The lengthiness of this article is to be expected. Success rarely has any shortcuts, unless you are the exception to the rule. Read the whole thing!
I am a martial arts teacher and school owner. I don’t like being put on a pedestal, but whether I like it or not, a leadership role is placed on my head. Sometimes, my conversations with students are not always just about Krav Maga and martial arts. Sometimes, students ask about life advice, personal demons, and other problems. People who know me well know that I am a frank and blunt person. Krav Maga teaches us that reality is not always as nice and kind as we would like to pretend it to be. Likewise, while my approach to advice giving is not always the kindest most empathetic or sympathetic, sometimes (or a lot of times nowadays) people need a hard dose of reality.
The students who are more receptive to help, advice or encouragement are often reassured by my words. Others who do not like to be challenged, or are not receptive to my advice, often just get annoyed with me. Whatever my advice is, I am really just acting as a guide. From that point on, it is up to the individual to sort out his or her problems.
Often, students who come to UTKM aren’t here just to learn self-defense. For whatever reason, people come to us from all over the place and all walks of life to better themselves. Some of them have an insane amount of talent but lack the confidence to use it. Some of them have too much confidence, but lack competence to back it up. Some of them have had very difficult lives and are just trying to make it by. The thing is, we need to remember that we are simply all the same species with the same general goal of surviving, being prosperous, and being happy.
For some, this comes with ease. For others, it is a struggle. Of course, there are so many variables in life, and many are against us. Through my personal battle with depression, I have learned that the only one who can make it better inside and out is yourself. Others can only guide you.
What does it take to be successful?
Just so you know, banking on being the next Bill Gates is less likely than winning the lottery. Winning the lottery just requires luck, but being Bill Gates takes more than that. You can still be successful even if you are not the next Bill Gates, Elon Musk, or Richard Branson. These people are the exception to the rule and, as much as we don’t like it, not everyone can be the best. We need to stop lying to ourselves. We can only strive to be the best version of ourselves. Then, you will find all the success you will ever need.
I have broken down the concept of success into a simple model. Again, my advice may not be the softest and kindest, but again, like Krav Maga, it faces the scrutiny of reality.
As you can see, I have broken it up into two major categories: on the left are things you either inherently have or can acquire and have direct control over, and on the right are things that you can have but cannot control entirely. You can lack some internal factors and still succeed, as some things can compensate for others. However, you cannot lack the external factors, as they are necessary for success. (This is the unfortunate truth.) Of course, if you are lacking in all areas, then you may need to face reality, re-evaluate aspects of yourself and life, and find another path.
#1 Skillset. This is a very important one. In order to succeed, you need to know your strengths. What are you good at doing? However, more importantly, you need to know your weaknesses. What are you not good at doing? Too many people put emphasis on the positives when it comes to skillset, and don’t consider the negatives. Sometimes (or a lot of times), not knowing what you are bad at and still attempting it can become a disaster. Fortunately, skills can be learned. Some come naturally and some are more difficult. Still, everything has its limitations. You can’t learn everything. Inevitably, there must be something you are bad at doing, and that means you must know when you need help and who you can turn to when specialization is required.
In school, they might convince you not to be a jack of all trades, that you need to specialize. If you’re good at many things, life will be a little easier since you may not have to work as hard. The problem is that If you are not good at everything, then you might want to consider specializing in something. If you try to be good at everything when you’re not, then your life will be an uphill battle.
To specialize or not to specialize? That is the question…
Some skillsets, however, are out of your control, such as your overall intelligence or physical limitations. Some people have to work harder than others to get to the same place. That is simply reality. The important thing is to accept what you are good and not good at doing. The other important thing is to know what you can learn and what you can’t, whether it’s due to your inherent ability, or time, or money. When you know the difference between when you can do, what you cannot, what you can learn, and what you cannot, then you will be able to formulate a plan to compensate for what you lack. If you cannot do something, and cannot learn it either, and you continue trying to do it, then you have or will have a problem. It doesn’t matter if you can’t do something. It simply means your success lies in partnering with those who complement the skills you do not have.
We are a social species. Humans live in groups because we need each other. Whether or not you have skill is less important than knowing yourself, being aware of and accepting what your strengths and weaknesses, and appropriately creating meaningful relationships so you can fill in the gaps. Stop trying to do everything yourself if you don’t have the skills, and stop trying to prove you do everything (because you just can’t, it’s a human limitation). Acceptance is the first step on the path to success.
