Five Ways To Never Become Successful

Five Ways To Never Become Successful

I've been out of college for just 8 years now and in my mind I am far from being "successful." I'm not going to pretend that I know what it takes to become successful, obviously I'm still trying to figure that out, but I've made enough mistakes to know what not to do. This is my list of the top 5 ways to never become successful.

“Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

I can remember my first year out of college. I probably made less than $20,000 that first year. I was assisting photographers and working at a camera shop for $6/hour. I remember thinking that if I could just make $30,000 I would be rich! Why then, after just a few years, when I was making over $100,000, did I still feel like I needed to make more money to "live comfortably?" Because I had raised my quality of life. Obviously as we make more money we are going to buy nicer things but if you spend every cent you make, you're setting yourself up for failure.

If you want to make money, you are going to have to spend money. Maybe you are going to need money to start a business or maybe you are going to need money to invest in another business or the stock market, whatever it is, you are going to need a stock pile of money to get things done.

I've learned that successful people view money as what it can do for them in the future. $30,000 to a successful person might mean putting a down payment on a rental property that won't break a profit for the next 10 years, but after those 10 years they will be pulling in a steady income on it until they die. An average person gets their hands on $30,000 and they buy a car or a boat or even worse, jewelry. Some of the richest people I know appear to spend money like it has no value but with closer inspection I've seen that they are spending money on things that will make them more money.

One of my friends was doing very well financially, pulling in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from his personal business. Instead of spending that money on himself he poured all of it back into his business for three years straight while he lived with his wife and children in one of the smallest two bedroom apartments I've ever seen. During this time he drove a cheap car, wore old clothes, and didn't go out very often. He could have afforded a house; he could have afforded a BMW. Instead he put those hundreds of thousands of dollars into something that will pull in over two million this year. He saw the potential and he decided to postpone the excitement of that fancy car for the goal of being a millionaire before he turned 35.

How many of you are responsible enough to have a hundred grand in the bank and spend all of it on a business or investment rather than a house, trip, or car? Most people can't resist spending the extra hundred dollars they have in their checking account at the end of each month. The average American spends every cent they make every month and then they borrow money with credit cards and loans to buy more. Eventually they find themselves in an endless mountain of monthly payments towards debt.

But this isn't you. You want to be rich some day right? Then you better have a pile of money saved up because when that opportunity presents itself, you are going to jump on it.

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
― Leonardo da Vinci

If you already have a high paying career that you enjoy, this section isn't for you. For the rest of us that work jobs for 5, 10, or 20 dollars/hour, this is for you. I see people get stuck in the same crappy job and they feel like they can't escape. They work every single day because they have to make enough money to pay their bills and they don't have enough time to look for another job or start that business that they've always dreamed about because they are simply trying to scrape by each month. Everyone has worked a low paying job at some point in their life, there is absolutely no shame in it. The question is, what are you going to do with that job? An average person might turn that job into a life time career while a successful person will use the job as a launchpad to fund what they really want to do.

When it comes to money, you could get lucky. You could get an inheritance, you might have a rich friend or family member that wants to invest in you, or you might win the lottery but nobody can give you time. No matter how much money someone is willing to give you, you will never be able to get back that time you wasted at that crappy job year after year. If you make $30,000/year and you spend all of it on your lifestyle, guess what? You’re stuck. You now have to work that job every day simply to pay your bills month after month. If you take that same $30,000 job and you learn to live on $15,000 you now have 2 options; you can either save $15,000/year and prepare for your next big move or you can work 50% of the time and spend the other 50% of your time focusing on making your goal a reality.

My dream was to become a professional photographer. Maybe your dream is to write a book, direct a movie, open a restaurant, become a musician or create a product. If you are working so much that you come home tired every single day and you are so worn out that you just want to lay around on the weekends, you will never accomplish anything. Your job is literally sucking the life out of you and until you actually put energy into your goal, it will never become a reality.

