There are lots of routes to success, here are four of them.

by Alice Boyes Ph.D.

There are many, many routes to success. However, if you read success and productivity books this doesn’t always come across. Our dominant cultural narrative is that success requires big ideas, astounding levels of discipline, and a willingness to work very intensely. However, this is not the only route to success, and far from it.

As long as you’re mixing and matching some strategies that help make success inevitable, it’s very likely you’ll get there using your own style and strengths, regardless of whether your personality fits some sort of cultural prescription.

These four mechanisms can help make your success virtually guaranteed.

1. Put yourself in situations in which the base rates of success start working for you.

Here are some examples of what I mean by this:

  • Let’s say 95% of people who attempt to start a restaurant fail*, but 80% of people who attempt to start a restaurant after having interned at a particular place succeed. Then your goal can become to get that internship.
  • Getting into medical school is hard, but once you’re in, everyone who invests in teaching you wants you to pass. Clinical psychology training is similar to this. Getting into a program is very competitive, but few people fail once they’re in. Yes, the selection process weeds people out, but that’s not the only thing going on. There are many institutional systems designed to support you in passing once you’re in the program.
  • If almost all of the students who work with a particular PhD advisor go on to have amazing, interesting careers, then that’s a good sign you will too if you work with that advisor.
  • If you consistently invest in the broad stock market over long periods of time, there is very little chance of you not succeeding in your investing.
  • This principle applies to skills practice too. If 90% of people who have ten driving lessons with a professional instructor pass their test on the first or second try, chances are that you will pass if you do this.*

*Note I’m not using actual stats, I’m plucking numbers to quickly illustrate the principle.

2. Identify behaviors that are fun for you that also support your success.

If you what you like to do for fun also helps you succeed, it becomes very hard not to. However, there are many diverse ways this principle can apply.

Reading books about successful people, businesses and investing is part of what I like to do for fun. This is what I gravitate to, and not crime novels or beach reads. On the other hand, my sister is a blogger who loves having house guests. Because she likes this, she has ended up hosting blogger friends and strengthened her relationships with these people. It’s not some type of strategic networking behavior. She just likes having people to stay, but it greatly helps her success. She also recently parlayed years of watching HGTV into doing a successful house flip. Some people watch HGTV without really concentrating but, for years, she has been taking concrete lessons from it, and eventually, circumstances aligned in her life for her to do her own flip. article continues after advertisement

Sometimes people end up turning hobbies or passions into careers, but the point I’m making here is more granular than that.  How can your personality and interests help your success in whatever field you’re in?

3. Be observant.

In life, you’ll stumble across systems and processes that work really well. You need to observe what makes it really easy and automatic for you to do behaviors that propel and support your success, and then lean into those.

For instance, I often write outlines for blog articles while slow walking on the treadmill at the gym. I suspect one day I had an idea while I was walking and didn’t want to forget it, so I opened up my Google Docs app. Now I use my gym time as writing time at least once a week.

There are many ideas for successful systems you can observe if you’re paying attention to yourself and others. Perhaps you stumble on a very useful thinking or behavioral habit, notice it, and create a routine based on that. Or, perhaps you notice the way someone else approaches their work and it seems like that way of doing it is a good fit for your personality too.

4. Capitalize on streams that will feed the larger river.

There are plenty of stories of businesses where something that wasn’t initially a core aspect of the business model became a huge driver of profits for that company e.g., Amazon and AWS, or the way airlines sell miles to credit card companies who offer them as rewards to their customers.article continues after advertisement

On a much smaller level, in life, you’ll often stumble on a success that you can parlay into a repeatable, winning formula. For example, maybe you’re looking for a product for yourself and you research how to get that cheaply. Perhaps to get the cheap price you need to order a minimum quantity that’s much more than you need, so you sell the extras, Through this, you then realize you could just keep repeating this and flip that product for a profit. 

If you’re actively looking for these types of arbitrage opportunities, finding them can be quite difficult. However, over a lifetime, if you habitually capitalize on what you stumble upon, then you can end up with lots of random income streams. 

There are all sorts of examples of this principle. 

  • Perhaps you develop a skill for your own personal use and then get asked for that knowledge as a consultant. A few times a year you get asked to provide that knowledge and instead of doing it for free, you have a couple of packages you offer for a fee. 
  • Or, perhaps you buy a tool for your business where you don’t need 100% of the capacity for that tool, and can rent out some of that excess capacity.

People sometimes focus on turning these types of little side hustles into their own full-fledged businesses, but that’s not what I’m mainly getting at here. Instead, you can focus on just treating these as little rivers that feed the larger stream of your life. Over time, some rivers will dry up, others will emerge, if you’re looking out for them.

Wrapping Up

There aren’t essential behaviors or qualities for success because there are lots of ways to get there. Instead of trying to fit a culturally prescribed model, try mixing and matching the types of strategies that make success almost inevitable and that are a good fit for your personality and interests.

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