You’re not ordinary. You’ve known it for quite some time.

You’re talented, clever, charismatic when necessary, passionate, and driven. People are impressed by you.

You’ve always been able to figure how to get things done, and you’re not afraid of hard work.

Why, then, does success seem to elude you?

Not that you’re unaccomplished. But you never actually feel successful. You look at others who seem happy, and something just doesn’t seem right in your world

Plus, it exhausts you to imagine that you’ll have to keep this up for another 40 years.

So, what are you missing? Could it be that you’ve been ignoring what’s been under your nose?

Could any of these keys to success unlock the door you’ve bloodied your knuckles on for too long?

1. Are you not delivering what people really need?

It’s actually quite simple: successful people meet other people’s needs.

Everything people need boils down to one of these six things.

  • A sense of safety and predictability
  • A sense of fun and adventure
  • A sense of significance and worthiness
  • A sense of connection and acceptance
  • A sense of learning and growing
  • A sense of contributing and giving back

If you aren’t meeting one of those things or you aren’t communicating effectively that you meet one of those things, success will elude you.

Key: Make sure you are meeting people’s needs.

2. Are you undervaluing yourself?

I once had a remarkable conversation with an incredibly well-paid consultant. I asked, “What gives you the guts to charge as much as you do?”

This was the answer. “Companies come to me to solve a problem they haven’t been able to solve on their own. I do my research to find out who will be in the room with me. Then I find out how much the highest paid person in the room makes per hour. I charge 20% more.”

“And people pay you that?”

“What’s the alternative? Keep your problem or keep your money. If a problem is going to be solved, the biggest power-player in the room must buy-in to what I’m saying. In this world, money is tied to authority. The one making the most money is believed to have the most authority. When everyone in the room trusts my authority, we can stop playing games and start solving problems.”

Can you solve problems? Then you should never be broke.

Key: Insist on adequate compensation for your time, skills & the value you create.

3. Are you in an unsustainable cycle?

Confession: I am a recovering super-achiever. It is an addiction that came close to costing me my life, and it definitely cost me precious years of my life.

Trying to prove how special and important I could be, I would binge on work and meetings, thinking I was so clever by burning the candle at both ends.

I led a double-life. Safe where no one could see me, I would collapse into my bed. After sleeping for 22 hours, I’d wake up to eat something and crawl in bed again.  Not Sleeping Beauty, I was Sleeping Ugly. I felt like a failure and a fraud. Nothing I ever did felt good enough.

Eventually, I found a gifted therapist who helped me see what was going on. I thought my problem was depression; she showed me the problem was my completely out-of-whack concept of success.  Super-achievement is not sustainable, and my body was screaming at me to slow down.  I ignored its screams, so it had no other choice but to shut down.

I had to re-train my brain to normalize, to stop functioning on super-high or super-low. I had to learn how to coast. I had to learn how to be human again.

Achieving only feels successful when you accept that you don’t have to prove yourself, but you choose to achieve because you are capable of it.

Key: End polarizing cycles to develop sustainable activity levels.

4. Are you trying to fulfill someone else’s definition of success?

Have you convinced yourself that you need to be the astronaut your mom always dreamed of becoming, while you long to crank out perfect French macarons?

Does the Kool-Aid have you thinking that your life isn’t good enough? You don’t earn enough, spend enough, or look slick enough?

You’ll never feel enduring success if you’re fulfilling someone else’s definition of success. Ask yourself, “What do I really want? What do I need to do, see, experience, and know to feel successful, no matter what anyone else thinks?”

Key: Define success on your terms.

5. Are you following the rules of a no-win game?

What do these statements have in common?

  • “I’ll be successful when my students reach the benchmarks on their tests.”
  • “I’ll be successful when I’ve found the woman I want to marry.”
  • “I’ll be successful when I’m tenured at an R-1 university.”

They all make your success dependent upon others or an outcome beyond your control, not your effort or experience.

Here’s a re-frame of each one:

  • “I’ll feel successful when I have delivered a structured curriculum that supports my students with engaging learning activities.”
  • “I’ll be successful when I see myself as a man who has integrity and the desire to commit to a passionate relationship with a equally genuine woman.”
  • “I’ll be successful when I consistently conduct research that is inline with my passions and intellectual rigor.”

Key: Make your success dependent upon you and no one else.

6. Are you unable to recognize success?

What if you’ve already hit the jackpot, but you don’t even know it? That happens when you have mistaken beliefs about what success means.

Success doesn’t mean that problems go away, that life gets easier, or the things that tripped you up before will never trip you up again.

Being successful means that you have achieved a goal you set.

There is a Zen saying,

“Before Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

It means that once you reach a goal, life still goes on.

Key: Celebrate your victories, big AND small.

7. Are you chasing your tail?

You have plenty of drive, but you’re getting nowhere. You know what you want and you take action, but your method is all wrong.

