Belief in oneself is one of the most important bricks in building any successful venture.
~ Lydia M. Child
Success is subjective.
Upon consulting the Oxford English Dictionary, I found two distinct definitions:
- The accomplishment of an aim or purpose
- The attainment of fame, wealth, or social status
It seems to me that most people will refer to the second definition when asked what success means to them. I certainly used to. But more recently, I have come to understand that success can be something else entirely. Something that has no grounding in material wealth or social status.
In my opinion, the root of success is happiness. Nothing more, and nothing less. If in my old age I look back at a life of contentment and fulfillment, I will reflect upon a life well lived.
If someone asked me what the biggest roadblock to success is, I would say “belief”. In my opinion, belief in one’s own abilities is the key to achieving more than you ever previously thought possible. As human beings we thrive on confidence and achievement – both of which are fuelled by belief.
Which leads me to the 22 people featured below, and what they have to say. Each of the 22 are, in my humble opinion, huge success stories. Some are extremely wealthy and have achieved a high social status in their respective fields, but all are shining examples of how to live a happy and fulfilling life. I consider each and every one of them to be huge successes – regardless of their material wealth.
Which is why I am so excited to present you with their answers to this question:
At which point in life did you start believing in your ability to achieve more than the norm, and why?
To be honest, I was stunned by the incredible variety of answers that I got back – many of which stopped me in my tracks and made me reevaluate my own outlook on life. I honestly believe that the same will happen to you.
So without further ado, I will hand it over to them…
I’m not sure I ever thought much about the norm to begin with. I was a high-school dropout and juvenile delinquent. Then I found a way to make something positive with my life and I moved overseas to West Africa. Then I started traveling, and then I learned to craft a career as a writer.
The point of these things is not that I am special or anything. I think I have fairly average and ordinary abilities. But the key was in thinking differently about the world, questioning assumptions and motivations, and defining my goals based on what I actually wanted to do instead of what was easily achievable.
Those things probably helped more than anything else. It was also good that I stopped stealing cars, since I wasn’t very good at it.
I’m not sure I actually really believed in my ability to do more than the norm until after I’d quit my job and moved to Asia.
For awhile I thought it might just be an extended vacation from a desk job. Then slowly the work I was putting in began to pay off. Opportunities kept showing up simply because I put myself in a position to capitalize on them. Oftentimes you don’t realize just what’s possible until after you make the leap, and that’s why so many others never get there – they’re too afraid to take the first step.
There was a moment in college, when I was working toward two degrees and working five jobs. I had the idea to start up my first business. I really thought hard about it and realized that I wasn’t afraid.
“Why are you not afraid?” I said, internally. “This is pretty messed up, and can go completely wrong, and you’re quitting most of your jobs to start a business in an industry you know very little about.” Despite that, though, I went through with it, knowing that even if the worst happened, I would be able to bounce back from it.
That confidence stemmed from all the work I had done previously, and the buildup led to a version of myself who had seen some failure and who no longer took myself quite so seriously as to need to always be right. At that point, I wondered what exactly could stop me? What on earth could keep me from achieving what I wanted to achieve?
When I couldn’t come up with an answer, I know that I was ready to start taking on the world.
I’ve always believed I was capable of achieving more than the norm.
Most people actually think they’re above average (this is known as illusory superiority). Believing you’re capable and actually putting in the work to make above average things happen are two completely different things.
Without the effort, you’ll never be above average.
Everything changed the moment I started hanging around people who were doing the things I thought were impossible. They created a new “normal” and got me operating on a totally different level.
The fastest way to do the things that you don’t think can be done is to spend time around the people already doing them. Simple as that. Brainwash the impossible. Nothing is more powerful than environment.
It took tasting success to realize that I could really make a living on my own terms. In fact, I never dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur or even self-employed; I started doing this simply because it was the only way I could figure out how to create what I wanted to create without waiting for someone else’s approval.
I put my first eBook out into the world without knowing what to expect, and IT SOLD. That was my first taste of what I could accomplish – and it was on the side of my day job. I realized then that if I could put my entire self into what had until then been my “passion projects,” that I could really do something awesome.
