What It Takes to Succeed

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Signing books in NY city

Pop quiz of the day. Which of these matters the MOST for success?

1) Intelligence
2) Hard work
3) Perseverance
4) Confidence
5) Surrounding Yourself with the Right People

Before we get to the answer, let me tell you a story.

I knew this girl, Lucy, from engineering school. Compared to me, she was WAY smarter, more confident, hard working, and persistent. Basically, everything that I could do, she could do a hundred times better. So while I constantly teetered on the brink of disaster, she excelled at everything, literarily EVERYTHING she tried. She had the best grades, the most scholarships, and the highest number of job offers.

When it came to accomplishments, we were at opposite ends of spectrum. She was a shooting star; I was a speck of dust.

We were opposites, but we had one thing in common. We both loved to write. And we both dreamed of becoming published authors.

Because all authors are rich and famous right? RIGHT!? (photo source: methodshop @Flickr)

So after we graduated and started working, we made a pact. We would write novels on the side and eventually accomplish our dream of becoming published authors.

That was the plan anyway, until we exchanged stories. Because after only reading her first page, I threw up my hands and wanted to quit. Hers sparkled like a polished gem, while mine was an incoherentness mass of brain fart.

She was Goliath. I was David.

BOY, good thing I’m not wearing any pants…cause I just crapped myself.

I just KNEW she would get published first. I mean why wouldn’t she? She already kicked my ass at everything else she did.

But shockingly, that didn’t happen.

3 years after we started our writing pact, she gave up. She finished her manuscript, got her first batch of rejection letters, and kept going like she knew she was supposed to. She would be fine, she assured me. She didn’t need help. She could figure it out on her own.

But somehow, year after year and rejection after rejection, she never seemed to get any further ahead. She started off strong, but quickly hit a ceiling, somehow unable to work her way past it for some reason. So she called it quits, figuring that the system was broken.

But I kept going. I kept going way longer than her, 7 years instead of 3. Why? Because every time I hit my next batch of rejection, the letters seemed to get a little more positive, and a little less harsh. I started to get less outright NO’s, and a few more requests. First for the first few pages of my manuscript, then for the full one.

And then 7 years after I first put pen to paper, my childhood dream finally came true and I got published by Scholastic.

Now, this is where you would say well, clearly it was perseverance that got me here, right?

Perseverance was the difference between success and failure?

Nope. Lucy had perseverance in spades. She also had intelligence, diligence, and confidence.

But problem was: she didn’t surround herself with the right people.

As it turns out, when authors say, “it takes a whole village to make a book”, they weren’t kidding.

NO NO NO! I said “a village of people”, not “THE VILLAGE PEOPLE”. (photo credit: Mario Casciano @ wikipedia.org)

While Lucy ditched the annual writing festivals to go grocery shopping, I went and paid $500 for an agent’s critique.

While Lucy balked at the cost of NY writing conferences, I dropped $2000 (twice!) on a week in NY city to attend BEA, the biggest writing conference in the States.

If you’ve spent any time on this blog you know that I am absolutely ruthless with my expenses—going as far as sewing patches into my jeans so I wouldn’t have to buy new pants—but when it came to growing my village of industry experts I made it rain.

Because I knew that I would never make any progress unless I sought out people who were better than me.

But what I didn’t expect was how much they paid off.

To date, we’ve made over 6x the money we’ve spent “growing our village”, and we’re just getting started.

If I hadn’t gone to the writing conferences, I would’ve never met the author who would later pay us to design her website. Or the non-profit group who would later hire us to build an app.

If I hadn’t gone to the writing critique, I would’ve never met the agents who taught us everything we were doing wrong in manuscript #2 so that we could get published with manuscript #3.

If we hadn’t gone to NY, we would’ve never met the author who helped us get a Scholastic publishing deal—with an advance that easily paid for the NY expenses.