#2 Confidence. Confidence can be a double edge sword. If you have confidence without skills, then you are just crazy or delusional, especially if you never see results. If you have confidence and skills but lack social skills, then you may be awkward or arrogant. If you have confidence and skills and social skills, then you might just be well adjusted.
Having confidence goes a long way. Also, believe it or not, confidence is a learned skill. You learn it from life, doing things, trial and error, and your historical precedence. If you succeed 9/10 times, you should have confidence. If you fail 9/10 times, you probably shouldn’t have confidence in that. (Yes, many motivational things regarding failure and relentlessness and perseverance and not giving up say that failure is important. Thomas Edison himself said that failure is just finding out what doesn’t work 999 out of 1000 times. Again, however, he is not an average person. Also, he stole a lot of his ideas from Nikola Tesla anyway, so you can’t really follow his example.) If you are consistently failing at something, you can fix it by either acquiring the skills, or accepting that you’re just not good at it (as I said above), or finding another solution through problem-solving (as I will explain below). If you’re consistently failing at something and still think you are great at it, that is disbelief (or arrogance). Arrogance will hinder you from success. As I said, confidence comes with trial and error, then practice. When you can back up your claims with real ability, then your confidence is justified. Confidence will propel you to success.
When I was younger, just like most young guys, I wasn’t very good with women. Options are limited when you’re in high school, and I wasn’t very social outside of school, and then considering I wasn’t the most popular kid in school made mating endeavors hard. But the thing is… If you don’t try, you will never succeed. It wasn’t until my adult life that I forced myself to get out there, even though I still struggled socially, and learn about women and be better at interacting with them. However, I would never have learned and improved if I hadn’t exposed myself to new environments and new people, and increased my chances of successful female encounters.
As a teenager, any confidence I had about women would have been false. As I grew older and gained more experience, confidence that I have becomes more rightful, and people (including women) are more receptive to me now. Of course, I’m not some Brad Pitt or supermodel type, but this is a fact I have accepted and I’m still confident with who I am.
Obviously, my ingredients for success are not just relevant to human mating strategies, but it’s a relatable example. Generally speaking, if you are good at something, then you should be confident even if you are not the best because you are probably still better than most. I know so many people who are extremely talented but doubt themselves simply because they are not the top of their industry and thus have a hard time utilizing their skills to find success. As I mentioned earlier, we can’t all be the best since that is simply not possible. Honestly, if your skillset is such that you are better than, say, 80% of the population, then you should be brimming with confidence.
Accepting the reality that your ability is good and better than others, regardless of whether or not you’re the best, will be another step toward success. Success isn’t about being at the top. You may never be at the top, but you can find success nonetheless. All you have to do is recognize that you are good at _______. Repeat after me, “Yes, I am good at dance,” and “Yes, I am good at art,” and “Yes, I am a good teacher…” or mechanic, or manager. You get the idea.
Recognizing and accepting that you are good at a given skillset should naturally give you the confidence to keep moving forward. Unless you have tried and tried and tried and still can’t do well, then have some belief in yourself! If the evidence is there that your ability is good, then confidence you should have!
#3 Problem Solving. Problem-solving is extremely important and often overlooked. Problem-solving skills are the skills to pay the bills. If you’re not great at an inherent talent, but you’re great at problem-solving, then you’re a quick study. If you can solve problems effectively, you can move forward quickly and still find success.
By the way, problem-solving and critical thinking are key aspects of Krav Maga, which most people overlook because they are not physical attributes. It is often more important to learn how to think than to learn the actual techniques. This is because life will inevitably throw curveballs at you at any random moment, and instead of jumping to the default fight or flight or freeze reaction, you must learn to adapt and solve your problems so that you can move forward positively. Mistakes can be made, bruises can happen, but you must learn to move forward.
Ever wonder why sociopaths are often successful? Sociopaths are often very functional, very intelligent, and very good at problem-solving. Yes, they have over inflated egos, but because they are confident and are great at problem-solving, they can overcome a lack of underlying skills. As they say, fake it till you make it. Of course, that means you can’t fake it forever. You also need to make it. This is why people like Jordan Belfort from Wolf of Wall Street (2013) often come crashing down eventually. (Also, because most of the time they’re doing illegal and douchey things.)
But this just proves that if you have confidence and good problem-solving skills, then you can overcome a lack of skillset by simply learning and acquiring as you go, or finding the right people you need to work with to compensate. Although, problem-solving tends to be an innate skill or something learned and built up from a young age. Sure, there are games and brain booster apps out there, but you have an inherent limit. If problem-solving is not your strength, you may have to lean on skills and confidence areas to help lead you to success.
