A few nights ago, I had a conversation with Spirit.
I expressed some dissatisfaction with where I was in life.
I was expressing how badly I wanted the dream. The same dream I’ve been chasing for years and years. Only to be met with frustration and disappointment.
But I want the dream more and more each day. The desire grows and I spend all my time and energy on it. It consumes me.
And I want it more and more, not because I want it for me, but because of the things I know it would allow me to do for others.
Spirit responded with the four pillars of success. They are simple. Perhaps nothing you haven’t heard before. But they are nuanced. And no success is built without each pillar firmly in place.
I’ll share what these pillars are as well as what they mean to me.
Pillar #1: Hard Work
Every success is built on hard work.
What this means to me: There are no flukes. You can’t be successful without putting in the work.
People are quick to point to “exceptions.” Yet, these so-called exceptions, if you observe them closely, have an insane work ethic. Or, they are short-term successes at best.
A trust fund baby isn’t a success by default. They may have certain advantages their parents worked to earn. But some of these kids end up living in the shadows of their parents.
If there’s something you want, you’ve got to put in the work to earn it. No exceptions.
Pillar #2: Persistence
Every success is built on persistence.
What this means to me: You’ve got to get going and keep going.
This doesn’t mean you won’t need to readjust and pivot from time to time. If what you’re doing isn’t working, keep adapting and iterating!
Your audience is already giving you feedback. Listen.
But you can’t give up on yourself and expect to get anywhere. Keep your vision (see next pillar) and persist.
You will encounter challenges. You will be rejected. You will feel like giving up.
Instead, knock and keep on knocking.
Pillar #3: Commitment to a Vision
Every success is built on a commitment to a vision.
What this means to me: See in your mind’s eye what you want to achieve – not just what you’d like to do in your career or business, but also how you’d like your life to be.
I recommend the following meditation:
Focus on the people you want to impact. The amazing life you want with your friends, family, and soulmate as well as all the people who will benefit from the difference you make in the world.
What’s the legacy you’ll leave behind?
If you can visualize it, it’s already a reality.
Pillar #4: Belief in Self & Your Product
Every success is built on a strong belief in yourself and your product.
What this means to me: If you believe in yourself and your product (it doesn’t need to be a literal product – it could be art, a service you offer, volunteering, etc.), you will do more, be more, invest more, and take more chances on your dream.
If you’re lacking belief, you will do less, be less, invest less, and take fewer chances to get to where you want to go. Disappointment will follow.
Observe your actions. Are you doing everything in your power? Having conversations you don’t want to have? Making financial investments you’re scared to make? Taking daily actions even when you’re tired, exhausted, and overworked?
Or, are you holding back?
If any of these pillars are out of balance, you can’t achieve at the level you desire. Even the success you’ve built will seem to fade rather quickly.
But now that you know what the pillars are, you can identify where you need to reinforce and fortify.
For me, pillars #1 and #2 were not a problem. Pillars #3 and #4 is where I saw significant room for improvement.
Traditional education is not the be-all end-all of higher learning.
I ended up choosing an unconventional path a year out of college, which meant I had to blaze my own trail.
In my formative years, if I’d had mentors or coaches who recognized my gifts and helped me foster them, that, to me, would have been a more valuable education than schooling could have ever provided.
Which is why I wish they taught these skills in school:
Music is taught in school, sure, but there’s a serious problem with the system, namely that the “talented” kids get to play all the fun instruments, and the less talented kids end up on boring instruments like the triangle or tambourine – which is exactly what happened to me.
Although I did demonstrate a lot of interest in music (no one noticed), I didn’t seem to have a knack for it – that is, until I discovered the guitar, and surpassed my teacher in a matter of a few lessons.
I have been playing guitar since I was 17, and I’ve written hundreds of riffs and songs (it’s probably closer to 1,000 by now). I’ve recorded and published 44 songs, and I also have considerable experience as a session player.
If only someone had helped me discover this passion sooner.
2. Personal Development
I started my personal development journey in 2007 and although it has been a bumpy road, nothing has had a greater impact on my ongoing growth and learning.
I’ve interviewed many of my heroes – Derek Sivers, Tommy Tallarico, Pete Lesperance, David Hooper, James Schramko, and Bob Barker, among others.
I’ve started a dozen or more businesses, published over 500 podcast episodes, wrote over 2,000 articles and blog posts, and self-published seven books.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, but looking back, I’m not sure any of this would have happened if I hadn’t taken self-improvement seriously.
Much of what I needed to know, I didn’t learn in school – I learned in books and audio programs.
I didn’t come into this world knowing that I would become a freelancer or entrepreneur.
If there was anything that tipped me off, it was my unwavering interest in homespun, DIY projects, be it music, audiobooks, blogs, podcasts, videos, or otherwise.
Even as I was offered multiple employment opportunities (some very lucrative and promising), I kept finding myself drawn back to my various personal projects. At first, I thought there was something wrong with me. Turns out creating my own job was of greater interest to me than being gainfully employed in any capacity, even if it meant sacrificing income short-term.
