I'm currently working through a book by Keith Ferrazzi called Never Eat Alone, and in it, there's a sentence that stuck out to me more than anything else in the book so far.
Behind any successful person stands a long string of failures.
It's not the most original idea, I know. But I think it's important nevertheless, because most people don't seem to get the implications of this observation. If this is a pattern in many successful people (and trust me, it is), how do they do it? How is it that despite all of the failures, they succeed eventually?
The answer is actually pretty simple. The people who are successful generally try things a lot more times than the people who fail. So even if the probability of succeeding is about the same, a one-to-a-hundred odds of success would probably favor the person who tried a hundred times over the one who tried five times and called it a day.*
So here's a fact: successful people, however you define them, try many times. They try many times to solve the same problem until they find the one that works. Let's accept that as a fact, and let's start there.
If there's such a simple formula for reaching for some success in anything, why don't we hear these success stories more often? I think a lot of the cause comes down to two things: laziness and assumed powerlessness.
Laziness is pretty simple, and it's not really avoidable, because we're all human. But the best of us can kick our butts off the couch after a bit and keep us going without losing steam. It helps if we enjoy what we're working on or get paid for it, but most of the time, laziness is a part of how human brains do, and it's a flaw we can't escape.
Assumed powerlessness, on the other hand, is something that can be fixed. It goes something like this:
What does it matter if I try? I'm just one person / a girl / a dude. It won't really matter what I do, in the end.
Okay. I know that's an attractive excuse to not do stuff, but hold on. There's something I need to tell you.
I'm not a fan of submitting to the idea that each individual person is powerless against the masses. I've talked about it before, but in today's world, that's a straight-up lie.
There's this thing we have. It's called words, and it's called ideas. It doesn't take any money to share, just some time and a few friends lending an ear. A thought is only as powerful as the number of people who share it, but a thought is also as powerful as the crowd that fights for it. Each person is powerful. Each person today with a trickle of an Internet connection is more powerful than the president of the United States fifty years ago, and that empowers our words and actions beyond our single-person-ness in a way that you won't know until you try.
Speaking of, before you throw around that excuse of assumed powerlessness, have you tried?
Have you tried registering to vote? Have you tried starting a community organization to fight for that problem? Have you tried starting your own business to get that idea out? Have you tried talking to the principal about that annoying issue in school? If you're still under the illusion that we're powerless as individuals, I'm guessing you had four No‘s there. You might want to go fix that. Don't worry, I'll still be here when you come back.
But maybe you have tried. Maybe you've tried once, or twice, or a handful of times, and failed. That sucks, I know, but it's also okay. It's not just okay in a it-might-get-better-tomorrow kind of way. It's okay because it's how successful people work. It's okay because when you fail, you pick your butt off the ground, see where you mess up, and don't do that again. It's okay because the failures are the only tutorials on how to succeed.
Oh, and one more thing. If you've given something a shot, I'm guessing you cared about something. You cared about solving a problem or hitting that milestone or completing that challenge, and it was discouraging to have that pulled away from you. But here's a twist: if you really care about that thing you wanted, why did you quit? What happened to that part of you that wanted it?
Take action not because you're obligated to by some idea or some cliche quote from some billionaire, but take action because you really believe that you aren't powerless. Take action because you really tell yourself that you can make things work. Take action because you actually care about what you're doing enough to pick yourself up when you get kicked down, and keep trying.
Take Action. Because you care. The odds are on your side.
* If you do the math, a hundred tries is around a dozen times more likely to succeed than five tries. Bump that up to five hundred tries, and your chance of success goes over 99.5 percent. So want a sure-fire way to succeed? Just keep trying. Math works.
If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy my next post, Please forget my age.
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