5 factors that influence success more than talent

When trying to determine what makes someone successful there are a million different factors.

As I thought through the question “what separates the successful from the unsuccessful?” I came to a few conclusions:

  1. Talent is marginally important, but not a main decider
  2. This is a really hard question to answer

First, let’s talk about talent.

Back in 2007, I heard about a young golfer, Anthony Kim.

Tiger Woods had broken out on the PGA Tour and everyone was looking for the next big thing.

Anthony was thought to be IT.

But today, we know different. Anthony hasn’t played in a professional tournament since 2012. So what happened?

While there is a lot of speculation, we do have one prominent rumor that points to what happened in 2012, Anthony Kim chose to cash out an insurance policy instead of returning from injury.

All during Anthony’s short career, there were rumors of partying and lack of focus on golf. So, while he had all the talent in the world, it was clear that there was just a little something missing.

I can’t speculate what that something was, and I don’t want to denigrate Anthony. But, we can say for certain: taking the insurance policy in your mid-20s in a sport you can typically play to an old age tells us one of two things: either he thought he’d never be able to play again or he didn’t have a desire to continue the grind.

No matter your level of talent, desire and passion is required to succeed at a high level. That leads us to ask “what are those factors?”

Here are 6 factors I think play an outsized role in success (however you define it):

Have you started?

It’s so easy to come up with excuses on why you haven’t started.

The reality is, it most likely goes back to fear. But, without facing your fear, your fear will continue to grow. Instead, look for reasons to start.

Small steps into the fear repeated consistently create momentum.

You’ll notice the next step, how, is out of order of what most people do. They research, research, research, then maybe start. To create success, you have to have a bias to action. That bias to action only happens when you make starting a habit.

Figure out a small step you can take, before doing any research, and do it.

Schedule the meeting with the expert.

Sign up for a class.

Register your LLC.

Write our 6-month plan.

Call 10 random potential clients.

Just. Do. Something.

How did you start?

Most start with this step. They seek out books or resources that will help them “learn.” While I disagree with the line that I’ve seen going around that learning without application is pointless… learning instead of starting is procrastination.

So, in my view:

Learning to learn is fine. It’s part of the process. I’ll publish more on this in the future.

But learning to avoid starting is not.

I think, in general, we know when we’re doing that.

I have a tendency to like to do a lot of research. It’s a strength and a weakness. It’s a strength because it allows me to gain a lot of insight and knowledge on topics, but a weakness when it turns to procrastination.

Think in terms of these factors:

  • Environment
  • Resources
  • People

Have you stuck with it?

It’s a cliche that it seems nothing is happening, then success comes all at once.

But it’s accurate.

Resilience and patience allow you to outlast those around you and stay committed long enough to actually see results.

For 6 months I worked really hard on Twitter. I went from 200 followers to 4,000. This is great, and I was excited, but I was also worn out. I won’t lie… it did cross my mind to quit. Instead of recommitted and continued on. 7.5 months later I’ve gone from 4,000 to 70,000+.

But, continuing on a bad path is still a bad path, which leads us to the next question.

Have you evolved when necessary?

Growth should result in evolution.

As you grow, you learn new things and are provided new context. That should naturally lead to evolving goals and strategies.

I’m a big fan of setting long-term goals, but something I probably don’t talk about enough is that those goals are just setting direction. As I learn new things, those goals evolve and change.

When you combine being a great starter with being a great iterator, the potential for results is almost unfathomable.

A willingness to iterate shows that you have a willingness to learn.

But, don’t go too far. The other side of the spectrum is being able to discern when you’re on the right path but just haven’t done it long enough.

Having the willingness to iterate and evolve is the start, then making the right call of when, where, and how is what makes you elite.

Are you willing to accept feedback?

Our experiences limit our perspective. To widen that experience, you need a crew around you.

Surround yourself with a crew that will:

  • help you
  • encourage you
  • provide constructive feedback

I’ve heard of people creating a personal board of directors to hold them in line and I love the idea. While I’ve not created something formal, as I think through my life I have these people.

But, something I like even more: getting the advice of people you only have loose connections with. So often, people close to you don’t want to tell you the hard things. But when you find a loose connection with no dog in the fight and no motivation to sugarcoat a truth, you’ll get the best answers.

When I’ve come to crossroads in life and work, I think about the loose connections I have and pick a few people to reach out to. When meeting with them, I come prepared with questions.

When we bring others in to help, we significantly increase our likelihood of success.

Have you stayed positive along the way?

I almost stuck this one under sticking with it, because being positive and optimistic is a necessary component to perseverance. But as I thought even more about it, I think it’s important enough to call out on its own.

Your attitude creates resilience. When you can stay optimistic, you can stay the course.

If every time you encounter trouble you shut down, you’re going to have a hard time reaching success. But if you can keep a good attitude, your decision-making will improve.

Keeping this attitude is about reframing and resetting. By being able to step back and look at your problem as a third party would, you’re able to reframe your roadblock in a more neutral light. This then allows you a clarity of mind that you couldn’t get absent it.

Momentum is inevitable

Each of these elements creates momentum.

As you persevere, you learn and get opportunities to iterate. As you seek out others, you can receive and apply feedback. As you keep your attitude right, you can assess your options and make the optimal decision.

As these work together, it’s almost like magic. Next thing you know, you’re a success by your standard of success.

Missing any one of them will slow down your progress. So, take a moment and reflect: which one, if any, is holding you back?

Listen to my podcast this week for a deeper dive:

Frameworks & Finance
Frameworks & Finance
55: 5 factors in success more important than talent
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