I know that entrepreneurship can’t really be taught. I’ve seen the way universities approach it, and it’s kind of backwards. But I certainly wouldn’t be where I’m at today without countless mentors and coaches, which just goes to show that, even if it’s just building awareness for opportunities outside of jobs, the education system is failing people who don’t fit into the system.
I spent about four years in network marketing discovering the importance of leadership, that if something wasn’t quite right with a community, business, or organization, it could usually be traced back to the leader.
Then, in 2019, I engaged in a three-month leadership program that transformed my life. Starting later this month, I’m headed into an intensive, yearlong leadership and management program to further hone my skills.
Note: As of January 2023, I’ve completed the first year of the leadership program and I’m completing the first quarter of the second year in February.
It’s safe to say I don’t have leadership figured out yet. But I do know how critical it is, and I also know that I want to build structures and a team around me so that I can be more effective in my business and community efforts.
I know full well that there are programs based around communication. But that’s different. What I’m talking about here is the ability to connect with others, no matter who they might be, hold a conversation with them, and build a true connection.
Some people are naturals in this area, but the reality is, most of us learned what we needed to know about making friends and connecting with others through books like How to Win Friend and Influence Peopleand Influence(affiliate links).
I’ve picked up many skills in communication by attempting to build a network marketing business, listening to podcasts, and observing mentors. But knowing how to communicate with others earlier would have made a big difference for me in the areas of friendships, relationships, partnerships, and more.
Having lived in Japan and observed firsthand how the culture is more community minded, I can honestly say we’ve got a lot to learn in North America. Not to say Japan can’t learn a few things from us, too, mind you.
I certainly can’t discount the notion that because of school, I discovered what I didn’t want, and didn’t like. There’s a lot of value in knowing that, because it can help you move in the direction of what you do want and do like.
And I’m certainly not saying that the education system is all bad. I believe the teachers of the world should be some of the highest paid individuals, given that they hold the future in their hands. If they were equipped with the right tools, and empowered with the right skills, they could do so much more to impact generations.
But remember – if school didn’t prepare you for everything in this life, it’s because it was never meant to. What you truly need, especially if you’re on an unconventional path, is ongoing self-education and personal development.
It so often happens that we’re born into situations where embracing our true desires would mean betraying the wishes of loved ones and the values held dearly by them.
Think of the recent satirical biopic – Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. The film is only loosely based on Al’s life story, but it features a trope we all know so well. A young Al discovers his passion for the accordion but must keep it a secret from his father. Of course, he is later discovered, and his father smashes Al’s accordion to pieces.
It’s a trope for a reason. Plenty of people have this experience or something like it.
Ironically, areas where we’re wounded most often hold the key to our desires and identify. We would not be hurt over something that did not matter to us. It’s because it matters so deeply to us that we are so vulnerable to anything opposing or attacking our desires.
The prevailing statement I’ve heard from my friends is “I thought there was something wrong with me.”
I felt the same way. In my 20s, I valued my autonomy and freedom so much that when presented with a possible job opportunity, I would take months thinking about it before ever acting on it. And by that time, it was usually too late.
As it turns out, I’ve always valued autonomy and freedom, to the point where most decisions I make are in total alignment with this value.
When we’re out of alignment with our desires, we only hold ourselves apart from what we want. We may experience a personal hell of sorts, because we try to change, or conform, or become more of what we deem acceptable by family, friends, and society at large, all the while sacrificing the essence of who we are.
You’ve got to admit to your desires. The universe is already moving that way. When you start moving that way, too, you experience flow. So much time spent not getting what we want is simply us holding ourselves apart from what we want, because we’re not willing to admit our desires.
It’s been a while since I’ve played a gig, especially one where I was tasked with providing background music.
It was a fun and pleasant experience, though, one where there was virtually no pressure. If there was any pressure, it was self-inflicted. I have a history of over-preparing and expecting great things of myself any time I’m called upon.
Fortunately, I am able to relax more nowadays, thanks to the considerable experience I have under my belt.
I remember watching a Christmas concert on TV with my family one year. For the life of me, I can’t remember who was performing. It may have been Celine Dion.
And I remember commenting out loud, “she’s singing like her career depended on it.”
In the moment, I don’t think I realized how true that was. In a time when TV was still the main channel through which information was relayed, and entertainment was programmed, performing at Christmastime would mean having all eyeballs on you. You’ve got to sing like your career depends on it.
And that’s the way I’ve approached most gigs. I know there won’t be any A&R reps there. I know there may not even be anyone to impress. I’m competing with the toughest competitor of all – myself.
I was recently re-reading my New Year content from last year, and I thought to myself, “this is probably the best I have ever written.”
I’m up against something if I want to surpass that level of writing this year.
That’s how I think about live performance as well. I’ve done a lot of cool stuff in the past, so one upping myself is not going to be easy.
But I realized something tonight.
Playing for your friends or strumming the guitar around the campfire is one thing. Strangely it feels so ordinary. But playing your heart out at stage volume? Suddenly, you realize your playing holds up. Maybe you’re not Guthrie Govan or Tosin Abasi. But you know you’ve got something.