5 ways successful people act differently, and the trait that makes it possible

There’s a common myths in the world of entrepreneurship that successful people were just “in the right place at the right time.” That they were somehow luckier than others who were working hard on the same problems. As I think of the really successful entrepreneurs I’ve gotten to know over the years, I have almost never found that to be the case. Instead, I find people who were working really hard on a particular problem for a good long time. And then success “happened” to them.

things successful people do

Most of the “overnight successes” I’ve met actually had 5 – 10 years of hard work behind them before people started calling them an “overnight success”.

I wish I could tell you that those early years were nothing but smooth sailing building up to their ultimate success, but that’s not true either. The folks I’m thinking of were resilient people who “made their own luck”. Here’s a few things successful people do that I noticed they all had in common.

1. They got out the door

Successful people rarely find new opportunities sitting behind their computer screen. Instead, success is often found at a conference, or in a one-to-one appointment in a coffee shop, or in someone else’s office. The funny thing is, it never looks like success before you go — it’s only afterwards that you can see how that connection led to this opportunity… Have a bias toward getting out the door, toward meeting new people. Especially when you don’t feel like it! What can you learn from this person? Who do they know who might be able to help you?

2. They are open to possibility

Leaders are the kind of people who are busy; we get things done. We like to optimize. We don’t want to waste time. We want to be efficient. But that tendency can sometimes lead us to pre-judge (I’m going to blow that guy off — I can’t see how he can help me!) and reject situations instead of open ourselves to a short phone call to see how we could help him. When I look at really successful people, I find that they are remarkably approachable and open — I think they understand just how much others have helped them, and they want to be that for someone else too.

This isn’t just true of new connections, but of old connections too. If there’s someone in their life who they know to be of high quality, they will cultivate that relationship even as they go or grow in a different direction. You never know where investments in relationship will lead.

3. They swing at a lot of pitches

When I was young and single I had a friend who invited me to go to a party with him. When we got there it was kind of a drag. Neither of us knew very many people at the party, and while it looked like people were having fun, we were sort of on the outside looking in. I was about to suggest that we call it a night when he looked over at me and said, “I bet I can get turned down by more girls tonight than you can!” He proposed that we each find someone and ask them to dance, understanding that the person who got turned down the most was the winner. Of course the only way to get turned down was to talk to people we didn’t know and ask them to dance. And honestly, that was a lot more fun than just moping around feeling left out. No one is going to say “yes” if you don’t ask — so you have to ask a lot.

This is true in so many areas of life. If we don’t ask for the business, we don’t get the order. If we don’t pitch the reporter, we don’t get in the story. If we don’t ask, “What would it take to get you to come work with us”, we won’t get the help we need. We have to ask.

But we all know there’s a dark side to asking. When we “swing at a lot of pitches” we get rejected a lot too. The more we ask, the more people will say “no”. Get used to it. As my sales coach used to say, “No means next!” Get up and ask the next person (even if they say “no” too).

4. They ask for help

When your business isn’t well established it can be intimidating to ask for help. You know that you are “faking it until you make it” but you don’t want everyone else to know too! Those who have gone on to greater success don’t want to keep “faking it”. They want to learn, to get on the right track, to make quicker, better progress; so they ask for help when they see someone with the experience and knowledge to help them. Yes, they need to admit that they don’t know, or that their business isn’t as successful as it “should” be — but how will we be successful if we don’t get the tools, the resources, the knowledge, the help that we need?

The faster you learn, the closer you get to your goal. You know when you need help; ask for it when you can.

5. Pick a lane and be patient

As I mentioned earlier, it takes years to become an overnight success. That means that you may have to work at something for years, even when success is elusive. If you are learning, if you are making fewer (or different) mistakes than you did last month (or last year), if you are seeing progress, it’s likely that you are better off building on that learning and (limited) success than starting over at something else. It’s a tough call, to know when to throw in the towel. But successful people will tell you: when faced with that question, they repeatedly chose to stay in the game.

What do all these traits have in common? What do you need to get out the door, keep yourself open to possibilities, take a lot of swings, ask for help and be patient? You need courage and confidence. You need to believe that what you are doing matters (even if you are never wildly successful). You need to believe that this is your work.

How do you keep your confidence high? How do you stay in touch with your inspiration and drive even in uncertain times? Leave us a comment and tell us about it!


  1. “Pick a lane” – and stick with it. This is the key. You must see the vision and not let others talk you into quitting. You must see the goal beyond the challenges. Wise educators know their students will persist when they have a goal beyond the current obstacle, but quit as soon as things get “hard” if they don’t. When you have a calling you will persist even when the tools you need don’t exist yet. As Brad wrote: “You need courage and confidence. You need to believe that what you are doing matters (even if you are never wildly successful). You need to believe that this is your work.”

    • Thanks Gail, glad to hear it resonates with you!

      I like the idea of a goal beyond the current obstacle. That means a vision that extends beyond the current situation too.

      Glad to have you around our community!

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