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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Previous comments

" To me, saying if you aint successful it's your fault, just isn't right."

I agree Russ. A good seed won't bring forth fruit on bad ground. Meanwhile, a bad seed won't bring forth fruit on good ground. If we think of the individual as a seed and the economic environment as the ground, then both must be good in order to bring forth success.

One of the things I'd like to warn young photographers about is the half-truths that they will often hear about success. Many successful people (or at least those that consider themselves successful) think pretty highly of themselves. They like to attribute all of their success to their own talent and merit. That's one of the reasons why pro-photographers are always saying "talent is all that matters" etc.

But the truth is that most people can attribute a good portion of their success to environmental factors. This could mean that they were in the right place at the right time, or maybe they have social connections, or maybe they just got a lucky break. Very few people ever admit to this although they will often be the first to talk about individual talent and motivation etc.

Talent and motivation certainly matter. Those things are necessary to be "good seeds." But the environment matters too, and I hope that young folks don't ever get discouraged or blame themselves for environment and social factors that are outside of their control. Also, don't expect to hear much honest talk of these factors from successful photographers. Most of them will downplay these issues in order to prop up the belief that they made their careers on pure merit.

RUSS's picture

 very well said.
For me, I am reminded how different the same exact location can be for different people.
Me being in this area, i have a good paying job and am able to afford many things that we don't need, but do want. Like going out to eat
And then again in this location there is Joe. Lost his job in I.T when his company moved customer service/tech support to India. Being a few years older than most, he's been unable to find work in any of the I.T. positions that come up, and is forced to be on food stamps, and social programs to get him and his family what they need.
Two different Americas for two people that live a mere 100 feet away from each other.

"Two different Americas for two people that live a mere 100 feet away from each other."

Amen to that!

Tom's picture

He didn't say if you aren't successful, he said if you don't like your life. There is a difference. Success is subjective and is defined differently for every individual. You can be "successful" and still not like your life. I have a very good job with many benefits, but it no longer fullfils me mentally and spiritually, thus my desire for something new. You can be "unsuccessful" and still content with where you are.

What the author said rings true, if you don't like your life, and you have done nothing to change it, you have no one to blame but yourself, because you are the only one who knows what that change needs to be. Other factors may come into play, but it is up to you, no one else, to figure out how to re-arrange your priorities to get past the block and keep moving toward your goal.

Good point Russ. I definitely wasn't looking to offend those in hard times. I have family members that are without work and I don't think it's their fault; it's a hard market out there. That being said I do believe that anyone is capable of "making it" and if you're willing to do what ever it takes, I have no doubt you can make it through this recession as well. It may require making some hard changes though. 

RUSS's picture

 no offense taken Lee.
I just wanted to say my piece :)
It's always good reading what you have to say. You've got some immense talent and I love what you're doing.

Noam Galai's picture

Great post!! 

Great post, it comes at an interesting time for me. Last Friday was 

mind blown. I am glad I did read this. I always get ideas but have trouble doing it. Its like I do talk about it, sometimes actually get detailed for what i am aiming for but never actually do anything about it. Thank you for this piece of advice. 

nice article, maybe sometimes a little bit harsh but its very true. Here is a short sentence that fits to this article very well i think.

"If you dont build your dreams, someone will hire you to build theirs."

I've never heard that but that is a great quote. 

Tinefis's picture

A great article!
I recently changed my life, almost completely, and one positive thing after another keep "happening" to me. I just decided to go out and get it.
I must admit.... I watch a bit too many series on my laptop every day. But I do SO much more now with my life then I did before.
Change can be good!

Morts Photography's picture

Hi Lee,

A great article that definitely ranks amongst your better ones - packed with truths that almost hurts!

However, social and environmental limitations may also apply (I.e. you can not tell all failures that the reason why they failed was because they did not try hard enough - however this issue is very subjective)

Lee, can we get more articles like this please as I think (in particular for photo-professionals) that words says more than 1000 photos (apologies for deconstructing an overused saying)

Morts Photography's picture

PS can someone lend me 10k please :-)

David Leyland's picture

Only 10k so you decided against the Hasselblad then! ;)

Lubomir Goban's picture

Great post, really like it. Thanks

David Leyland's picture

My problem is I spend far too much time reading Fstoppers articles!!!

Kyle's picture

This article almost summarizes Dave Ramsey's 'Total Money Makeover' 

Lorenzo P's picture


Great article man.
My goal was to have sex. ACCOMPLISHED.

Great article Lee Morris, definitely going to share it on my facebook and twitter as it applies to all,= not just photographers. I really enjoyed it.

Pretty good article, It reminded me the situation I was a couple of years ago. I was doing everyone of the 5 ways to never become successful. "Fortunately" one day my tv died and I could get the time to review my life and start a change. It's incredible the amount of time we waste watching tv.

"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." Wow that sums up the past 15-years of my life. Wasted on making other people rich. I was bummed out and typed "When you're friends are more successful than you.." and this article came. up. Just what I needed to read.