Of course, you will have a problem if you lack skills, lack problem-solving, and rely on confidence alone. Confidence without the justification is just fantasy, and people will not take you seriously until you acquire what you need to back up your claims. Again, it doesn’t mean you cannot be successful. Don’t despair! Your solution is finding the right person or people to rely on to help fill in the gaps and build a successful working team. A team supports each other by making up for each others’ weaknesses. But struggle to recognize your own limitations, and your team may come to resent you over time.
On the other hand, if you lack overall skillset and are not that great at problem-solving, but still have confidence, chances are your gift is connecting people. Then, boy are you in luck because you can learn to recognize opportunity, and thus find your success by being a middle-man of deals. Which brings us to the next section.
Opportunity & Luck. Opportunities are not a dime a dozen. You’re out of luck if you miss a big one that might just have been it. On the other hand, many little opportunities can still add up to potential success.
Okay, so I lied before. Sometimes, opportunity can be in your hands. I touched on this a bit in the previous section. When it comes to opportunity, it is about putting yourself out there. It could be simply a matter of going out some place and having the right conversation with the right person at the right time. That fact that it happened at the right moment is luck, but the fact that you put yourself in the situation in the first place is opportunity.
There is a reason they say the majority of business is done on the golf course (or for other cultures it may be at the post-work restaurant/bar). Sometimes, the best opportunities come up in casual environments. When you’re in the office, meetings, or traditional settings, people are usually constrained by the roles they are expected to play, and also may be cautious of reprisal should something be rejected. Luckily, this means that opportunity is everywhere.
I once went to a fairly high-end company party (not my company) where there were an open bar and lots of food. Someone asked me, “Does anything ever come out of these? Because most of the time half the people are just drunk until fairly later on.” The answer is… Yes! Casual and probably drunken conversations are often the reason for good, fairly substantially large deals.
However, this is the reason why I mentioned at the beginning that both internal and external factors need to work together. I said that Step 1 is putting yourself out there. Well, the pre-Step 1 is confidence! If you aren’t confident, you wouldn’t put yourself out there. Step 2 is… to go out without any real expectations. Sounds sad, but that the thing about opportunity and luck. You never know when it will happen. The more important part is to put yourself out there and be yourself and wait for the opportunity to happen. Then… this part is the big one. It is recognizing potential opportunities when they are right in front of you.
Having confidence can get someone interested in you, having the ability to prove your worth after the initial will make the opportunity a reality, and having the problem-solving skills to close the deal will lead on your path to success. However, if you don’t grab onto the opportunity, and don’t follow through with it, then it won’t matter that it happens and you’ll have to wait for the next opportunity (if it will come at all). Opportunities don’t happen in one instance. Sometimes, the opportunity leads to an introduction of partners or sponsors, and then further planning is needed. That’s how you seize the opportunity. Ideas and conversations are great, but if there is no follow-through and meaningful work was done, then it’s pointless.
Sometimes success is not what you thought it might be. Maybe, recognizing your strengths and weaknesses, learning to be better, and accepting yourself is the kind of success you need to lead you to far greater happiness.
There is more than one path to success
I hope you are starting to see now that there is actually not one set of ingredients for success. Success is achieved through a matter of knowing what you are good at, what you are not, and filling in the blanks appropriately. Success is sucking up your ego and pride to do things that you might not like, or partnering with people you may not like, even if temporarily, in order to move forward to your goals. No one said financial and emotional success was going to be easy, and there will be times when you take two steps forward and one step back. This is when you need to step outside of yourself and see the bigger picture. One step backward is still progress when you’ve taken two steps forward, and thus… success!
They say “never give up” because you just never know. Sometimes, simply being consistent at what you like to do is what will make you successful because one day that opportunity and luck you’ve been waiting for will come along. Internal and external success comes from figuring out what you need to find the path toward success. You need to know yourself at this moment, know what you want to become, and decide if you are willing to put in the effort required to be a better you. I say decide because putting in the work to become better is a choice, and if you want to be successful without having to do what’s required to be better, then you have a problem. Krav Maga teaches you that sometimes reality is not at all what we would like to be. It is not common for everything to fit together and dreams to come true just like that. Once you figure yourself out, though, the pieces will come together slowly. All it takes is self-awareness, honesty, and hard work.