Consider your current position at work. If everything works out for the best, where will you be with that company in 5, 10, or 20 years from now? If that doesn't excite you, it's time for a change. Don't quit your job, use your job to support the necessities in your life while you focus on doing what you really want to do. You'll know when it's safe to quit.

“Why not go out on a limb? Isn't that where the fruit is?”
-Frank Scully

By now you are probably noticing how each of these topics builds on the other. If you don't have any extra money then you will be forced to work, if you are forced to work every day you won't have time to focus on your true passion, and if you don't have any time or money you won't be able to take risks that will eventually lead to wealth.

When most people hear the word "risk" they think of something drastic like someone saying "I'm going to quit my job tomorrow and become a rock star." I don't think that is a wise risk. I've found that all of my wealthy friends take very well planned and thought-out risks. In most cases these "risks" aren't very risky at all. Even if their whole investment failed, they will still have enough money to get by each month. They will still have enough money left over to invest in something else.

The risks that the average American takes are far more horrifying: "I'm going to risk that nothing in my life is going to go wrong this month because I am going to spend every bit of money in my bank account on the new iPhone." "I'm going to risk the well-being of my family by not saving any money for my retirement." "I'm going to risk all of my possessions, credit, and dignity that I can actually afford this car or house payment every month."

If you're struggling to get by each month, you are living a much riskier life than a wealthy person "risking" millions of dollars in a business deal. It's time for you to start taking smart risks. It might be scary to leave your job but it could be the best decision of your life. It might make you feel uncomfortable to let someone critique your work but it could be your first step towards becoming a true professional. There's no way I can tell you what risks you should take in your life but If you have extra money and you have free time, you'll know when it's worth stepping out and taking that risk.

“Don't spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door. ”
― Coco Chanel

At this point you've got some extra money in the bank, you have free time, and you're eagerly awaiting to take that big risk and become successful. It's now time to watch TV. Actually, you should watch TV and surf Facebook and Reddit at the exact same time. If you do this long enough you will become rich. Wrong!

Sitting down and watching TV, playing a video game, or playing on the internet is usually a complete waste of time. Some of us are capable of controlling the amount of time we waste every day, I personally am not. Just don’t turn it on.

If you're just going to sit around and do nothing you might as well go back to your crappy job. It's time for you to do something, anything, that will be a step towards your goal. I believe the most important thing you can do is meet other people in the field that you want to enter. If you want to write a book, go take a writer out to lunch and pick their brain. If you want to direct a movie, start assisting on local commercial gigs. Remember that at this point you should have enough money saved so that you don’t need another paying job. You’d be surprised how many people you could have lunch with if you buy the food or how many jobs you can get if you are willing to work for free. You might be taking a “risk” by working for free but in many cases, it’s a wise one.

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing. ”
― Walt Disney

If you’re still reading this I would assume that you are taking this pretty seriously. You’re ready to do what it takes to inconvenience yourself today so that you can be successful in the future. Once you’ve freed yourself financially and you’ve given yourself the time and energy to succeed, it’s time to create something. If you want to become a writer you need to write your first book. If you want to become a musician you need to finish your first song or album.

The average person doesn’t have the self control to see large projects all the way through completion. The average person usually can only muster enough energy to talk about their goals, they may even be able to start doing something but for the most part, they will never finish.

In a previous article I wrote, I talked about the difference between talkers and “do’ers.” I’ve found that all of my successful friends do things, over and over again while my non-successful friends talk about doing things and rarely do anything at all. In many cases the successful do things without ever telling anyone about it until that “thing” has been completed. A few days ago I saw an interesting TED talk that actually explains this from a psychological standpoint. Apparently if you simply talk about doing something, you will give yourself the positive “feeling” of actually finishing it.

It’s time for you to earn the right to talk about your goals. Until you can prove to your friends and family that you are capable of doing what you claim you are going to do, shut up and just do it. For you next big goal, don’t tell anyone. If for some reason you fail (everyone does from time to time) at least you won’t lose the respect of those around you. Dust yourself off, set a single goal, and start again.