When I was born.
I never had a turning point. I’ve always just done my own thing. Whether music, business, programming, whatever.
“The norm” was never on the menu, ever, from day one.
It was when I finally employed my 100th team member.
It had been a goal for a long, long time to be able to grow my business as quickly as possible, but it honestly took me a lot longer than I thought it would! Being able to support 100 families at the same time was just the icing on the cake. Now that I have 300+ people working for me I feel even more blessed than ever!
Building a successful business is awesome. But, providing mentorship and giving people the chance to better themselves is a whole different, highly enjoyable, ball game!
The honest answer is I didn’t know if I could when I started. When I started out, I wanted to change something but everything seemed literally impossible (hence the Blog of Impossible Things and Impossible HQ).
But once I started and finished one thing I thought was impossible, I kept wondering to myself, “If I thought that was impossible and I somehow managed to do it, what other things that I consider impossible are actually doable?” Over time, the circle of limitations kept expanding and pretty soon instead of telling myself that I couldn’t do something, I started asking myself “why not?”
I’ve always felt that I didn’t belong, especially in the corporate world. I’ve had plenty of different jobs, but they always felt exactly the opposite of what I should be doing with my life.
I was lucky to find my true passion through blogging when my first client contacted me out of the blue and offered me a freelance writing gig. It took a little while before I felt confident enough to leave the comfort zone of steady employment. One year later after that first inquiry, I developed my client base enough to turn a part time income boost into a full time career that I can do at home, on my own time.
With a flexible schedule on my own terms, I have the freedom to mix work and play in whenever I want which is really a dream come true!
I think deep down I have always felt like I had the potential to achieve more – it was just acting on that potential that was the problem.
I always told myself that one day things would all fall into place and I would start living on my own terms. The problem is that things very rarely fall into place – you usually have to work hard to get them into place.
I think eventually it was a combination of dissatisfaction with my job and the realisation that I had achieved very little of real value in the last 10 years or so that finally gave me the motivation to take my life into my own hands towards the end of last year. I started reading a lot of lifestyle design type blogs, and came across The Unconventional Guide to Art & Money by Chris Guillebeau, which helped give me the confidence I needed to embark on a creative career path.
Life is too short to sit around daydreaming about what might happen one day. See what amazing things other people are doing, get inspired, and start living the dream today.
I was always blessed (or cursed) with the stubborn idea that my life was more than “this”. The “this” I am referring to was everything that happened to me up until the point that I decided to live on my own terms. This job. This education. This goal. This raise. This trip. This project.
I knew I was meant to do so much more, but the big problem staring me in the face was not the lack of belief but the lack of know-how. How on earth was I to escape or deny everything I’ve known to be a definition of success? And how can I achieve so much more than the norm?
The irony is that is the only way to achieve more than the norm is to go against the tide, to break the rules, to do things your way and follow your heart. It does not mean making foolish decisions; it means making bold and brave ones. And that started happening to me after serving 10 years in the corporate world, and many more in my education program before that.
But it happened and that’s all that matters. It happened because the inside voice, that intuition inside me, got to be so loud that I could no longer ignore it. When the day comes that it happens to you, I wish you enough courage to make the right decision.
The warning signs were always there. There have been various times throughout my life where I have managed to overcome certain hurdles when I was told by many others that I would not. One of the earlier ones that springs to mind is leaving home and school at 16 to become independent without any qualifications. I was told I would be back home within 6 months – I wasn’t. It seems that the more of those hurdles you overcome, the more likely it is that you will start to believe that you are capable of achieving more than what is considered “the norm.”
So, I deliberately began putting myself into more unconventional situations, ones which would need a great deal of commitment, determination and a fair amount of courage to undertake…and the more I did them, the more ‘wins’ (Michelle vs Norm) I got, and the more confident I became in my ability to break away from what was considered as normal.
