So here's the question:
the things that lead to success?
First, let's define
success: accomplishment of an aim, or purpose; achieving a
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
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.
comfort in mediocrity, and are permitted to live comfortably.
And still others embrace failure, and have a hard time making
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
Personal sources -
Motivation and ability:
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-
most part, opportunity is an external source, one that involves
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.
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.
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
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
Fred inherits a business from his rich
C - Ability alone leads to
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
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
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 on...as shown
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...
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
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!)...as 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.
see our article about causality (which relate somewhat to this
article about success)
go to the brief introduction to Money Matters
go to the brief introduction to Hot Topics
go to the Articles Page.