Sources of Success

So here's the question: What are the things that lead to success?



First, let's define success: accomplishment of an aim, or purpose; achieving a goal. 

So to be successful, we must have an aim, or purpose, or goal, which we then achieve. 

And our question becomes: What sources contribute to our achievement of our aim, purpose, or goal?



The Road to Riches


Okay, for the purposes of our discussion here, let's settle on a single goal, the acquisition of wealth, or the "Road to Riches," if you will.  Let's talk about the ways people may succeed in getting rich.


One source, or many?


Single source approach - all too prevalent and not really adequate


Usually the single source that folks embrace is "hard work."  For many, success comes only to those who have clear goals and work hard to achieve them.  In other words, success comes from individual, hard work.  It's all on the individual person's shoulders and how hard he, or she is willing to work to become successful--in this case, get rich. 


From this perspective the people are often divided into three categories, based on their individual work ethic.  For example, when it comes to earning money,  they would say:


   Some people work hard and as a result are permitted to amass great wealth.

   Some take comfort in mediocrity, and are permitted to live comfortably. 

   And still others embrace failure, and have a hard time making ends meet.


In this single source approach, success comes from individual effort.  And, as a result, whatever success we might achieve is what we merit, or deserve (more about this later.), because we worked for it.


Multiple source approach - a better path to understanding


 Motivation and work alone are not necessary, or sufficient to produce (cause) success.  Such things as opportunity and ability contribute to a person's success.  Here is a graphic model that shows how all three of these can go together (some will recognize this as a ven diagram) .

Who's in control here???

Now, some of these sources are mostly under our control, and some are mostly out of our control.  The ones most in our control are the personal sources, but the external and environmental sources are much less so.

Personal sources - Motivation and ability:

Two of these sources contributing to success involve the person.  Motivation and ability are characteristics (some might say traits) of an individual. 

Of these two personal characteristics, only motivation, what we might call "will to work hard," is the one that is most under our control. 

Ability, or what some might call skill, is usually something we are born with.  We can't control how much ability we have.  But we can, through motivation and practice, raise our level of performance up to our maximum level of ability, but we can't simply will the ability into existence in the first place, nor can we surpass it. 

A person can run a hundred yard dash a thousand times, but if that person's gross motor coordination ranks toward the bottom of the scale (i.e., limited running ability), he or she still won't run a world record hundred yard dash.

Environment sources - Opportunity (what we might reasonably call "luck") and again ability-

For the most part, opportunity is an external source, one that involves environmental conditions.  

Opportunity is pretty much out of our hands.  There may be things that we can do that will maximize the possibility that luck will coming knocking at our door, but we can't, by will power alone, make it happen.

NOTE: Opportunity can also have some bearing on the personal sources, especially when we consider that our genetic makeup (who our parents are) may determine what abilities we have and perhaps even our level of motivation.


We are suggesting that there are as many as three different sources that can lead to success, and they are motivation, opportunity and ability.  Of these three, motivation is the most under our control.  Ability can't be created, but we can maximize it.  Opportunity is largely out of our hands.

Multiple combinations of sources - Here's where it gets complicated

 There are actually seven ways these three sources can contribute to success.  Let's look at them in terms of a particular goal, in this case being successful in business:

A - Motivation alone leads to success (the one often seen as the source of success). 

Fred works very, very hard to succeed in business, and he does.

B - Opportunity alone leads to success. 

Fred inherits a business from his rich grandfather. 

C - Ability alone leads to success. 

Fred is very, very smart about business, and as a result he is successful in business. 

A+B - Motivation and opportunity combine to bring success. 

Fred works hard, and his rich grandfather loans him the money to start his business. 

B+C - Opportunity and Ability combine to bring success. 

Fred finds a lottery ticket worth a lot of money which he uses with his ability in business to be successful.

A+C - Motivation and ability combine to bring success

Fred works hard and really knows the business world and thus becomes successful. 

A+B+C - Finally, motivation, opportunity and ability all combine to produce success

Fred works hard, inherits money from his rich grandfather, and has a real head for business.


Okay, those are all seven of the combinations of these three possible sources if success (motivation, opportunity and success). 

And while something like motivation may contribute a lot to a person's success, there are plenty of highly motivated people who do not succeed.  They may lack opportunity, or ability.  

Similarly, someone may be born on third base, but still not score a run without sufficient motivation or ability. 

And, as you can anticipate, the same goes for ability--there are lots of people with high ability who don't succeed, because they never use, or maximize it, sometimes because the opportunity to use it doesn't exist. 

So in the end, we may find that it takes some of all three, and possibly other sources as well.  The amount of each necessary depending upon the amount of the others.   For example:


High motivation and ability may require less opportunity,

Or high opportunity and ability may require less motivation,

Or high motivation and opportunity may require less opportunity.

and so shown below

Are there other possible sources of success?

Yes, there can be many others, which you can probably think of.  Most will probably involve the person.  To name just a few, there are personal attributes, such as emotional stability, willingness to take risks, and creativity that, combined with motivation, can contribute to the achievement of success.

They key points here are...

1.  When we seek to be successful, it is important to work hard, but that alone won't necessarily make us successful.  We need to use our talents to the best of our ability, and do all we can to maximize opportunities.

2.  When we assess the accomplishments of others, we will be more in touch with reality if we consider several sources and avoid narrowing our approach to a single one--perhaps, one that we especially values such as a high regard for hard work and diligence.   Hard work may have been a major factor, but so can things like ability and opportunity.

 Nor is it necessarily, or always true that the person completely deserves, or merits all his, or her success, when we consider the degree to which luck, or inborn talent led to it.


When we see someone who, by our standards, is NOT successful, it is inappropriate to assume the only reason is that the person failed to work hard enough.  There can be other sources that caused the person to not achieve success. 

If we keep this in mind, we won't say something like, "If Fred didn't become successful, it must have been because he didn't work hard enough," when in fact he did work hard, but he had limited ability and the breaks just didn't come his way. 

And we won't say, "Golly, George has a lot of money, which he must deserve, because he must have worked hard to get it," when unbeknownst to us, it's actually money he won in the lottery.

Finally (at last, you say!) some may have already noticed, it simply is best not to overgeneralize (a key element of stereotyping), and if we do, to keep in mind the possible, maybe even probable exceptions.

 To see our article about causality (which relate somewhat to this article about success)

 To go to the brief introduction to Money Matters

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