If you’re the type of person that has a new goal every single week you need to re-evaluate your life. If you’re the type of person that has “great ideas” all of the time but not a single idea has ever materialized, I’m talking to you. Everyone has good ideas and good intentions, but only a small group of people actually do something with them.

“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”
― Theodore Roosevelt

If you review the five attributes I featured above you’ll notice that they all have to do with personal responsibility. There’s no simple secret to success, but there are some pretty simple routes towards a mundane life at a dead-end job. This may sound harsh but I believe If you live in America and you don’t like your life, you only have yourself to blame.

If you want to do something step back and really study what you've done to make that dream a reality. In most cases you’ll find that you haven’t done anything. I've found that the only difference between a successful person and the rest of the world is that a successful person tries.

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R. J. Kern's picture

Lee, one of your best posts to date. Way to take a stance on the state of the industry of the group of "rock star followers" who need to hear the truth, not from their parents, but from one who has been there, done that. I know a few "emerging photographers" that will probably drink way to much tonight for reading this post, but then hopefully will come to their senses and make begin making a difference in their business, art, and life. 

Mike Kelley's picture

This is me walking away from the computer and going out to GET SOMETHING DONE! Yeah LEE!

Anthony Chopin's picture

You weren't supposed to share that Mike!!! Im quoting Lee directly here!! :"For you next big goal, don’t tell anyone." lol Good luck anyways though, this article just spoke to me directly also! 

Great piece, sir. Years of wisdom in them words.

Tam Nguyen's picture

Dammit Lee, this hit close to home. I can totally relate to this. I never finish anyth

Jaron Schneider's picture

I see what you did there. har har har

Arturo Paulino's picture

Couldn't agree with you any more Lee.  
Thanks for sharing brother!

I feel like you were talking directly to me in most of this article.  The fire has been lit. Thanks Lee.

David Leyland's picture

I'm not sure who said it (possibly Einstein) but I always liked the quote: 
Most peoples problem is not that they aim for the top of the ladder and don't reach it! But that they aim for the bottom of the ladder and reach it! Great article Lee and an inspiration!

I'm going to read this everyday until it sinks in... Thanks Lee!

Zach Schaffer's picture

Just an FYI, I got a malware warning when I clicked this article. might want to check that out!

Daniel Troutman's picture

I would tell you that I'm going to shut off my computer and get some work done...but then I may not do it.  So please take the following scilence to mean thank you and message recieved...................................................................

Grant Puckett's picture

If you live in America and you don’t like your life, you only have yourself to blame.

Mike Kelley's picture

This is a ridiculous and false statement.

David Leyland's picture

Hi Mike
Is that not a quote from Lee's article! Second paragraph from the end!

I find it hard to believe that Mike, the guy that wanted to be a pro snowboarder but then hurt himself and decided out of the blue to become a full time photographer and did can disagree with this comment. 

I won't deny that people are born in to privileged families in the US and there are those who aren't so lucky but with access to things like the internet I believe any person can "make it" if they put in the time and energy. Especially in the US. 

David Leyland's picture

In recent times unfortunately I have seen very successful business men having to lay people off. I have seen others go bankrupt and lose their homes as a result. To say to these people you have only yourself to blame is a rather scathing comment. I am happy you appear to be successful Lee and I hope it continues. However there are people out there through no fault of their own who are far less fortunate!

Tom's picture

I do not think that people who were laid off, those who went bankrupt, and any others who are in a situation beyond their control is who the author was addressing. It is those of us (myself included) who spend night after night watch videos or reading articles about what we would like to be doing instead of making plans to actually get to a point where we could be doing what we want. The author's words were spot on. If you have not done anything to get yourself closer to your goal, you do have no one else to blame but yourself. Yes, circumstances arise that may prevent you from... blah, blah, blah. If you have to use that as an excuse, you don't want it bad enough.