We succeeded not because we persevered, but because we built our village. We became the saying “you are the average of the 5 people you hang out with.” Because we hung out with literary agents, editors, and best-selling authors, we became authors ourselves and finally got paid to do what we love.

You can’t succeed in a vacuum. You need people who are better than you to teach you the ropes. And when you get out there, you never know what type of opportunities will come back to you.

And in our case, it paid off 6X what we paid into it. And that’s just so far.

Lucy on the other hand, gave up on writing because she wasn’t seeing any progress. She didn’t believe in building a village. And it cost her her dreams.

So coming back to my initial question. Which trait is the MOST crucial for success?

Surrounding Yourself with the Right People

You can’t do it alone. No matter how intelligent, hard working, confident, or persistent you are. To succeed, you need a village.

So of course, when we started on the FIRE path, we started building our village with MMM, JLCollins, MadFientist…without these guys, we would’ve never gotten to where we are today.

And that’s why I’m so thankful that we’ll be able to meet our village in person at Chautauqua.

Multiple people have called these Chautauquas a “life-changing experience” and I know why because I know how life-changing meeting your village can be. You go from having to explain to your clueless friends and family over and over again why you’re doing what you’re doing, and instead you are surrounded with people who just “get it.” People like you, and more importantly, people who can help you get to where you’re going.

And in a strange twist of fate that I couldn’t have written into a novel if I wanted to, this time I don’t have to go just to meet my village. I can be the village to someone else.

It takes an entire village to succeed.

So if you want to get started, come with us to Chautauqua.

Your village awaits.



Chautauqua UK is almost sold out, and Chautauqua Ecuador is COMPLETELY sold out. So if you want to meet your village, that window is closing.

Click below to find out more:

Chautauqua UK – Close to being sold out. Only a few slots left…

Chautauqua Ecuador week 1– SOLD OUT!

Chautauqua Ecuador week 2 – JUST ADDED! Join me, JL Collins, and Jesse Mecham (founder of YNAB- You Need A Budget app) in Chautauqua Ecuador from Oct 14, 2017 to Oct 21, 2017! We’ll be talking about investing, how to build your dreams, and entrepreneurship. Click here for more details.  Click here to register.



My post on Chautauqua UK.

Here’s jlcollins’ post.

Here’s Jesse Mecham’s post.

If you want to know what it’s like to go to Chautauqua, Carl from 1500days.com describes it like this:

I seek out the best people that will have me. I love to be around folks who I can learn from and that challenge me. The chautauqua fit the bill. There was an ex-Googler, a dentist, a veterinarian, software developers, a mechanical engineer, multiple entrepreneurs, an accomplished corporate lawyer, an actuary, and a data scientist. And that doesn’t include any of the four speakers who are all accomplished folks. And no one was a prick…

My favorite part was talking to folks about various business ideas. One attendee was in the process of selling a business he had started years ago. Another attendee was in the process of launching an online store. A couple ideas were even hatched at the event that will see the light of day this year. I’m sure that you’ll all hear about one of them. It is that big. I’m working on another idea that I’m very excited about.

Besides all of that, I consider these people to be my friends. I’ve already seen five of them since Ecuador and I look forward to more visits in 2017. These folks are my peeps 4 keeps.

Check out his hilarious post here.


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46 thoughts on “What It Takes to Succeed”

  1. Interesting take and something I didn’t think about . But pretty true when you think about it.

    Here’s one thing I notice – surrounding yourself with the right people requires you to put yourself out there. A lot of people would make up some excuse not to go find that agent, or go to that conference. You might feel awkward. People might say you suck. Or ignore you. Or whatever.

    You’ve got to be willing to accept that reality if you want to build your village, it seems like.

    1. Yup, you’ve gotta grow a thick skin. People will tell you you suck and it will be painful. But you won’t always suck because other people will teach you things and help you get better. But if you don’t get out there, you will suck forever.

      What helped me was to realized we’re all going to die eventually. If we don’t build our village and improve, we’ll live a life full of regrets. That scared me more than looking stupid and feeling bad about myself.

