20 Uncommon Truths on Success you Need to Know in your 20s

We live in a land of abundant opportunities, especially with the advent of internet and social media. In our meritocratic society, success is supposedly within the reach of anyone regardless of our circumstances and age in life. We see people setting up fortune 100 companies from garage and dorm in their 20s while others struggle their whole lives. Clearly, successful people must know something that common people don’t.

How much do you know about achieving success? This article reveals the 20 things you probably never thought of.

1. The bottom is overcrowded, be ambitious

According to Silicon valley investor, Tim Ferris, the whole world overestimates their competition and underestimates themselves. The result is that they strive for mediocrity. “I will be happy to just score a B for my exam :) ” Since most people have the same tendency, competition is much higher at the bottom where everyone wants to be. Michelangelo said : “The greatest danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” Go to where there is lesser competition by aiming for the top.

2. Follow your effort, not your passion

This is an advice given by billionaire entrepreneur, Mark Cuban. Passion is a big word that causes people to stay in a perpetual state of inertia. The guru who told us to follow our passion failed to recognize that there are only few people in this world who truly knows what they are passionate about in life. What about the other 99%(not statistically proven) of the population ? Bestselling Author, David Allen said: “Passion is overrated, you get depressed as fast as you get passionate.” Rather than going after the foggy & abstract concept, choose to focus on your effort. Your effort is a result of a subconscious calculation of your own strengths & weaknesses and the opportunities & threats in the external environment to give rise to an intuition that tells you that this is what you should do.

Mark Cuban

3. Reality is malleable

I know this is contrary to what your teachers in school told you – that the textbook contains the ultimate reality which you should just assimilate without questioning. Steve Jobs said: “Everything was made up by people who were no smarter than you.” Even the ‘truths’ on this article merely reflects the opinion of the author. If you study real hard and earn a PHD, you can also write the next textbook that constitutes the ‘reality’ for the next generation.

4. Success is not easy

By default, we assume otherwise because the world subtly bombards us with easy promises of success. Open Facebook and you see your ‘friends’ posting pictures of their nicely chiseled abs & bulging biceps or the successful speech they just delivered. Advertisers constantly entices us to make purchases with their latest products that ‘guarantees’ that you be as slim as Jessica Alba in 10 days , gain the business acumen of Bill Gates in 1 week and the list goes on. Few of us have ever seen the stories behind these successful people who eat unappetizing protein-laden meals or buried themselves in pile of books as thick as the phone directory everyday to get to where they are. Life is not easy.

5. Luck is at play

Lets admit it, making your way to forbes list is going to take some form of luck, whether it be a helping hand from a mentor or a groundbreaking business idea from who-knows-where. Instead of complaining that lady luck is smiling at Mark Zuckerburg rather than you, why don’t you be grateful that you are not the unlucky one getting hit in a car accident and becoming a paraplegic ? Aim to be a great man by doing what is within your control- study well if you are a student and work well if you are an employee. The rest is bonus.

Mark Zuckerberg

6. Sacrifice is inevitable

No, you can’t have the best of both worlds. There are certain things you have to let go in order to move further in life. When Steve Jobs quit his studies in Reeds College, he gave up on the certainty of a graduate salary in exchange for a high-risk but passion-filled career. Most things in life involve trade-off, and perfect solutions don’t exist. If you want to attain good grades or build up a huge business, you may not be able to go for as many parties as you wish to. The faster you can accept what you give up, the quicker you can get to where you want to go.

7. Guru’s advice may not be good

Have you ever followed the golden words of an ‘expert’ blindly ? Driven and ambitious young people have the tendency to seek out the advice of gurus and experts to find the common thread among them and piece out the ‘formula’ of success. This is because we are accustomed to seek out step-by-step solutions to a problem. Little do we realize that life is a different ball game altogether from school. It requires you to get your feet wet and feel your way through. The calling and journey for each and everyone of us is vastly different. There is no one straight path to success. Listening and following the contradicting advice of various gurus will only get you more confused, follow your guts and write your own textbook for success instead. ( Do note an exception to this rule, you can listen to the advice on this article. )

8. Nothing can replace hard work

Not talent, not luck, not money. Malcom Gladwell coined the renowned 10,000 hours rule which states that you need to clock 10,000 hours of practice in order to become world class in any field. Michael Jordan was not particularly tall, neither was he distinctively agile as compared to his peers. The only reason he was able to become a sports legend is that he worked extremely hard, staying back everyday after training to undergo more training. Similarly, the only way to be successful is hard work.

9. Life is simple

Since young, we learn mind-boggling concepts such as laplace, e=mc2 , periodic table and more. With about 100billion neurons with 7000 synaptic connections on each one of them, our brain is undoubtedly one of the most sophisticated entities in the world. It is understandably hard for us to come to terms with the fact that the answer to our greatest question in life is actually simple, simpler than 1+1=2. Success is doing the same things over and over again. Happiness is having a simple meal with our loved ones. We thought it should be some rocket science and overcomplicate matters. Life is not easy, but it is simple.

Success is simple

10. Fear is not a bad thing

If you are going to do something of significance to the world, fear is going to be omnipresent throughout your journey , like it or not. We misunderstood fear as a sign of weakness and an indication that we should give up. That is when we fail. We fail to recognize that successful people experience fear as well, the difference being that they feel the fear and do it anyway. Make fear your friend and look forward to being scared and you will be on your way to success.

