Success isn’t what you have, what you’ve accomplished, or who you are.
Being successful means that you are continually pushing new boundaries internally and externally. You’re never allowing yourself to get stuck. You never give up nor give in. You continually live life how you genuinely believe you should, regardless of what other people say and regardless of what has happened to you in the past.
Of the few who succeed, far fewer maintain success. By even living congruently and courageously for a short period of time (we’re talking a few years), you’ll quickly stand-out. You’ll quickly become an outlier.
And this is where things get really confusing. The remainder of this article provides deeply insightful quotes explaining why few people who become successful stay successful.
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” — Abraham Lincoln
You get in life what you’re willing to tolerate. Most people are fine tolerating pain and uncertainty. The world is filled with people with suppressed trauma, negative relationships, and buried dreams.
Adversity is common, and can be endured. Having power and success is not common and is rarely endured. Usually, the moment someone has some form of power, their ego inflates. They begin to exercise their authority for their own benefit rather than the benefit of those they should be serving.
“He became so powerful … the only thing he was afraid of was losing his power, which eventually, of course, he did.” — Chancellor Palpatine
When most people find themselves in a position of power, their motivation shifts from offense to defense. They over-attach themselves to their identity and success. Their sole motivation becomes maintaining their current position and status. They then begin creating from that identity, rather than from the future they seek to create. This, of course, isn’t actually creativity — because true creativity and art require attempting something beyond what you’ve currently done that will likely fail.
You can’t do anything power solely playing defense. You can’t act in power if you’re afraid to lose what you currently have. Leadership requires courage. You have to be willing to do what is right, regardless of the outcome. Those who cling to tightly to what they think they are and have will lose it.
“We are kept from our goal not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.” — Robert Brault
The worst thing that could happen for most people is to succeed. Once they succeed, their focus shifts from continuing to learn and expand to replicating prior results.
They stop pursuing their real dream and get caught up trying to maintain the small morsels of success they’ve acquired. Their vision shrinks to something so much smaller and easier than they initially set out to achieve.
“We start off with such great ambition, assuming that nothing will stand in the way of us accomplishing our goals. And in this great land of opportunity, if we study and work hard, we have an excellent chance of becoming successful. We will achieve our goals. Which could be the worst thing that will ever happen to us. Because when we achieve our goals, we often arrive at the land of contentment, and never realize that if we were to take off and fly again, we could achieve so much more. As George Bernard Shaw said, ‘There are two tragedies in life: One is not getting your heart’s desire; The other is to get it.’ It is a virtue to be content with what we have, but a vice to be content with what we are. Too many people congeal at some point in their lives. They reach a point where they don’t want to change anymore. They become content with what they have become and their belief about their potential congeals like cooking fat getting cold in the bottom of a frying pan. A human mind is a terrible thing to waste. It’s even more tragic when the mind is one that was successful in the past but is now congealing in contentment.” — Roger Dawson
When someone succeeds to a certain degree, their growth mindset often shifts to a fixed-mindset. They stop wanting to push themselves further. They drift into complacency and a mind that was once sharp dulls into apathy.
“Success is a catalyst for failure.” — Greg McKeown
Success becomes a catalyst for failure because “success” isn’t something you’ve accomplished. It’s something you create. And the only way you can create something of true value is by being a deep student.
Most people stop being true students after they’ve succeeded, even in small degrees. They begin to ‘rest on their laurels’ — being so satisfied with what one has already achieved that one makes no further effort.
Additionally, with increased success often follows over-confidence and lack of focus. You stop putting in the time. You stop taking risks. You over-attach yourself and look more and more to the past and what you’ve achieved. You stop focusing on the future and what you want to achieve. You start listening to other people’s ideas and comments and stop listening to your own voice.
Success is a suppressant to creativity, if you attach to it rather than use it as a vehicle to push your boundaries even further.
“I firmly believe you never should spend your time being the former anything.” — Condoleezza Rice
Because you’ve succeeded in the past, you become attached to what you’ve accomplished. That becomes your identity and security. You live in the past and use your prior accomplishments to get validation from others.
You become a “former” something — whether that be Olympian, entrepreneur, author, etc. Whatever it is, if you are the former anything, it means you aren’t doing anything now. You’re not pushing new boundaries. You’ve lost the spirit of adventure. You quit.
“The moment you have arrived is the perfect time to start out again.” — Dan Sullivan
The world continually changes. Evolution requires growth and change. When you succeed big at something, don’t sit there for long. You can only be new once.
The biggest mistake most entrepreneurs make is that they hold on to their company far too long before selling it. Their thick skin becomes thin skin and they don’t want to venture back out into the world of creation and the unknown.
The moment you succeed is the moment you begin something new. Take what you’ve learned and transfer it. Take your confidence and belief that you can make big things happen and continue to push your boundaries. Be willing to give up temporary rewards for something much bigger in the future.
