How much control do we really have over our own successes and achievements? Of course, hard work and a positive work ethic are important factors in any individual’s success, but how big a part does blind luck and God-given talent play?
To explore this question, I’ve interviewed 4 extraordinary people who have each achieved great things in vastly different arenas. I have chosen people from disparate backgrounds as I wanted to eliminate any industry-specific factors, and therefore get a clearer idea of what attitudes and traits are advantageous for success in any industry.
The four experts are:
Mark Pearson – Entrepreneur
Mark is a self-made multi-millionaire and angel investor. He started his company, My Voucher Codes for £300 in a South London bedsit. He is passionate about finding and nurturing entrepreneurial talent in the UK and has invested in a number of fledgling start-ups.
Jordan Canar – Bodybuilder
Before he broke into the world of bodybuilding, Jordan was an internationally ranked, world-record breaking powerlifter. He has also forged a career for himself as a fitness model and elite trainer.
Jason Wallien – Linguist
Jason is a polygot and language expert who can speak 4 languages at native proficiency. He is currently developing a new language learning system which he believes will completely overhaul how we teach languages in schools.
Donna Chung – Classical Musician
Donna is a professional clarinet player who has performed with some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic. Despite her young age, Donna has also been a featured soloist in many performances.
Although they come from vastly different backgrounds, it was interesting that over the course of our interviews these 4 key traits emerged time and again:
They Concentrate on Future Goals
The vast majority of people will take an immediate gain over future benefit. This behaviour is so universal that it even has its own scientific name – Hyperbolic Discounting. It was interesting, however, to see that our 4 participants had the discipline and focus to work hard for future pay offs. Each of them was able to envision the pay off their present hard work would have on their future careers.
Jordan – Bodybuilder
“There are no shortcuts in bodybuilding – unless you’re willing to put your health at risk. I see so many promising athletes juice on steroids, push themselves too hard, and end up with career ending injuries.
Weightlifting and the bodybuilding lifestyle takes an incredible toll on your body – everyday you’re lifting tonnes of iron! Therefore it’s really important that you build a good base of starting strength and joint strength. Yes, you can get big in a matter of months or years, but if you want to still be big and lifting in a decade, you need to work towards it over a long period of time.”
Jason – Language Expert
“The way I learn languages is fundamentally different from the way people usually learn them. Whereas usually we’re taught stock phrases and repeat them parrot-style, I spend weeks or even months getting to grips with grammatical structures.
Doing it this way means that I can’t communicate at all in a new language for the first month or two, whereas traditional learners will already be able to speak whole sentences almost straight away. However, whereas they will hit a block and find becoming truly fluent very difficult, my method allows me to improve exponentially, and at a much faster rate.”
They Overcome Failures
In the words of Winston Churchill, “success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”, and our participants’ lives are very much a testament to this attitude. Their tenacity and stubbornness has helped them navigate through challenges which could very well have derailed their careers.
Donna – Musician
“When I was 16 I came very close to quitting music altogether; I used to suffer from crippling performance anxiety and would completely clam up when I had to play in front of strangers. As you can imagine, auditioning for music schools went terribly and I was rejected from every single one.
I spent so long working on my confidence until I could play in front of an audience and ended up acing my auditions. Even now I still get bad performance anxiety, but I have learned to deal with it and put that nervous energy into my performances.”
Jordan – Bodybuilder
“The biggest setback I had to overcome was a hamstring injury that put me out of action for about 8 months. The injury wasn’t actually the setback; it had more to do with my attitude and mental outlook during that time. I became really despondent and abandoned my diet, started drinking a lot and just throwing away my time and all that hard work.
A year after the initial injury I still wasn’t back to training, I made so many excuses so that I didn’t have to deal with retraining just to get back to where I was. It sucked all the motivation out of me, and it took a lot of willpower to get my head back into the game.”
They Never Stop Pushing Their Limits
Despite everything that they’ve achieved, our participants never sit back and rest on their past successes. They continue to push themselves to new levels, always trying to expand their expertise and broaden their horizons.
Mark – Entrepreneur
“Technology is constantly changing, which means that tech-based businesses like mine need to stay ahead of the curve. Too many digital businesses hit upon a successful idea, try to rinse and repeat and wonder why a year or two down the line they’ve been left behind.
For MVC this means that we are always trying to pre-empt where the next big changes will be. Currently, we’re looking at how we can slot into the mobile commerce space, in the same way that we got into ecommerce at the right time.”
Donna – Musician
“I started training as a classical musician from a very young age, which means that all of my professional life I’ve had little time to explore other kinds of music. However, a couple of years ago I decided that I wanted to get into jazz and improvisation. It was intimidating playing with all these excellent jazz musicians at first, and I felt that they had such high expectations of me because of who I had played with, but they were actually all super supportive, and I’ve improved so much.
Getting better at jazz has definitely added a new angle to my playing.”
They’re willing to Make Sacrifices to Succeed
Our participants’ dedication and singular focus has undoubtedly been a big factor in their success – but this dedication comes at a cost. All of them have made huge sacrifices in order to pursue their goals, and this is one aspect of success which starry-eyed Forbes articles and inspiring biopics tend to gloss over.
Jason – Language Expert
“I left my entire life behind to move to China and study Chinese poetry and literature. I knew that unless I was fully immersed in the culture I wouldn’y be satisfied. I sold my flat, quit my job, spent a huge chunk of my savings and left behind all my friends and family so that I could pursue this. No doubt it has paid off – not only am I native-level, but learning Chinese has really inspired the new language learning methodology I am putting together.”
Mark – Entrepreneur
“I’ve been quoted as saying that MVC was started for just £300, but in reality it also required me to invest years into building it and learning how to market it. I had already had a successful career as a chef and had 3 restaurants of my own, but I gave it all up so that I could focus all of my efforts on MVC.
It paid off, but it was still an extremely stressful and scary time in my life.”
It is very telling that despite working and succeeding in such radically different areas, each of our participants shared these 4 key viewpoints. As much as they may owe their success to luck and talent, their ability to make sacrifices, push their boundaries, work towards future goals and learn from their past failures has helped each of them get to where they are today. As a result, anyone who wants to emulate their levels of success would be well advised to adopt some of these principles into their own lives.