Everything finally clicked into place when I was 23 and sitting in the living room of my house, which I had just sold, having quit my ‘stable’ but painfully dull job just 3 months before. I had sold everything and bought a plane ticket to Egypt, not knowing what I was going to do when I got there, how I was ever going to earn any money, or even if I was ever coming back. It turned out, I discovered the Internet, created a business and made a whole new life for myself that other people tend to dream about. I never went back.
The fact remains, everyone has a fear of the unknown, but once you come to a point where you realize there’s nothing to lose that really truly matters, you can achieve amazing things.
I’d like to think that I started believing in my ability to achieve more than the norm from a very young age, when I wanted to make money and build a great career without working for the government or anybody else. I was determined to make it work no matter what, so this was the beginning of me believing in my ability to achieve more than the average.
However, when I really started to believe in myself was just recently. Around a year or so ago, my confidence level soared to its highest when I realized that I could hardly move forward without confidence. Clients were sometimes playing games with me since I hardly ever challenged their decisions, but it got to a level when I could no longer take it. I started charging clients the highest possible (like $200 – $300 for an article when I usually charge around $70 – $100 before) and I started writing my articles and emails like an expert instead of an amateur.
The funny thing was, when I started making these changes (challenging clients that tried to cheat me, writing more authoritatively, etc.), instead of trying to avoid me, people actually started craving for more of me. Clients started paying me what I’m worth for my services, and I started getting feedback and testimonials from people that my tips were helping them.
It was when I realized there was something more than normal out there available to me – when I was laid off and was forced onto an abnormal path, which I’m very thankful for.
If only I knew how capable I was before getting laid off, I’d be that much more ahead. I think everyone just needs to try something “off the normal path” and experience it to see how far they can really take themselves.
I’m not sure about a first time, but how about every time I go for a dream of mine and make it happen. The last massive one was hopping on a plane with a one-way ticket in 2009 after finishing my Master’s degree. I had wanted to travel without a return date for ages and finally did it – for two years.
After a while, I realized that I have the ability to freestyle life, work and plans and thus design my own dream life far away from the land of average. I am not scared to take risks anymore or to leave everything behind. I can live and make money anywhere, which is what I do now.
You have to do something scary once or until you succeed, and then you have to do it again. That’s the only way to start believing in your own abilities. Achieving more than the norm means taking risks. Otherwise everyone would do it and then it wouldn’t be unconventional anymore. The best way to do that is to stop thinking and rationalizing. It’s only our own fears that keep us from doing amazing stuff.
When I was 20 years old, I really started to embrace learning in general. The concept of self improvement was incredibly appealing to me and so I read more and more stuff. As I did this, I also started having opportunities, from this early age, to speak to large groups of people. Within a short period of time, I realized speaking and communication were where I felt most at home. For whatever reason, when I’d get in front of a group of 50 or 100 people I felt relaxed, in my element,and at peace. It was then that I knew I was supposed to communicate for a living.
But around age 23 I got into business with two other partners and this took me away from being able to speak to groups of people for about 8 years. During this time though, I really learned about business, marketing, and sales. Eventually, around the age of 32, I put all my knowledge and strength together, and started my communication and writing platform– The Sales Lion. It took some time to get going, but as I continued to push and push and push the speaking opportunities came. I had a story to tell and I told it well. Audiences and businesses responded.
Today, at the age of 34, I speak around the country and get to do what I love. My speaking style is incredibly unique and interactive– but it’s me, through and through.
Even better, I know it’s just beginning.
Spending a year at a job you hate is the best way to start believing in an extraordinary life. For many years I wanted something more. But it took a boring, 9 to 5 job to give me that final push to start taking action.
What’s funny is that I think most people want to go beyond the norm. The difference is that they’re not willing to push past their comfort zone.
I had many fears when I left my job. There was a chance that things could have gone really wrong. What got me through this time was stubbornness. I wanted a great life and was willing to do anything to achieve it. This mindset definitely helped whenever a major obstacle popped up.
The journey that we all need to take is inside, not outside. You wanna create an extraordinary life? Become an extraordinary person!
