I’ve always found it fascinating to read about successful people.  Where they went to school, what they did for their first job, how they became successful, their habits and routines.  Part of me thinks that if I do enough research and dig deep enough, I will find a pattern – some grand, unifying element that ties all successful people together.  Certainly there must be a formula that is part education, part upbringing, part genes and part luck.  I even once read an entire book about rich people just to see if I could figure it out.

Well, I haven’t figured it out, yet.  But, I do have a theory.

My theory has to do with self-doubt.  Being good enough.  Or, at least, thinking you’re good enough.

It’s something that we all have to face at one time or another.

Self-perception is a complicated topic, but the best I can tell there are two primary layers.  The outer layer is what we’ve absorbed from our environment: confidence that has been built from our upbringing, schooling, friends and family.  The outer layer serves as a protective armor that can be made very thick with support from parents and a good education.

While the outer layer is acquired, the inner layer is native.  It’s the stuff we’re born with and it resides deep inside: the true essence of self.  The inner layer is where we keep our true passions, interests and ambitions.

You can get far in life by just relying on the outer layer, especially if it’s been built up and fortified over time with education and professional success.  You can make a good living and be very happy relying on externally instilled confidence, but unless you capture the power of your inner self-perception, you will always have unfulfilled potential.  It can be tricky, however, to tap into your inner layer.

At best, I’m an amateur at meditation.  I once purchased the book Meditation for Dummies but haven’t had the patience to read all the way through.  In my mind, the objective of meditation is to access that inner layer of self-perception.  I like to think that I get some of the same benefits from running or exercising alone – activities that help me shut down the thinking part of my brain and peel back the layers of self-perception and insecurity.

So my grand unified theory for success in life?  Well, it’s a working thesis, really, and it comes down to three steps:

1)     Get in touch with your inner layer

Know what excites you, what you’re passionate about and what truly drives you.  If you’re not sure, try meditation, or running, or another solitary activity that helps you point your attention inward.

2)     Know that we are all the same

We are all unique, but our struggles can be very similar.  Every successful person has wrestled at one time or another with not being good enough.  The secret to overcoming self-doubt is embracing the struggle, knowing that (on the inside) no one else is any better than you are, and realizing that passion is a level-playing field.  The most successful people are not always the most schooled or from the wealthiest families, but they are almost always the most passionate.

3)     Dive in head first

Get comfortable with uncertainty; it is all around us.  Whenever you’re approached by a new problem, know that the best-case scenario is that you succeed, the next best-case scenario is that you fail, and the worst-case scenario is that you don’t ever try at all.

I appreciate you indulging me in a slightly more introspective blog post for this week.  I’m interested to hear what you think.

On Being Good Enough
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  • I think you may want to consider comparing and contrasting successful people to “unsuccessful” people.

    For starters, it becomes much easier to eliminate reasons – if successful and unsuccessful people have things in common, those can’t be the discriminating factors. They may be part of it (e.g. necessary but not sufficient) but not all.

    I suspect, however, that motivation – intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation – is not it, nor is it a high tolerance for uncertainty or risk.

    As an aside, my current hypothesis is that it’s partly a numbers game. So: what you do, who you know, and luck.

    Of course, that depends significantly what you mean by “successful.” Commercial (business) success? Personal wealth? Peace of mind? Successful (business) family? Successful (healthy, happy) family?
    I don’t think the same things would be causal mechanisms for each.

  • Josh Lauren

    Eif, I think it is also important to think about how you and society measure success. Monetary success and wealth is only a small piece of this discussion in my mind.

  • Andrew Eifler

    I like the note on the numbers game. I think that is largely true. I also think that intrinsic motivation increases your tolerance for failure, thus making it easier to try again (and again).

    Fair point re: definition of success. I suppose success is whatever makes you most self actualized.

  • Andrew Eifler

    Totally agree. It’s probably the easiest bit to quantify though.

    As a counter point, one might point to studies that show how money can lead to unhappiness. If I’m not mistaken, I believe lottery winners are notoriously miserable.