Get an outsider’s opinion.  Everyone knows the dog is chasing its tail, except the dog.

Stop action. Survey what’s not working. Get an expert to show you the way. Then get after it.

Key: Follow a proven action plan that gets results.

8. Are you chasing anything that moves?

When you first start off, you can feel so desperate to get going that you jump at anything that looks like it might lead to success.

This can lead you on a wild goose chase that zaps your resources and leave you disillusioned, at best.

Additionally, when you begin to experience success, people will begin knocking at your door. They may present “opportunities” that could actually lead you away from your vision, causing you to lose ground.

If either of these situations seem familiar, you’ve got to go back to the drawing board. Re-evaluate what you really want to accomplish. Do some research and ask advice from the people who have achieved what you want. Seek opportunities that are in-line with your goals, and graciously decline everything else.

Key: Clarify your mission and evaluate possible opportunities with it in mind.

9. Are you too afraid to say ‘no’?

You start off the day with your to-do list when the phone rings. Suddenly you’re derailed by someone needing a favor. You’re picking up dry cleaning, making cupcakes for birthday parties, and proofreading articles because you are too afraid to say, “No.”

Dr. Brenè Brown advises: “Choose discomfort over resentment.” She means that while it you may feel uncomfortable to saying, “I’m not going to be able to help you,” it will save you from feeling resentful, stressed, and unaccomplished later.

If you have the time and energy for other things later, then pitch-in when you can. But not because you “should” out of a sense of guilt.

Key: Make your priorities top priority.

10. Are you trying to remember it all?

Keeping up with your empire without keeping notes?

Maybe it seems rather elementary, but that’s the point. It’s so simple that you could be forgetting it. What else are you forgetting?

Have a system for writing everything down and organizing it. There are plenty of apps you can use on your phone, like Evernote. Or go with the old reliable: keep it in a small notebook that goes with you wherever you go.

You can use your notes later to write your book on how you became so brilliantly successful.

Key: Write down your success story.

11. Are you trying to do it all on your own?

“It’s ok. I got this.” This is the mantra of doom.

You think that people will think you can’t handle it or that it’s just easier for you to do it.

You spend your valuable time doing the minutia that someone else could do. Meanwhile, you don’t have the time or the energy to make the final steps to carry the ball over the line for the big touchdown.

Success is so close, but you can’t see it because you’re licking envelopes.

Key: Suck it up and ask for help.

12. Are you trying to re-invent the wheel?

You’ve been inspired by a master to pursuit your passion.  You’ve read the books, attended the seminars, and earned the certifications. You’ve even built yourself a nice little website and printed business cards. But you’ve produced nothing of your own. You’re paralyzed by the thought of creating original content. “It’s all been said. I have nothing original to say.”

Guess what? It’s all been said. You have nothing original to say.

Say it anyway. If it’s the truth, it’s the truth. You have as much right to say it as anyone else. Even if it’s not The Truth; it’s your truth.

You aren’t going to take other people’s stuff and put your name on it. That is cheating.

Think of yourself as a collage artist, picking amongst all the bits to find the ones you want and arranging them in a way that is uniquely you. Show how you see the world. No one else can offer that.

Key: Unashamedly copy the masters.

13. Are you not taking decisive action consistently?

Ideation is no problem for you.  You’ve got more inventions and schemes than Rube Goldberg.

Your problem is that you aren’t taking action, or if you do it’s too intermittent.

Consistency is the key to excellence. You need to get into daily routines of action. Alternately, team up with someone who takes the action, but is short on ideas.

No matter who takes the action, make it a habit to accomplish one critical action step each day.

Key: Take intentional action daily.

14. Are you biting off more than you can chew?

Do you have three major deadlines hitting in a week but find yourself binge-watching episodes of Dexter? The pressure feels too much so you avoid it.

It’s the same feeling when your room was a “total disaster” and your mom said you couldn’t meet up with your friends until it was clean. How many Saturdays did I spend huffing around the house? “It’s too hard! This’ll take forever!”

Thankfully I had a mom who didn’t rescue me. Instead, she patiently brought me back to my room. “Take one corner at a time, Leslie. Don’t think about everything. Just deal with one thing. It will get done.” An hour or so later, I’d be smiling with pride.

Go ahead. Bite off more than you can chew. Then spit it out, and nibble away.

Key: Break intimidating projects into small tasks to do one at a time.

15. Are you working from your weaknesses instead of your strengths?

When things come easy to us, we tend to think that they’re no big deal.  Surely, everybody could do it if it’s so simple for me, right?

Wrong.

They are called gifts because they are valuable. When something comes easily to you, accept it humbly as a gift.  Don’t blow it off.  By using these gifts as frequently as possible, you are able to achieve so much more.

