The 5 Keys to Success

The 5 Keys to Success

Determination, Skill, Passion, Discipline And Luck

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Whether we like admit it or not at some point we?ve all read an article or two about the mythical ?keys? to success.

I?ve noticed recently though that writers and advice-givers of all kinds have been making the mistake of gravely over-reducing their recipes for success.

Reductionism is natural, it?s a tendency ingrained deeply in our psychology. 10 commandments feel better than 12, and the rule of 3 feels better than the rule of, say, 8. The problem, however, is oversimplification ? a seemingly benign but actually pernicious effect of hyper-reductionsim.

I?ve read through as many of the best ?how to be successful? articles and bits of advice I could find and noticed they, all of them, bare some striking resemblances. The most important of which being that there are 5, not 1, keys to success. They are: Determination, Skill, Passion, Discipline And Luck.

Determination is necessary but, like each of the 5 keys, not sufficient for success. I should clarify that when I say ?success? what I?m referring to are the highest possible levels of success. Not middle-management or being a star on the high-school basketball team. Think more like CEO, NBA (and or MVP), Pulitzer Prize, Oscar, Grammy, Nobel, Heavyweight Champion, etc. The specific degree of success matters because determination alone is, perhaps, enough to be moderately successful. But, unfortunately, it is not enough for true greatness. Nevertheless, I digress.

So, what is determination? Determination is both a firmness of purpose and a willingness to work unceasingly towards that purpose in spite of any obstacles, difficulties or failures along the way.

Accomplishing great things is difficult and, in the end, it?s always more difficult to achieve great things than you guessed it would be at the beginning. You knew it would be hard, but not this hard.

Ambitious goals require a high tolerance for pain, monotony, and boredom as well as a large amount of patience and discipline.

It takes a long time to achieve anything great. And to keep your sites set on something, anything, for a long time, the time it takes to do something great, you need determination. Anyone can be focused for a week or a month. And some can even be focused for a year, but that?s not true determination. True determination lasts multiple years, decades and lifetimes. That?s what it takes to be the best at something. That?s what it takes to achieve greatness. The ?overnight success? is a myth, the ?born natural? is a myth, and the ?prodigy? is a myth.

Mozart is the exemplar of what people (wrongly) call a prodigy. People seem to think that he just sat down at the piano one day and hatched Symphony ?41 on his first try. Well, I?m here to tell you that he didn?t. Not even close. A thorough examination of Mozart?s history ? along with the history of every other so-called ?prodigy? ? clearly reveals them to be incredibly hard working people who, yes, had some natural talent but nowhere near the amount that people like to claim or believe.

Declaring someone a prodigy or a natural is the lazy man?s way of rationalizing his own shortcomings.

Skill. Skill goes hand in hand with determination. You can not become really skilled at anything difficult without putting in a lot of time and effort.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell describes an apparent phenomena which he calls the ?10,000 hour rule.? The rule appears to hold true across a variety of fields ranging from music, to writing, to acting, to sports, and the like. As the name suggests, the 10,000 hour rule states that it takes 10,000 hours to master something ? to, in other words, become the master of some particular skill.

10,000 hours! No wonder most people settle for mediocrity, that?s quite a lot of blood, sweat and tears. How can anyone keep their eye on the prize (i.e. be determined) for that long? The answer, is passion.

Passion. No one ? not even the determined ? can grin and bare it for 10,000 hours without passion. To practice something, unabated, day in and day out for the years or decades necessary to reach 10,000 hours is impossible unless you?re passionate about the thing you?re practicing. The old cliche that if you love what you do, you never have to work is true. Well, sort of.

Discipline. Even when you?re passionate about what you?re doing, there are still going to be times when you simply don?t feel like practicing/training/writing/playing/etc. You won?t always be in the mood. But you can not let that stop you. You must not wait for the lightning of inspiration to strike for, if you do, you?ll waste your life staring up at the sky.

Pick something you love to do, set your sites on it, then create a practice schedule for yourself and stick to it no matter whether you feel like it or not.

Remember, today?s struggle is tomorrow?s strength.

Last but not least, you need luck. It doesn?t matter which super-successful person you talk to, they will all agree, that you must have some degree of luck to reach the greatest heights of success.

The weak use their (real or perceived) lack of luck as a crutch and complain that so-and-so only got to where s/he is because they ?are lucky.? This is often times why semi-successful people become bitter and declare themselves ?self-made men.? But notice I said semi-successful, because these self-proclaimed self-made men are never among the most successful in their field. The most successful are always smart enough to credit at least some of what they have accomplished to luck.

Luck can come in many forms: genetic, social, timing, taste, all of these things are arbitrary, and anything that?s both arbitrary and beneficial is, by definition, lucky.

Even the capacity for hard work may, to some degree, have a lucky biological or genetic element. But I refuse to believe that hard work, or the capacity for it, is entirely inherent (also, I see no evidence for it).

You must work hard to be great, harder probably than you ever imaged. But you must also not be so naive as to call yourself self-made.

If you?re lucky, be thankful. Then, get to work.


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