Why people are successful

Success, in our culture, sometimes seems like a mystery. People spend a lot of time trying to define it, often in an attempt to paint themselves as successful for something they did, like brushing their teeth every night before bed. And, most significantly for the majority of us, it appears to be a matter of luck, more about the family one was born into or someone’s natural talent than a product of human activity.

The truth is success isn’t all that complicated. It’s the result of choices people make, both small ones and big ones, that are often contrary to what most people in society tend to do. To keep it as simple as possible, let me tell you what I first learned about success as a young high school basketball player.

I grew up in a little place called Raytown, Missouri. If you look on a map, it’s an insignificant suburb just southeast of Kansas City, and most people have never heard of it. However, if you lived in Raytown when I was growing up, there was one thing you knew for sure: Bud Lathrop was one of the greatest high school basketball coaches in the country.

Look it up. He has his own wikipedia page. His 956 wins over a 48-year career are the most in the state of Missouri by over a hundred, and he is 7th all-time among high school basketball coaches in the United States. From 1994-96, I had the privilege of spending every day in his gym listening to him share his thoughts about life and being successful, and he was a good ol’ boy; he kept it really simple for us.

He had some great one liners about basketball and about our relationships with girls, which always made us laugh and think. Quite contrary to what most coaches do with their practice time. And he played Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” before every practice.

Of all the things he would say to us, there is one that I embraced and often repeated to those I’ve had the honor to coach, and it is this:

“Successful people have formed the habit of doing things unsuccessful people don’t want to do.”

Let me break this down into a step you can take today. If there is something you know will make your life better, whatever it may be, and you don’t really want to do it, then this is your cue that you should do it. Put it this way: nobody wants to wake up early and work out, but a successful person will do it anyways, and do it consistently until it has become a habit. Nobody wants to live on a budget, but a successful person will do it month after month until it is a part of her DNA.

What is it that you don’t want to do, but you know it will make your life better? I recommend doing that today. Then do it tomorrow, and keep doing it until it has become a habit.


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