“The way to enjoy life best is to wrap up one goal and start right on the next one. Don’t linger too long at the table of success, the only way to enjoy another meal is to get hungry.” — Jim Rohn
Learning is intended to take you to higher levels. Strangely, though, when someone learns something and turns it to success, they stop learning. They stop being hungry. They don’t allow what they’ve learned to stimulate their imagination to bigger realms of potential.
When you’ve succeeded at something, don’t dwell their long. Nothing lasts forever, and the harder you try to hold onto something, the faster it will fade from your fingertips.
Walk away while you’re ahead. Look ahead to bigger vistas. Take what you’ve learned and acquired and direct it at something 10X or 100X bigger. Few people would be willing to walk away from what you’ll walk away from. But the again, few can see the next huge mountain you’re about to climb.
“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” — Marissa Meyer
If you’re succeeding big, that probably means you’re swimming in too small of a pool. You need a bigger pool to swim in. You need to get back to being the small fish who is completely humbled by everything and everyone around you.
Don’t stay the smartest person in your room for long. Remove the ego. Walk out of that room and start over. It’s not about how smart you are. It’s about how steep your learning curve is.
“To keep up with the world of 2050, you will need to do more than merely invent new ideas and products, but above all, reinvent yourself again and again.” — Yuval Noah Harari
If you get over-attached to any outcomes you’ve had — whether good or bad — you’re stuck. If you get attached to a particular identity or role you’ve played — you’re stuck.
The world is now changing far too fast to get over-attached to anything you’ve done or anyone you’ve been. Don’t ever be the former anything. Be willing to re-invent yourself over and over.
“Always make your future bigger than your past.” — Dan Sullivan
The only way your future can be bigger than your past is if you’re willing to destroy your past for something bigger and better.
You have to continually stretch your mind for what is possible. You must be willing to fail. You must keep learning and expanding. In order for your future to be bigger than your past, your focus must be on your future, not your past.
Don’t worry about your past — whether good or bad. Use what you’ve learned, but never stop pushing your boundaries.
“Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputations can never effect a reform.” — Susan Anthony
What other people think about you is none of your business. The worst thing you could do is care what your colleagues think of you. If you care too much about your reputation or “status,” then any success you’ve had in the past will not be replicated to higher degrees in the future.
You must be willing to throw-off your reputation. You must be willing to fail. You must be fine losing everything you’ve gained. Because for you, you’re not attached to the outcomes or identities of your past. For you, the only thing that makes sense is following the voice inside compelling you to continually learn and grow — whatever that looks like.
“What got you here won’t get you there.” — Dr. Marshall Goldsmith
What got you to this point is not what is going to get you to the next point of success.
This is a fact.
You can’t stay where you are.
You must learn something new if you’re too get to higher and new levels.
“Every next level of your life will demand a different you.” — Leonardo Dicaprio
If you’re not willing to become a new person, then you will remain where you are. Commitment to big dreams demands that you become the type of person who can create those dreams. Success is something you create and attract based on the person you become.
“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” — Sir Ken Robinson
Few people really want to do something original. They’d rather be comfortable and content. To them, having nice things and having “status” is more important than pushing boundaries.
most people are imitators, not innovators. It takes courage to change the game, rather then merely play it.
For the few people who are truly artists, inventors, and movers — you must be willing to be wrong. Again, this hunger and willingness to learn at whatever the cost usually goes away after some level of achievement or comfort has been reached.
“If you’re willing to do something that might not work, you’re closer to becoming an artist.” — Seth Godin
If you’ve stopped being willing to be wrong, you’re not an artist. You’re a sell-out. Being an artist doesn’t mean that you aren’t also a scientist. You certainly don’t have to starve. And you certainly don’t have to focus purely on the process and ignore outcomes — that form of ego is probably worse than those seeking success for success’ sake.
Be an artist in that you never stop giving you best and most generous and personal work. Be a scientist such that you care enough about your art to get it to into the hands of the right people.
“Beyond a certain point, there is no return. This point has to be reached.” — Franz Kafka
Wherever you are right now, in order to get where you’re going, you will need to pass a point of no return. This will take tremendous courage and commitment. Complete commitment and investment actually. In order to transcend your current identity and take on the new role of your bigger future, you’ll need to put yourself in a position where going back is no longer an option.
“Expect everything and attach to nothing!” — Carrie Campbell
Expect success. What you expect is usually what happens. The higher the expectation, the more likely the self-fulfilling prophecy. However, no matter what happens, don’t attach yourself to the outcome. Don’t attach your identity to what happens.
Remain fully attached to your vision and your sense of complete integrity to yourself and what you feel inspired to do.
Will you continue forward, never stopping and growing and evolving? Or like most, will you stop at some point and shrivel?
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This article first appeared on Medium.