opposite of #7. But it's more about having the courage to walk away when the dip really is a dead end. Successful people fail and move on. Unsuccessful people keep going back to the same failures.

14.    Sometimes, do nothing.

But: Do nothing intentionally. There's not thing wrong with taking time to assess and understand what success really looks like, and what you ought to do to find it.

15.    Your heart usually knows the answer.

Maybe this is divine guidance. Maybe it's the result of subconsciously evaluating things and reaching a conscious answer. But when you achieve success, part of it will feel like the answers were there all long.

16.    Today is tomorrow's yesterday.

There's no time for regret. There is only time for preventing tomorrow's regrets. (See Truth #12.)

17.    First impressions matter.

All the cliches are true. One of the truest of these is that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. (But, if you make a bad impression, see Truth #1.)

18.    Education and experience are yours to keep.

Try lots of things, in many different directions. Someday you'll find yourself reaching back to those experiences you thought were detours, and find out they're incredibly useful.

19.    Chance favors the prepared mind.

Every successful person can point to lucky breaks. Don't count on luck, but also be willing to accept it and benefit from it when it finds you. 

20.    Question other people's motives.

Heck, even question my motives. I wrote this with the best of intentions, but if you take issue with one of these truths or you have another to offer, let us know in the comments.

Published on: Feb 8, 2020
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