How to Be Successful

A lot of people think that they are complete and utter failures at life. They know that they have a few good things going, whether it’s their friends or family, career or money, etc., but they don’t feel as though they’ve been successful with their time on this planet. Many had a plan that they have not been able to implement or that they abandoned long ago. Some are living that plan and yet they still believe that they are not reaching their potential success. How can you reach your lofty expectations without disappointing yourself?

You can’t.

That’s right, you can’t.

Before you get all, “Bryan, when did you become so doom and gloom,” let me explain.

Most people have a definition of success that is unfair to them. See, a lot of us are conditioned to believe that success means not failing. The top tier honor students in college and high school think that anything less than an A is a total failure. Many actors and actresses see anything less than a leading role in a play or movie as a complete disappointment. And even some writers I know think that if they haven’t been published, sold thousands of copies, and had their book optioned as a movie, then they are letdown by their lack of success.

Does anyone else see a problem with this extremely broad definition of failure and this narrow definition of success?

Is all of life some giant difficult class that you need to get an A in to feel good about yourself?

Hell no! The first few businesses Bill Gates came up with were failures, Donald Trump has gone bankrupt several times, and writer Akiva Goldsman won an Academy Award for writing several years after writing one of the worst movies of all-time, Batman and Robin. If they had considered themselves destitute failures when they had their major life setbacks, they wouldn’t have become the societal definition of successful.

So, what needs to happen for you to not feel as though everything below perfection is failure?

You need to change your definition of success. Here are a few ways to make that happen.

Change Your Attitude

Which of these two attitudes do you believe will help you to lead a happier lifestyle?

1. I am a single person on this globe who only knows a very small percentage of the population and I can’t really trust anybody until I get to know them.
2. I am connected to everybody with a great underlying consciousness. The people I haven’t met yet are somewhat like a part of myself and that means I can both relate to them and help them.

Even if you are one of those “people haters” you can probably reason your way to knowing that number two sounds like a pretty good option. We are all in this thing together whether we like it or not. So, we might as well like it!

In Earl Nightingale's “Lead the Field,” he suggests a thirty-day experiment in which you treat everybody you come in contact with as the most important person in the world. I attempted the experiment and noticed a big change in how people treated me. Other people wanted to share their lives with me and they wanted to help me achieve my daily tasks. I found myself being more productive because I had the help of everybody around me to succeed with my goals.

After the thirty days, I slumped back into my old way of being and I missed the support. I wanted to go back to treating everybody well but there was something missing. It was a hollow exercise. Sure, in general, I care about people and I want them to be happy, but I was doing this experiment primarily for myself.

I came across an article by Steve Pavlina about a new way of looking at your relationships with other people. His wife had been living a sort of “friendship abundance” principle for many years. It wasn’t about treating other people as if they are your friends. It was about believing that everyone is like a part of yourself and that they are a part of you. It’s about knowing that you and these other people are connected. Once you believe that all people are connected instead of separate, helping other people and treating them well becomes like helping and being good to yourself.

I wanted to put this into my life. The reason for adapting this way of being was because it was just plain better than what I had previously believed. This way of thinking about people made me want to help them and to feel better about life. Why not implement it? If it didn’t work, I could always go back to the way it was before.

Taking part in the experiment was the first step. Reading the article about this new way of thinking was the second step. Learning to implement the principle into my life? That step has lasted nearly two years and I am still working out the kinks :) . Since I’ve made the change though, it has opened up so many possibilities and it has created and strengthened so many of my relationships that I could never see myself fully going back to the way it was.

In changing my beliefs about my connections with people, I feel as though I have become more successful.

Change Your Values

Reading Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People changed a lot of things for me. One of them was the belief that I needed to live a life that was centered on strong principles. I had already begun thinking differently about the people I came into contact with on a day to day basis, but what about the people I already had relationships with?

At the time of writing this article, I have been dating my girlfriend for about four years. There have been times where it was one of those on and off affairs with breakups and heartbreak followed by passionate reconciliations. We kept breaking up because of fear and then getting back together because of a combination of fear and love. For a large portion of the relationship, I had my foot half in the door and half out, keeping my eyes and ears open to other opportunities.

When I wasn’t getting what I wanted out of the relationship, I would start an argument and make an effort to hurt her worse than I felt I was being hurt. This was one of those things that I wanted to change about myself, but I had no idea how.

Covey wrote about the tale of Holocaust survivor and Professor Viktor Frankl. When he was put into the concentration camps during World War II he was stripped of everything. His dignity, his family, and his health. One day, he was sitting down at the camp, completely naked, broken, and in pain. He thought to himself, “What do I have left that they haven’t taken away from me?” What he discovered was monumental. He realized that he had the ability to choose how this was all going to affect him.

He determined that there is a space between stimulus and response where we can make a choice of how we are going to react. We have a neocortex, unlike most animals, that allows us to use logic and reason instead of the emotional, limbic, part of our brains.

This was the first part of my puzzle. When I felt attacked by my girlfriend, I didn’t need to respond back with a greater, more painful attack out of fear of being hurt. I could respond any way that I wanted to. Sure, I had conditioned myself to respond in this counterproductive way for a long time and I would need to uncondition myself, but now I knew that I had a choice. But what would I choose?

Another great passage in Covey’s book clued me in. A man he had spoken with at a conference told Covey that his marriage was failing and that they didn’t love each other anymore. He and his wife were considering divorce. Covey asked the man, “Why don’t you love her?” He responded, “I told you, there isn’t any there.” Covey went on to explain that love is a verb. You need to be there for her, care for her, and listen to her. You need to actively love her if you expect to get the noun “love” in return.

And there it was. I replaced my fighting with active loving. My relationship has never been better.

I started replacing most of my unproductive responses with active loving across the board. By that I mean that I started to actively care for the things that were causing my problems. I started tackling things that had been holding me back in my life. One day I was frustrated about my lack of organization. But I replaced my typical response of anger with one of industriousness. I spent an evening throwing out old papers and reorganizing all my possessions. When I didn’t feel good about my health, I changed my reaction from one of self-pity to one of action, and I would almost immediately go to the gym.

By taking advantage of the space between stimulus and response and by applying action, I have been able to deal with many of the areas of my life in which I felt I was a failure.


My last tip is to fail. Fail gloriously. Fail like nobody has ever failed before. The important rule about this step though, is to go for it 100% when you fail.

I’ve produced a couple of plays and improv shows in Chicago, and while I was able to make them kinda-sorta successful, I never felt as though I put myself into them completely. I came up with big ideas but then I never whittled them down to all the minor details that can make a show really interesting from beginning to end. I said to myself, a few shining moments are all I need. During and after these shows, I never felt a full feeling of satisfaction. I tried to convince myself that these were successes, but I never truly bought it. This was all because I didn’t go 100% for them.

About a year and a half ago, I began working on a project that I can’t talk about very much due to legal reasons. Let’s just say, that if it happens, it will be ten times bigger than the biggest project I’ve ever worked on with a budget nearly a thousand times grander. And during this project I have had some major stumbles and learned some life lessons.

The funny thing is I have felt more successful during this project, with all its failures and setbacks, then anything I’ve ever done before in my life. I have fully put myself on the line and it feels quite good. By letting yourself fail, you allow yourself the opportunity to learn and grow.

So even if you start changing your life and your definition of success to make things better for yourself: failure ain’t so bad. Failures now that allow you to become stronger will make it so that your later successes will be greater.

If you can find your own way to deal with other people, to deal with yourself, and to let yourself fail, you may find that the way you start living is pretty darn close to your original definition of success.

Done with How to Be Successful?
Go back to "Personal Time Management"

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