If success were simple and intuitive, anyone willing to work hard and persevere would reach his or her goals. But as we all know, busting your butt and being ambitious sometimes comes to nothing or leaves a striver feeling empty and unfulfilled. You can blame luck, but science shows that, extreme cases aside, we generally make our own. So what is it that stands between those willing to put in the blood, sweat, and tears and a genuine sense of success and accomplishment?

According to a host of experts, the right frame of mind is just as important to success as inspiration or perspiration. So where do people often go wrong when it comes to getting in the right headspace for success? A few thoughtful recent posts provide intriguing answers, such as:

1. You haven't defined success

You can run as fast as you want, but if you don't have a destination in mind, all that effort is just going to burn you out. Success is not self-defining. To make your effort pay dividends, you have to know what you're trying to achieve, be it a massive bank account, a life rich in unusual experiences, or a joyful family.

"We're all striving for lives we don't even want in the first place--lives we think we're supposed to have," warned Mike Iamele on Brazen Careerist recently. "The well-paying office job, the prestigious title, the heaps of money." Perhaps you'd rather start a business or travel the world instead. Think hard about where your goals are coming from and "you might realize that you don't feel successful because you've been striving for the wrong things," he writes. "And only you can judge if you're successful, because only you define success for yourself."

On Medium, author Srinivas Rao puts this a different way: Don't follow maps given to you by others, but rather your own internal compass. "If we use a map for long enough, we lose sight of the fact the entire journey was based on a plan someone else had for us," he writes. "We stop questioning it at all. It's safe, it's secure, it's easy, and guaranteed to get us where we're going." But other people's maps for our lives have serious downsides. Rao concludes, "At best, we will be able to do what's been proven to work. At worst, we'll be nothing but a pale imitation of the travelers who've been on this journey before us." 

2. You put yourself in the wrong contexts

We all have strengths and weaknesses (usually they're closely related). And as Iamele points out, you only truly get ahead when you put yourself in a situation where your strengths can shine and your weaknesses are minimized. The tone deaf will never win glory with a mic in their hand, and the messy innovator will do herself no favors by taking a detail-filled administrative role.

"I have a friend who was a receptionist for years and hated her job," Iamele recalls. "She was always playing on social media and taking random breaks from designing brochures for her company. Finally, she got up the nerve to quit her job. In a matter of months, without any formal training, she became one of the best-known graphic designers in the country. She spends her days advising on social media strategy, designing graphics, and setting her own hours." Iamele advises readers that "you can't be successful if you're constantly putting yourself in unfulfilling jobs or toxic relationships that don't play to your strengths."

3. You're too focused on pleasing others

Kindness is wonderful. A life of service can be incredibly enriching. But that doesn't mean success is all about pleasing others all the time. The truly successful set their own agenda and learn to say no when they have to.

No one is telling you to be surly and contradictory, but as Iamele puts it: "Disagreeing with and displeasing people--whether they be friends, significant others, parents, or even occasionally bosses--is a sign that you are moving more and more into your own authenticity. And the stronger you put your own priorities forward, the more likely you are to live the life that you actually want--not the one everyone else wants for you."

Are you making any of these mistakes?

Published on: Jun 8, 2015
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