What in the world is "success" anyway? Good question. And honestly, I think only you can answer that for yourself. For example, I'm not all that great at math. In college I only had to complete two algebra courses in order to finish my degree (in philosophy). I went to every class, turned in every assignment, and voluntarily attended a free tutoring session twice a week that my college offered. At the end of each of these courses I got the same grade, a "B." To me, this was major success! I was, and still to the this day am, so proud of that grade! I know some students would have been disappointed with a "B," as they would have been striving to receive an "A." The point is, you decide your goals. You make your dreams. And this gives you the power to be successful. It's totally in your hands. I could have compared myself to other students who received better grades, but what's the point? I worked hard and achieved my goal. That is success. No comparisons needed.
I don't know everything (like at all). And I certainly don't know everything about success. But, what I have learned over the last few years I'm happy to share with you. Here are my secrets:
1. Positivity is a powerful force.
Being positive about your ideas is like allowing a plant to get sunshine. Good luck growing anything in the dark. I know lots of people who never actually do anything because they think all their ideas are too dumb, impractical, too random, or that if they put anything out there they will get made fun of or criticized.
Listen, the whole world is filled with critics. It's the people who choose to be creators who stand out. Choose to be a positive force in your life. When you have an idea, instead of immediately thinking of all the reasons why it's not very good or won't work, spend a few minutes thinking about how it could be improved. Assume you have a good idea; now how can it be better? Some ideas will end up getting discarded, but not every single one. Be positive first, then think critically to refine your idea.
Also, and this one is hard, strive to surround yourself with people who build you up (rather than tear you down). Having a constantly negative friend or family member can make it difficult to achieve your goals. How you navigate those situations can be tricky, but staying positive and surrounding yourself with positive people is one of the keys to success.
2. Make realistic AND lofty goals.
The fact that I'm encouraging you to set goals probably doesn't surprise you. If you don't have goals, you likely won't get anything done. Duh. But have you made it a habit to set goals that you know you can accomplish as well as those that scare you a little? If you don't have a goal in your life right now that absolutely terrifies you, like you don't even want to tell anyone about it because it's so crazy, get one in your life. Now.
Attempting the seemingly impossible over and over again is good practice. You won't achieve it every time, unless you're Superman or something. But, like most things you practice at, you will achieve it some of the time, and as you get better and better you'll have more and more success. I don't know about you, but I'm willing to fail 100 times if it means I'll achieve one impossible goal versus never failing and never achieving that lofty goal. Failure is often just a step toward success.
Pro tip: don't put all lofty goals on your to-do list. You've got to keep those more realistic ones on there too. Failure, although a key a success, is also super discouraging. Achieving those realistic goals keeps you grounded and will help you through those discouraging moments.
Sometimes we all need a drop-dead date, you know? It can be hard to finally let your idea out into the world. We all have a tendency to keep refining things, wanting to make them absolutely perfect before we show anyone. And I do think a certain amount of this is totally worthwhile and professional, but sometimes you just need to set a deadline and hit it. Even if the result is less than perfect.
For example, as I'm drafting this we have right around 3,900 posts on this blog. Guess how many of those were absolutely perfect before we pressed publish. I don't know, but it for SURE wasn't all of them! Not even close. And yet ABM attracts right around 1.5 million readers every month. That's right, an imperfect website has that kind of appeal. We strive to produce the best articles we can, but if we waited until everything was perfect we would not be where we are today.
I've also been conducting a bit of an official experiment for the past year and half or so. I try to note every time I find a typo in books I read. Guess what? Since starting this experiment I haven't read a single book that was 100% typo free. Many of these books were NYT bestsellers and/or written by famous authors with impressive bodies of work. My point is not to focus on flaws, but to know that flaws do not equal failure. Success is often imperfect. So, you don't have to wait on perfection before you put your work out there. Strive for it, but don't wait on it. Press that "publish" button, and if something isn't perfect, well, you're gonna learn something that will help you keep moving forward. You'll never learn anything by hiding your work behind a closed door.
4. Start now.
This one I am SO guilty of. I think, "Oh, I'll have more time next month to do XYZ. So, I'll work on it then." Or, "I don't feel great right now; I'll work on that later." And so on. I like to think that I'll do everything tomorrow, never today. And that's a great way to get nothing done.
Start right now. Make a goal, make a plan to achieve it, and then immediately start taking steps to complete it. Do something today to move toward your dreams. Planning counts, but you can't plan forever. Action makes things happen. Maybe you will have more time next month, but so what? What can you do today? Maybe you can't do as much as you'll be able to next month, but I bet you can do something. Do it. Don't ever wait for your dreams to come to you; go get them. Today. Now. There will never be a better time than right now to start.
5. Expand on success, learn from failure, and if necessary, quit.
You know how people say, "Quitters never win." I could not disagree more! I don't know about you, but my life is not full of endless resources. I have the same number of hours in my day as you. I'm good at certain things and weak in other areas (like math, as I've already admitted to you). To have success, you have to take all of your life's variables into account.
When you do have success, first off, celebrate (you did it!!!!), then evaluate why. What about this situation worked? Did you discover certain natural talents or abilities you may have? Did you uncover a collaborative relationship that worked really well for you? Expand on these things. How can you have even more success in these areas?
When you fail, first off, celebrate (you learned something!!!!) and evaluate what you learned. What didn't work about this situation? Did you find that you are not gifted in certain areas or you just plain didn't enjoy something like you thought you would? How can you pivot from this experience toward success?
If necessary, quit. Sometimes things don't work. It might have nothing to do with you. It could be that the industry you are working in is going through a bad time. It could be the medium you work on is undergoing change. Or it could be you; you may just not be good at something. That's okay! This has nothing to do with self-worth. You are MUCH more valuable than your current accomplishments, and you always will be. But if something isn't working, my best advice is to quit now and move on to something else. I don't want to be a broken record too much here, but my best example of this is when I quit pursuing my dream of acting and moved back to my hometown to work with Elsie. This was one of the very best (and most successful) decisions I ever made, and it all started with me quitting. Quitters sometimes win big. Don't be afraid to change course if it feels right.
No matter where you are at in life right now, hear this: you are awesome. You are original. You have great ideas. And you can totally achieve your dreams. I believe in you 100%. You deserve to hear that every single day, so please at least hear it from me today. Never be afraid to dream big. Never be afraid to quit something if needed. You are as free to live a successful life as you let yourself be. Thank you for being a part of my story. xo. Emma
Credits // Author: Emma Chapman. Photography: Sarah Rhodes. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.