Success requires such hard work that we look for success hacks and sources of success-inducing inspiration wherever we can find them. So we sure as heck don’t want to get in our own way in the pursuit.
And yet we do.
How so? With dangerous assumptions–ones that are taken as fact, become beliefs, and ultimately misguide us.
These are the six most success-sacrificing assumptions we make and what science tells us about them.
1. “Success doesn’t happen for people like me.”
Success is for other people. The people who seem to attract it, were born for it, have all the right conditions working for them, right? Wrong.
Success is as much a self-manifestation as failure is. If you think you aren’t worthy to succeed, you won’t. In fact, Stanford University’s Alfred Bandura has established an entire field of study known as self-efficacy theory that says the link between having strong self-belief and achieving actual success is irrefutable.
2. “Others define success the same way I do.”
This is one of the most universal issues underlying dysfunctional teams that I’ve experienced. Everyone has a different definition of success which keeps the team from achieving it as a whole, and thus as individuals.
The Sales team values sales. Marketing sees success as the amount of spending behind those sales. Finance sees success as how profitable the sales are, and Product Supply as delivering the products on time. Not on the same page means not turning the page to a sustained era of winning.
Research from Leiden University (Netherlands) in 2016 shows that clear, common goals are linked to enhanced team performance. Furthermore, a classic study (1991) from the University of Michigan shows that achieving common goals and a greater sense of interdependence is more meaningful for people than the pursuit of individual goals.
Take time to understand how all stakeholders see success and work to get a common definition.
3. “What made me successful in the past will work for me in the future.”
SEC Rule 156 requires mutual fund companies to inform their investors not to base their expectations of results in the future on past performance. You shouldn’t either, when it comes to any experience you’ve had with success.
Sure, there are certain core behaviors like focus and hard work that serve as a foundation, but to treat your entire previous approach as an exact blueprint is a mistake. In fact, an entire science-backed book called What Got You Here Won’t Get You There was written on this by leadership maven Marshall Goldsmith. Take the best from what you did before and stay open to what it will take in a new setting.
4. “It’s all about who you know.”
Yes, it helps to be connected. The word I’m refuting in this assumption, though, is “all.” In conducting survey-research for my book Find the Fire, I found a whopping 60 percent of employees could name at least one time they counted too much on an influential contact to make an opportunity materialize for them. Follow-up interviews unearthed regret–for not having started with doing all the things within their control to influence success first, versus depending too much on a key contact to make it happen.
But it’s not just “If it is to be, it’s up to me.” It’s up to we–the combination of your connections and mentors as well as your laser-focus on your personal contributions towards success. No one succeeds alone.
5. “Real success requires a big, lucky break.”
I conducted a thorough review of scientific studies on top factors for success in business and found not a mention of “a big, lucky break” as a driver. Now, it can certainly help, but that assistance is more of an exception than what should be an expectation.
Research I conducted for my book Make It Matter confirmed an old adage: Luck is the intersection of preparation and opportunity. In other words, you make your own luck by being ready to strike the moment success presents an open door. Ninety percent of survey respondents answered that their hard work and preparation was the No. 1 factor for the success they enjoyed at the moment. Less than two percent cited a lucky break as a critical factor.
6. “If I fail en route, I won’t recover.”
Research (2007) from the University of Pennsylvania’s Angela Duckworth became the basis of a best-selling book and popular TED Talk. It showed that grit, the ability to persevere through failures and setbacks, is as important as one’s talent level for success.
Suffice it to say, if you fail along the path, you will indeed recover–if you have a recovery mindset and if you remember that every step you take backward pales in comparison to the sum total of progress you’ll have made to date.
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