Often people say to me something like—
“I know plenty of people who’ve achieved great success without doing what you say. They didn’t have clear goals. Gave little thought to their process. Didn’t develop top skills. Have never trained their mind…”
It’s true. I know tons of those people. I used to be one of them.
I elevated myself from my blue-collar background to Goldman Sachs, and succeeded on Wall Street with nothing more than the goal to do my best and working all the time. I’d never read a self-help book. Never visualized a goal. Never focused on my process. Never focused on time management, mindset or other “crucial” skills…
That pathway to success was ultimately unfulfilling to me but it is by far the most basic and common in our society—study hard, get a good job, and work hard for the rest of your life.
If you look at two of the wealthiest people on the planet, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, you see a different pathway to success, and some might even conclude that we should all be dropping out of college and starting a tech company…
Dig deeper and you learn most successful people aren’t top executives or famous billionaires. The vast majority of millionaires next door are “small” business people, who found their niche and just kept working it.
Does this mean everyone should start their own business? Or skip college? Or get a top job and work hard?
Of course not…
Knowing how other people have succeeded tells you little you need to know about creating your own pathway to success.
A novice gold miner can randomly drill a hole, strike gold, and become an overnight “success.” But what could you actually learn from them in creating your own success? Should you just go drill some holes?
Many Internet millionaires were spawned during the first dot.com bubble in the late 1990s but few of them held onto their money into this century. Even fewer founders could replicate their “success.”
Such “Returns on Luck” account for most out-sized success in our society—
You didn’t need to be the best engineer on the planet to get rich working for Facebook; you only had to join early enough. The difference between making partner at Goldman Sachs pre-IPO in 1998 versus 2000 was some $50 million. And just about anyone buying real estate with zero money down in 2006 looked like a genius, until 2008.
While there’s a lot to be learned from taking advantage of rich opportunities, herein lies the distinction between achieving successful results, and engineering success.
Even the worst football team in the league will win a game every now and then, but the best teams, like Vince Lombardi’s Packers, build a systematic approach to winning that they know will work time and time again.
Ultimately, the most successful people are less focused on results, and more focused on engineering a pathway that leads to the success they want.
What Is Success To You?
Much of what we consider success in our society is results-focused.
Sure, little Johnny now gets a Final Winner Trophy for running last in a race at school, but in the real world, it’s the winners we celebrate.
This can lead us to “fixate on results,” when, of course success is about more than results.
Tiger Woods was the most successful golfer in the world, but the path he took destroyed him, his marriage, career, and life. Bernie Madoff was a great “success” too, but does your definition of success include robbing others?
What about Bill Gates? A man who built a world-changing company and now spends his time serving humanity. It’s easy to want Bill’s results, but was his pathway to success right for you?
To give up on your education? To let go of certainty? To walk a thrilling path that leads most people to far less success, if not outright “failure?”
What about the pathway of getting a good job and working hard? It’s a great path if you love what you do, but otherwise you end up like many people, ruing your day, selling the time of your life, never achieving the success you deserve.
I’m not just echoing the trite notion that success is about the journey and the destination, but that the ONLY pathway to success is the one that is right for you.
The Keys To Success
When I stepped back from my career at Goldman Sachs nearly two decades ago and began asking “What Do I Want,” I was already a “success.”
But having followed the most common pathway to success, I found myself stuck in a job that I didn’t love, working around the clock, having too little time to do those things that truly mattered to me.
Stepping back from my career I saw that I had achieved success the obvious way—head down, work hard—but I had little idea of the keys to success that you can use to drive any pathway.
Over the next decade, reading thousands of books on personal development and writing thousands of pages of my own ideas I transformed my career and life, but there was a problem…
I still didn’t know what I wanted!
And in many ways, after filling my head with “knowledge,” I was more confused.
In the past success was obvious to me—put your head down and work hard—but then it seemed incredibly complicated, literally, the amalgamation of millions of pages of ideas.
But over time I saw the pathway through.
Your System For Getting What You Want
You don’t need to read thousands of books and become an expert on success to get what you want.
You merely need to take the best ideas and engineer a pathway to success that is right for you.
Over more than a decade I built an approach to do this, your System For Doing What You Want (which you can work through in detail in my books), that works in five steps:
1. Define It
The first step to “success” is to define what that is. The problem is, just like myself, many of us don’t know what we want. Here’s the solution…
Contrary to the most obvious advice, to get what you want, you don’t need to know what you want… That’s right, you don’t need to know what you want!