11. Success isn’t like what you imagine

If you are unhappy right now, you will be not be any happier when you are rich, famous and wealthy. Trust me on that. Many successful people experienced the Arrival Fallacy in which they discover that happiness has nothing to do with external circumstances, but everything to do with inner mental habits. Here’s a frequently repeated, counterintuitive factoid: people who win large sums in the lottery are no happier, over time, than people who become paralyzed in traumatic accidents. You can be happy by re-programming your mind to think happy- constantly expressing gratitude for what you have and looking at the positives, not by achieving ‘success’.

12. Suffering people causes suffering

Sometimes, we get too caught up in people’s drama and allow the negative emotions to weigh us down. We never move out of the emotional quicksand to make progress in life because we took it personal. But the problem lies in them and not in you. Psychologists have shown that those who are negative about themselves also tend to be oversensitive and judgmental. You just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up being a punching bag for them. Other people’s opinion of you is none of your business, move on with what you should do.

Negative emotions

13. You only need to be good at one thing

Steve Jobs was a genius in marketing while Steve Wozniak complemented him as a gifted engineer who single-handedly designed Apple I and Apple II, the first two products of Apple. Both of them played critical roles in Apple’s ascent into a world-class IT company which would not have happened if either of them tried to stick their nose into the other’s business. Steve Wozniak, a self professed introvert would have done a terrible job at selling Apple computers. Likewise, decide what you are good at and devote your effort into it. Focus on your strengths instead of fixing your weaknesses. Don’t go into a career just because it is ‘cool’, look within yourself to find The One Thing.

Steve Jobs

14. You are awesome

Have you ever wondered why you can tell that one object is nearer to you than the other ? Why are you able to hear your name being whispered from another corner of the room even in the midst of a noisy party? Your brain receives the signal from your sensory organs and puts it through vigorous processing to interpret the input, all within split second. Our brain is extremely powerful, and we have not even begun to fully utilize it. You have power beyond imagination. There is greatness within you waiting to be unleashed, you just need to get yourself out there and out of your comfort zone to release it.

15. You have no free will

You have lesser control over yourself than you think. Many of the behavioral and thought patterns you carry out on a daily basis are automatic and unconscious. It is a result of the programming done by the environment you have been exposed to. If you have not been able to motivate yourself to sit down obediently by your study desk on a Saturday afternoon, its not your fault. Its your environment.

What can you do about it ? Fabricate your environment by choosing your friends wisely. As was famously proclaimed by self development expert, Jim Rohn, “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” Social psychologists have found out that people who are surrounded by obese friends are more likely to be overweight because the habits, behaviors and mindset diffuse in the group. Who do you want to be ? Look for 5 of them with your desired traits and you will be no.6 very soon.

16. You are a human being

This means that you don’t have all the answers in life. You are also susceptible to all sorts of disempowering emotions such as fear, lethargy, sadness and so on. Everyone, (yes everyone) including billionaires, history-makers and celebrities experience the same set of conditions. We have the tendency to put up a strong front and act like Hercules ( from watching too many Hollywood movies). In reality, your friends are just as lost and clueless as you. No man is an island, seek the help of fellow human beings and relish in the social support provided by them. The answer will come to you soon, you just have to bend forward and listen.

17. You don’t owe the world anything

We behave like we do and based our decisions on what people think of us. What if Peter becomes angry at me for taking on an internship at Google? What if Mary de-friend me for posting my success quotes on Facebook? Surprise! Peer pressure is not exclusive to 5 year old kids. No matter what you do, you are going to offend someone. There will always be people who find ways to take what you do personal. As Nike says, just do it.

18. You are not as important as you think

This is hard to digest but you have made yourself too important. You are only one out of 7 billion human beings on Earth which is one out of 60 billion planets in Milky Way. You are a micro-organism from the view of the sun. Do you want your existence to mean anything or just a waste of natural resources? You are not too important to fail, too important to contribute or too important to serve. Do something meaningful today.

19. You are ready

We wait for all the stars to be aligned before we take action to pursue our dreams. We tell ourselves that we are too young, lack the network &experience and are not ready to take the plunge. At 21, we are too young. At 25, we are too young. Then when the kids come at 30, we tell ourselves we are too………. OLD. Fabricating excuses becomes a habit and sadly speaking, we believe our own lies that we are not ready. Martin Luther King said : The time is always right to do what is right. Start to believe that you are ready and you will be ready.

Time is Precious

20. You are already successful

People spend all their lives pursuing this elusive target known as success but it never crossed their minds that they may already be successful. Success is defined very narrowly by conventional wisdom as the possession of material wealth such as the famous 5 Cs of Singapore. John Wooden, legendary basketball coach defines success as such: Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming. Earl nightingale, father of self development says that success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal. None of them has anything to do with tangible ownership. The bottom line is that there are 101 definitions of success by various gurus but you alone decide if you are already successful and whether you want to give yourself that self-respect. You can define success as having finished reading this long article and coming to tip #20.

What’s next?

Now, you have a better understanding of success, which is itself a vague idea to begin with, there’s some homework for you to do. Sit down and define success in your own terms, map out your steps towards it and stay happy no matter what happens to your plan for success. Many things are not within your control, don’t beat yourself up for falling short of it. Read the 20 truths from time to time to remind yourself what it means to be successful so that you do not derail from your own journey in this noisy world. Always remember you are the author of your own life and you write your own reality!

Measure of success

The ‘20 uncommon truths on success’ is condensed from a myriad of publications on the topic of success by various unconventional luminaries whom I spent great effort researching into. If you think that your friends can benefit from the knowledge of these truths in any way, please share it! They (and I) will be grateful for it.

Author: Ted Chong

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