My sense of what was possible with my life shifted when I took time to travel alone though Europe for 5 weeks. Blah blah blah. Yada yada yada. We’ve all heard about someone taking a trip that changed their life in some way. But here’s why it changed mine:
I realized that I wasn’t my thoughts!
Up until then I identified “who I was” by “what I thought.” But being alone in a new environment for that amount of time allowed me to realize that my thoughts are just habits – habits of my mind! And if they’re habits, I can change them!
Whoa! If I could change my thoughts, I could change myself. And if I could change myself, I could change my life.
In my own personal way, I embodied what the father of the Positive Psychology movement, Marin Seligman, calls learned optimism!
Starting to believe in myself wasn’t an overnight success. It took some time after burying myself under a lot of self-doubt.
It started with an understanding that I am 100% responsible for everything that happens in my life. The situation I put myself in didn’t just happen by accident, but because of the small and big choices I had made. When I realized that I had put myself in that position, I knew that I could use that same power to get myself out of it. That was the first step.
I think it really hit me that I could achieve more than the norm was when I finished my first half marathon. I trained diligently for three months. I completed a goal that I thought wasn’t possible for me and I finished the race leaving everything I had on the course. I felt amazing. I was in the best shape of my life. I felt like this whole new world was ready for me to conquer. Soon after that I started my blog and development on my first iPhone app, which ended up earning me $32,000 in the first 30 days, seven months later.
I think I knew deep down for a long, long time that I was capable of more than the norm, but it took quite awhile before I could live out that truth and truly believe in myself (and by the way, I am not making a full time living yet since quitting my corporate job – I’m still living off my savings, although I have things in the works).
I wish I could tell you exactly how and when that shifted, but I’m not sure I can. It seemed to happen slowly over time. I don’t think there’s a clear cut, one step to “believing in yourself”; rather, it’s a process.
There are, however, two things that I believe were imperative.
1. Taking Action
I always had a “feeling” that I could achieve more than the norm, but for years I was too scared or uncertain or lazy to take any action. This all began to change once I took one small step forward. After I began writing my blog and putting it out there to the world, my belief in myself and my abilities skyrocketed. It all happened very slowly and gradually – I didn’t begin with any great expectations or even with the intention of quitting my job or doing what I’m doing today, but the important thing is that I started.
Once I realized I could do one little thing, it became easier to do more… and more… and more, one small step at a time, until I found myself where I am today (and I continue to take steps now and have much farther to go! ;))
So my advice to anyone who wants to achieve more than the norm is this: just take one small step forward, and do it now! Nothing happens overnight, but your confidence and your ability will grow with time. Also, you don’t have to see the whole picture when you’re first starting out. Just start somewhere! You can change your course over time; nothing is set in stone.
2. Surrounding Myself with the Right People
There is absolutely no way I would have had the courage and the strength to continue taking steps forward without support and belief from others. The people you surround yourself matter, and they matter a lot. No one can do it alone. Start taking steps forward and then make a conscious effort to seek out, and to surround yourself with, people who believe in you as a person.
I feel very lucky that my parents instilled a sense of independence in me.
“Don’t worry about what other people think, just do what you know is right,” is a message that was repeated many times in many ways. My parents have lived a fairly conventional life; my dad is a lawyer and my stay-at-home mom got more serious about art and design once she had an empty nest.
So for me, it’s not that I had this big moment of “I can do better than the norm.” It’s just been a underlying current of “I can do it my way.” It can reveal itself as stubbornness and definitely work against me. But I’ve always thought that I’d rather make my own mistakes than get someone else’s A+.
A huge thank you goes out to everyone who took the time to contribute to the incredible collection of stories above – I am forever in your debt. If you took value from this article, please take a moment to share it amongst your friends via the buttons to the left.
Now it is your turn – I want you to add your answer to my question in the comments section below:
At which point in life did you start believing in your ability to achieve more than the norm, and why?
If you don’t yet have the answer to that question, then tell us – what is holding you back?
As always, I look forward to engaging with you!
Creative Commons photo courtesy of openlibrary.org