You only need to be able to define a vision (not even the vision) that keeps you moving in the right direction. With this pathway or Roadmap to success defined, then you only need to focus on the goal that is right in front of you.
Think of it this way. Imagine you were in a job today with a vison to start your own business at some point in the future. Many of us get stuck thinking about what that is, or how we do it, or how we get there…
But, ultimately, you don’t need to know that today. You only need to focus on the one goal in front of you that keeps you moving towards your vision.
Think of it just like college. Graduation was “success,” but it’s also merely the aggregation of many daily successes, such as attending classes and passing exams.
And when you can get yourself to stop thinking so much about your vision (results-orientation), and simply focus on the next goal on your pathway to success (process-orientation), you focus all your energy on what matters most to getting there.
So, even if you don’t know what you want, just take a moment to dream and scheme that grandest vision for your career and life, and a pathway that moves you there.
Then, as you move through the next four steps, focus on the one goal right in front of you that keeps you moving in the right direction.
2. Getting It
Getting It is the most important step to creating your pathway to success.
That’s because nothing matters more to success than figuring out how you do it. Just like that gold miner we met earlier, you can get lucky digging holes, but to truly engineer success you must know how you succeed.
Like Vince Lombardi’s Packers. Like Tiger Woods. Like Bill Gates. The world’s most successful people figure out EXACTLY what it takes to drive their pathway to success, and become expert at doing it.
Here you want to spend as much time as you can getting smart on how other people win, and, how, specifically you do. In my books I break this down into three chapters you can work through:
Then, you want to take those ideas and engineer them into a process that you put to work each and every day.
3. Plan It
Just like the many dot.com millionaires, plenty of success happens without a plan…
But just like building a house, anyone who is serious about driving their pathway to success wants to step back and get clear on exactly how you’re doing it.
The key to success in this step is to plan as little as possible. Rather than building an elaborate plan that will be outdated as soon as it’s completed, instead, you simply want to lay out as much as you need to keep yourself focused on those goals right in front of you.
This might not look like a plan at all, but simply a few boxes on a page, such as this example from my book that relates to driving your career all the way to the top of your firm:
The reason we are keeping this step super simple is that, while a plan of action is crucial, it is of course putting it to work that actually drives your pathway to success.
4. Execute It
For some people this step is the easiest in the System for Doing What You Want because they are good at getting things done. (if that’s not you, read this article)
But, that’s not the case for all of us, and there’s still some very powerful nuances in this step.
For instance, whereas you build a house by first drawing up a detailed plan and then getting building, when it comes to driving your pathway to success, you want to be planning and executing at the same time.
So, rather than seeing Steps 3 and 4 as separate, you want to see planning and executing as happening together, iteratively. You plan your action, take it, use the feedback to keep planning and executing, around and around again.
With this process, there is no end-point. You simply keep iterating, doing what you want! (again, success isn’t just the destination, but loving this journey)
5. Getting Skills
Getting Skills is the final step in Your System, but it’s also part of every step along the way. In the beginning, middle and end, no matter what your goal, it takes skills to succeed.
While this might seem like an obvious point, it’s also where the vast majority of us fail.
We readily accept in arenas such as sports that the most highly skilled athlete is most likely to win, but when it comes to our own careers and lives we often fail to see it this way.
Few people you meet in the working world, even at top places like Goldman Sachs, see building skills as part of the formula for winning—remember, head down, work hard!
An unskilled approach works perfectly fine in plenty of jobs, but if you are driving a much harder pathway to success, and if you love being your best, then Getting Skills is essential.
While there are many skills I suggest you want to master in your life, in my experience, these are the four most important skills to creating the success you want, The Power Tools:
How do you learn them? The same way we laid out the system above. You don’t need to read hundreds of books on skills. You merely need to read a few of the “right books,” and then focus on systematically putting your new skills to work. (as I wrote about here)
Driving Your Pathway To Success
So, you see over many years and tens of thousands of hours of research I built a very simple system that you can put to work in driving your pathway to success.
It doesn’t require that you need to learn everything about success, but that you get focused on a systematic approach that you put to work every day.
The System is simple, yet this of course doesn’t mean it’s easy to do.
But, if driving your pathway to success was easy, would it be worth it?