I recall two particular periods in my life when I was really looking for big answers, one when I was not particularly happy at work and felt that there must be more to life than what I was doing at the time, and the other when I set up my own business and was trying to figure out what marketing was and how to do it for my business. And what did I find in both cases? Thousands of conflicting opinions, all claiming to be right and confidently telling me what to do.
I’m not alone in wanting some help from time to time, and there seems to be no shortage of people looking for success secrets, looking for the answers to how to raise their game / be happier / be more successful etc. There also seems to be no shortage of books / blogs / courses / podcasts / organisations / coaches offering answers. So, are these two things coming together in perfect harmony? From what I see, I think not.
I worry that we’re looking for the one, simplified, unified success secret that fits everything and in doing so, we’re presenting a false picture of how to achieve success. Let me explore some examples inspired by my Twitter timeline today:
- Is it all about habits? I was listening to a podcast recently that claimed it is all about habits, and that we used to think they took 21 or 28 days to form, but ‘new science’ now tells us that they take 66 days. I don’t think we can reduce anything as complex as this to one single figure of how long it takes. Don’t get me wrong, I think habits can be incredibly important but are they your secret to success? Maybe. It depends.
- Is it all about meaning and purpose? I’ve worked with plenty of people for whom finding the ‘why’ of what they do changes everything, and I’ve helped people change careers so that they can find meaning and purpose. But I’ve met plenty of people for whom meaning and purpose seems like a luxury they can’t afford as their purpose is survival, or managing to put food on the table for their family, or managing to pay their next bill. Is finding meaning and purpose your secret to success? Maybe. It depends.
- Is it all about playing to your strengths? This is an area of deep expertise for me and I get to see first-hand the positive impact of strengths-based work, but I never push strengths-based work on clients as it isn’t the answer to everything. Is playing to your strengths your success secret? Maybe. It depends.
- Is it all about the Steve Jobs way / the Richard Branson way / happiness / positive psychology / meditation / mindfulness / productivity / overcoming procrastination / overcoming fear / decluttering / pushing beyond your comfort zone / sticking to what you know best / networking / relationships / appreciation / growth mindset / strategy / innovation / visualisation / personal branding / motivation / disruption / emotional intelligence / wellbeing / resilience / gratitude / exercise / massive action / trust / measuring progress? Maybe. It depends.
If you end up with one fixed view of how to succeed, then of course you need some way of dealing with the fact that your approach will be proved wrong before too long. And lo, we have VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) which I’m no fan of as I’m pretty sure things have always been that way and I think we’re just inventing another ‘answer to everything’ model.
I realise that ‘it depends’ might not seem like the most helpful advice, but it really does depend on you. To be more specific, I believe it depends on a few main things:
- It depends on who you are and what you want.
- It depends on you cultivating the right mindset – for you.
- It depends on you taking action and doing the right things.
- It depends on you making sure that what you do is sustainable.
Much as we need to work things out for ourselves, I find other people’s stories really inspire me, but they’re not usually the success stories we read in books or hear presented on stage (because I think those are often sanitised versions of success, putting our best foot forward and post-rationalising to make sense of what happened). As a coach, I’m really fortunate that I’m always listening to people tell their true stories of how they succeed and I find them incredibly inspiring. I’ve started a project that I’m very excited about – True Strength – part of which involves interviewing people about their real stories, who they are, what they want, and how they’re achieving it. I already have some stories that I’m really excited to share but I’d also love to know whose story you would like to hear. Please comment below (or tweet/email/call/buy me a coffee) with suggestions and I’ll add them to the list of possible interviewees.
Only one person has your success secrets – you – but I’m also hoping that real stories of true strength might help you as you figure them out.