The Hard Truth About Success

Recently, President Obama gave the commencement address at Howard University in which he claimed one of his biggest “pet peeves” was that successful people didn’t realize they are just “lucky”.  He even stated that it was “nothing you did” that led to success.  If this is the mentality of today’s graduates, then we are in serious trouble in the United States and dare I say in the world.  The problem with the president’s remark is that it discounts all hard work, sacrifice, and achievement.  If luck were the only factor then there would be no need for education, college or otherwise.  We would all just find a career and suddenly we would succeed.  This is far from reality.

Young people today are inundated with the celebrity culture.  Everyone is looking for their fifteen minutes of fame from videos on you tube to sudden viral postings on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.  We live in a world dominated by social media and the “look what I am doing” mentality.  We are quickly becoming a narcissistic society where we gauge success by how famous or rich you can become.  We have forgotten that success is a moving target and not everyone views success the same way.  What one person considers successful, another may consider mundane.  Not everyone will be rich and/ or famous.  Not all business will be internationally known and not all entrepreneurs will have success in the first venture they try.

Another problem in today’s society is the desire for instant gratification.   Many of the young people that are graduating our universities don’t understand that truly successful people are patient and most have worked up to their situation.  Many successful people would say that luck played a very small role in their success.  Many times they will say the only “lucky” thing that happened was that they recognized an opportunity that someone else overlooked.  Almost all successful people would say that nothing about their achievements was instant.  It can take years of hard work, sacrifice of time, effort, and even delays in doing enjoyable things like taking vacations to reach the goal and become “successful”.

This leads to a very important understanding about success.  What do YOU consider successful?  Success is the achievement of goals.  Many successful people I know have said they started out with small, easily obtainable goals.  Sometimes as low as getting two clients for the day.  They may talk to twenty people but they are only setting the goal low so that when they finish the day with five they have exceeded the goal they set.  You must also realize there are people who are successful that you would never think of as such.  Success is what your goals are and whether or not you achieve them.  Here are some tips for those graduating high school and college.

Take baby steps:  Start with small and achievable goals.  Don’t shoot for the stars until you’ve built the rocket.  Often we set our sights very high only to be disappointed when we can’t reach our goals.  Setting lower goals and achieving them helps boost confidence and give you a sense of accomplishment, even if it was not very productive.

Never stop learning:  Education does not end with the cap toss.  You have the theoretical knowledge, now you will get practical knowledge.  Life and experience are great teachers about yourself.  Continue to strive for excellence in the field you have chosen by continually learning all that you can.  Read and practice what those who are successful in your career field have said.  Do not assume you know everything, there is always more to learn.

Get over yourself:  You may have graduated top of your class but now you are on the bottom rung of the ladder of success.  That degree or diploma may get you in the door but you will still have to prove you can run with the big dogs.  Don’t expect the corner office just yet.  Some graduates will be surprised when they come into the office and find they are not in the fancy office but instead are getting coffee for the office.  Don’t be discouraged.  Watch and follow the successful people and you will learn their secrets.

Live as debt free as possible:  I know many college graduates are starting their careers with student loan debt.  For those I suggest you pay off the loans as soon as possible even if that means driving your old clunker for a few more years.  Save and pay cash whenever possible.  For most college graduates, the job you get will be the highest paying job you have ever had.  If that is the case, try to live the lifestyle it can afford.  It is better to live below your means at least while you are working your way up.   There are many people who have lived this way and retired millionaires and never made a million in a year.  They didn’t have debt and saved and invested while living well below their means.

Don’t judge your success by what other people have:  All too often we get caught up in the “keeping up with the Jones’” mentality to the point we actually hurt our own chance at success.  It’s nice to have the best car, house, and whatever else you desire but be patient in your pursuit for material things.  This is where debt many times comes into the picture.  We are so concerned with having “stuff” that we finance our entire lifestyle and when something goes wrong, we lose it all.  Don’t be that guy.  Pace yourself and achieve your goals and the “stuff” you want will be obtainable.

Rome wasn’t built in a day:  Here in the United States we have a special system.  Unlike the old systems in Europe and some in the Middle East you are not locked into a caste.  You may have been born into a poor family but you can work and succeed to the point you have a better standard of living then your parents but you have to be smart.  Instant success is not the rule; it is the exception.  To put it another way, success is not sprint but a marathon.  Keep in mind that even with an advanced degree you still will be entry level in your first job.  If you are starting a business, remember that it takes time and a good reputation to become successful.  This is true no matter what kind of business you are in.

Success is achieved, not given:  One of the things we must understand in society is that the successful were not always so.  It takes work, dedication, and self-sacrifice to achieve success at every level.  It is not handed out by some company, it is not determined by others, and it is certainly not guaranteed by the government.  It is on you to achieve and it can take many tries and disappointments but it can be done.

Keep a positive outlook:  Sometimes life gets tough and you may feel discouraged but remember that life is a cycle and there will be ups and downs.  The good times don’t last forever and fortunately, neither do the bad times.  Just try to look for positives in everyday life.  If you feel down and it seems you are going through a long rough patch, take a walk on a sunny day and think about the wonderful things around you or read something that inspires you.  Whatever you do just remember that bad things happen and we can only control our reaction to them.


Don’t give up on your dreams:  Many of us have dreams of doing something awesome but we are forced into the reality that our dream may not sustain us and we go after the practical things like getting an education and job.  That does not mean you can’t still pursue you dream, you just have to come up with creative ways to achieve it.  You can use social media to get your talent out there if you are an aspiring singer or performer.  Network with people in the industry you want to get into and start working to break into that industry.  Just remember to take baby steps and success can come for you.

For those graduating college I recommend reading the following books.

The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko

The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey

For those graduating or attending high school I recommend those books and this one.

Debt Free U by Zac Bissonnette and Andrew Tobias

These resources can help you understand how to handle money and live a life that, as you gain success, will be more rewarding and enjoyable.  Congratulations to all of the graduates of 2016!


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