David Leyland's picture

I agree but it was an unfortunate line "If you live in America and you don’t like your life, you only have yourself to blame." I always find Lee's article to be very good. And sometimes lines get read differently depending on your personal situation.

Jarǝd Ladia's picture

Having just graduated this past May and racking my brains trying to figure out what I'm doing with my life and my futre, this is definitely something I needed to hear. Great advice, Thank you!

Paul Hance's picture

Great Post Lee. Bravo on this one you did it again. 

Jewelry are made with gold and precious stones, whose valuation increases from year to year (in southern Italy, for example, it is a tradition to give to the newborns not very expensive necklaces and bracelets of gold, because when they will be  adult, these objects' value will be much more). Just be sure to buy real jewelry and that all that glitters is gold. Art also is a good way for investing money.

Well that's a different story. In the US the majority of Jewelry is marked up a minimum of 400% so you will lose 75% of your money the second you walk out of the store. 

This describes everything that me and my boyfriend currently fight about...I'm the do'er and he just wants to play on his kinect and read comics. Somehow, I'm the bad guy (or in this case, girl) because I constantly work and progress, focusing on my photography & retouching, and "never have any fun." I have plenty of fun. He just doesn't realize that when it's your dream, it IS fun - to an extent. I still go out with friends and have a drink every once in a while though. ;)

All is very good advice..but, it's all based on the individual and not the environment.

People that live in economies that are based on fiat currencies and/or don't have adequate private property protection will never truly be financially successful no matter how hard they try. Eventually, the financial system collapses and they lose everything they built. Or, they were never able to build it in the first place due to inflation or lack of financial protections that provide market stability. Success isn't a personal problem for most people, it's an environmental problem.

America was prosperous in the past because of the stability of the money system and the protection of private property. That's all gone, and this coming generation of entrepreneurs is going to find that all the personal motivation and positive thinking in the world is NOT going to make them a success.

If the US government fails then you have a point but as long as the DOW J is at an all time high, I don't think that is a good excuse for failure at the moment. Our dollar may be worth less than it was but it isn't worthless. 

I'm glad you brought up the Dow and it's all time high. The reason it's at a high is precisely because of fiat money inflation. Fake money goes in and the Dow goes higher. If people are only looking at the Dow as an indicator, then they might be tempted to think that the economy is doing well or getting better. But, if they understand that the reason for the high is tied to inflation of the monetary supply, then really the all-time high is an indication that the economy is getting worse. Basically, Wall St is faking us out by looking prosperous while in the process of collapsing. As small business people, we've gotta be aware of these things so we don't taken for suckers. The environment is really bad right now and it's definitely a difficult time to be in business.

Everything you posted about personal motivation etc is spot-on. I don't disagree with it at all. I'm just trying to point out the importance of environment too.

If that is true then what is the best thing you could do in a time like this? The dollar itself is going down in value and the stock market is going down in value so what else is there? Precious metals? It seems like gold and silver are at absurd prices at the moment. 

I 've buying photography equipment for a long time while i'm working as a graphic designer for five years, now i realize that i'm not as wrong as i tough, thank you very much Lee!

RUSS's picture

i have a really good paying job, one of the better paying jobs in the area, for shipping and receiving.
If i don't take the time to look around me, i can forget how many people within a ten mile area of me are out of work, looking for work and not being able to find work. Carpenters, roofers, mechanics, shippers , office personnel, photographers,  all talented hard workers, but no work to be found. they're advertising on craigslist, applying for jobs on job sites even for jobs in other countries, leaving fliers in stores, on sign posts, telling friends to tell friends etc etc. nothing to be found, yet.
Money invested lost, there was this thing a while back that happened and a lot of people lost their investment money...
 To me, saying if you aint successful it's your fault, just isn't right.
Some will be successful, and by no fault of their own some won't be.
I think the best advice is, don't quit, don't get discouraged, and never stop trying.

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