Ingredients for success

The road to successI’m such a sore loser. Last week I entered a competition on Gizmodo to win the new Samsung phone, which required participants to submit a 50 word description and an accompanying image or video describing why you deserved to win. Seeing as I’m still unemployed and had oodles of spare time, I actually put effort into my submissions, going on location to take pictures, Photoshopping, and tapping recent Internet memes. In spite of that I was pipped to the post by several folks who obviously spent that much more time and effort on it than I did by creating videos*, leading me to post a crypto-emo remark on Facebook that “No matter how good you are, there’s always somebody better :-(”

As a result, I spent last night mulling over what it takes to be successful and came up with a few thoughts. Here are the things I believe are the ingredients to success:

A deep passion
The key word here is “deep”. There’s a veritable gulf between taking an active interest in something, and being passionate about it. Whatever you want to be successful at, from playing an instrument to building an iPhone app, requires a significant investment of time and effort to get to the level of expertise where success happens.

I love the sound of the cello, can play the violin worth a damn thanks to Chinese parenting, and was even given a free instrument by my father in law. But even after setting myself the goal of learning to play the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite #1, I couldn’t dredge up enough discipline to keep at it beyond the first few bars. That’s how I discovered interest and passion are not the same thing.

If you want to be successful, figure out what your true passions are and look for success there, instead of playing in the shallows of where you think success might lie.

A very good memory
Another quality I’ve noticed in people who succeed is their ability to call from a huge mental database of information relating to their passion, be it sporting statistics or musical repertoire. This could very well be closely related to passion since the deeper you go into something the more space it occupies your brain.

I’ve always marvelled at Jenny’s musical recall – back in the period when it seemed like all our friends were getting married (including us!) she created several excellent playlists for wedding ceremonies purely from the vast store of tunes in her head, which we still occasionally use as background music while entertaining. (Her talent only applies to musical melodies though, she’s rubbish with lyrics…)

A large network of friends
Next time you finish reading a book, any book, take a note of the acknowledgements page if it has one. Very few authors will count their work as a solo Herculean effort – at the bare minimum, there will have been a contribution from an editor (if not, how the heck did the book get published?) You need people to bounce ideas off, proof-read your manuscript, help with research, motivate you to finish, etc.

An audience
This is the most obvious, but the most easily forgotten about. You could think of the most awesome idea (“an ancient global war between mermaids and centaurs has been hidden from mankind for centuries, accidentally uncovered through deforestation and overfishing, which dooms humanity to becoming a statistic in the battle for this planet!”) but unless there are other people also interested in the same idea, success will exist only in your own head.

If you’ve ticked off every one of the points above and success still eludes you, then probably the only reason left is that you must give it time. How often have you heard somebody famous comment that their “overnight success” was 10 years in the making or similar?

As for me, I’m still trying to figure out what my passions are, which was the inspiration for the poem Jack. I’m good at so many things, but what do I want to be great at? I’ll let you know if I figure it out. Meanwhile, what are you passionate about?


* Well, except this one guy who everybody is complaining about because he used a cheap trick that obviously fooled the judges.