Can you be more successful if you enlist someone with the gifts you don’t have to tackle those challenges?  How much more can you produce when you are free to do the things you are really good at?

Key: Honor your gifts to increase your productivity.

16. Are you missing opportunities to team-up?

Are you a dentist who sees other dentists as your archenemies? You think you’ve gotta beat those other whitecoats to a bloody pulp and have all the dirty mouths for yourself?

What if instead of beating the competition you could find a way of joining them?

What are cooperative strategies that can help you achieve more while sharing the spoils?  Like bicyclists drafting each other in a group, you can work less and achieve more by working together.

You can check out Blue Ocean Strategy for specific ideas.  Here’s the idea in a nut shell: you can fight to the death against your competition to make a bloody red ocean, but that makes a mess and limits gains. With smart strategies, you can create powerful teams with your competitors to deliver greater experiences for your customers and dramatically increase gains for everyone involved.

Key: Create strategic partnerships with your competition to achieve more.

17. Is your fear of mediocrity is making you mediocre?

Anyone with high standards has a natural-born abhorrence for mediocrity. It’s what drives you towards excellence. This drives you to take your work seriously and to see the small details others overlook.  It is your gift.

Don’t let it be your curse. Studies show that academics with perfectionistic tendencies significantly under-perform their counter-parts, publishing significantly less and in less-prestigious journals.

Train yourself to aim for great, but to still release your “good” to the world. Choose to feel the cringe from typos in your New York Times Best Seller than to have your grandchildren find your long-forgotten manuscript after you’ve died.

Key: Launch your products when they are “good enough.”

18. Are you letting your standards slip?

At the other extreme, it could be that you’re letting yourself off the hook way too easily. Going through the motions with little thought or concern about making a product of value to anyone.

Your work could have a “Made in China” sticker and come wrapped in cellophane. No offense to China.

Well, “no duh” you don’t feel successful! There’s only one reason people play the game this way: they’re afraid of putting in real effort that people might reject, so they just pretend.

Hey, we see your game, and we don’t feel sorry for you. You have gifts and resources; use them! To feel successful, you have to invest your whole self, just like the hokey-pokey.

Key: Get skin in the game and play to win.

19. Are you not asking questions because you are afraid to look like you don’t know something?

When you become the designated leader, your ego can shoot you in the foot. It lies to you, whispering, “You’re supposed to know this stuff already. Everyone will think you’re a fraud if you ask that question. Just keep your mouth shut, and everything will be ok.”

But think about it.  Haven’t you worked for someone who acted like they knew it all, while even the interns could see problems and offer solutions that the boss seemed oblivious to? Do you respect people like that?  Did you feel valued by them? Did you want them to succeed? No, you only come to work in the hopes you could witness them do an epic slip in a mess of their own business.

Be brave enough to ask questions. Be humble enough to let others take their turn as the expert. Be the leader others choose to follow.

Key: Check your ego and ask questions when you don’t know something.

20. Are you blaming others for your scheisse?

Somewhere along the line, our society got off the responsibility train.  We convinced ourselves that integrity, honor, trust, and bravery were acceptable sacrifices in the battle for greater success.

What we’ve created is a papier-mâché world where everyone’s pointing fingers. Entire industries are built on complaining and blaming.

You can choose to wake up. The instant you take total responsibility for everything that happens in your life is the moment you take a major step toward success – true success.

Dare to see the truth. It won’t hurt you. It’s the only thing that will help you.

If you are dissatisfied with your business, your health, your relationships, your income, take 100% responsibility for it. No one is to blame but you. No one has more power to change it than you!

Key: Take 100% responsibility for everything you do.

A few years ago I read the biography of Mahatma Gandhi, trying to understand what made him a great person. I kept reading for the part where he became great, and guess what? I never found it.

I think Gandhi would agree with me. He didn’t see himself as “A Great Leader.” He simply did tend to the problems that were in front of him to the best of his abilities.

Our world is rife with problems. We need you to solve them.  Not all of them, but the ones you are uniquely capable of solving.

You are not ordinary. You are flipping brilliant. You have gifts that could revolutionize the world as we know it.

It’s time to get out of your own way. It’s time to play to win. It’s time to dare greatly.

In the end, your success is not about you. Your success may never win you an award. It may never lead to a fancy house. It may never get you interviewed by Oprah. Don’t confuse the two.

People may never even realize how deeply you affected their lives.

If you’re truly successful, you just might inspire your co-workers to gossip less and help each other more. You might inspire the other nurses on your floor to see their patients as people more often. You may find the patience to listen to your son and finally understand why he feels so angry.

Your success is about much more than you.

Just like Gandhi, your humble success will change the world. All you need to do is tend to the problems in front of you to the best of your abilities.

The keys to success are here.

Are you ready to unlock the door?

Featured photo credit: old keys on a old book, antique wood background via shutterstock.com

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