  2. Absolutely, if I didn’t head over to a US conference from the UK a few years back: I wouldn’t have found out about an author mentoring programme or have then had 2 books endorsed by a NY Times bestselling author – things I couldn’t of dreamed that could happen before I went!

    I’m looking forward to the UK Chautauqua, having only recently discovered FI it’s never too late to get started & the discovery has lead to a lot of clarity about the future.

    1. Wow, you got your book to be endorsed by a NY times bestselling author? Way to hustle! What’s the name of your book?

      And yeah, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. When you go out there and build your village, you learn a TON and lots of opportunities come back to you.

      Excited to meet you in Chautauqua UK! A whole week with my village, talking about FIRE, and doing fun things. My head is exploding with joy just thinking about it 🙂

      1. Thanks, I’m looking forward to the event.

        My first book was ‘chocks away: achieving freedom from the 9 to 5’ – how I escaped corporate life as an accountant and started my own practice. I went on to publish a second book ‘power climb: growing your small business’ – a series of tips people can apply to their own small business.

        I self-published my two books, I was surprised how easy it is now to have both print and ebooks thanks to print on deand.


        1. Nice! I just watched your interview talking about your book (very cool that you have a pilot’s license!) I’ll have to get a copy to read on my flight to the UK 🙂

  3. And this summarizes why I feel extroverts generally succeed far more in their career and many other areas of life than introverts. I certainly feel extroverts have a major advantage for wealth accumulation just because of their ability to draw upon a vast network of people.

    As an introvert I certainly have the desire to succeed and perhaps have many other necessary qualities to be successful, but I just can’t bring myself to “networking”. Throw me in front of a handful of people and I become a nervous lemon sat there in silence, even if it is just a few people who share the same passions, I generally won’t speak unless spoken to. Put me in an entire room FULL of people and I’ll just want to get out of there asap. Chautauqua sounds great, for example, but I know if I were to go I’d probably be a shy, soft spoken individual who is overshadowed by the group of confident, successful extroverts.

    Unfortunately I don’t think this is something you can ever really change either. Introverts are destined to have an uphill battle in life because their network of friends and colleagues is often minuscule compared to extroverts. I’m not saying introverts are destined for failure, but they certainly are at a disadvantage and will struggle without putting in some serious effort and stepping out of their comfort zone.

    Even in something simple like an interview, extroverts almost always perform better simply because they’re confident at speaking to people. An introvert might be significantly better qualified yet still lose out to a well spoken, confident extrovert.

    1. You do have a point that it will be more of a challenge for introverts…BUT, that being said, I have met introverts who still managed to network well and advance their careers, dreams, etc. It’s just they have to take breaks in between to recharge and it’s not as easy for them as extroverts. They tend to talk to individual people at a time in a crowded room, instead of talking to the crowd.

      Introverts also have an advantage over extroverts. They can work on something for a long time, alone, without getting bored. This is a very useful skill, especially when you’re trying to accomplish something over a long period of time. Extroverts constantly need social interaction or they’ll get bored, so it’s harder from them to actually sit down for long periods of time and get something done.

      So introverts have super powers that extroverts don’t have in other areas, that helps them succeed.

      The trick is to force yourself to go against the grain every now and then (that’s how you grow, by pushing yourself outside your comfort zone). You don’t have to do it all the time, but even small amount helps tremendously.

      At Chautauqua, we make sure everyone feels included. Especially the introverts. I used to be a lot more introverted so I know what that’s like.

      It wouldn’t be a very good gathering if extroverts just dominate the whole thing. We’ll make sure to make it as inclusive as possible…doesn’t matter if you’re introverted or extroverted, you’re part of the village 🙂

      1. I agree completely with this. You need to take baby steps outside of your comfort zone to overcome your inherent shyness. But I want to stress that being an introvert in no way means that you are doomed to failure. I have a senior manager that is painfully shy and a true introvert. Will she ever fill my shoes to manage the entire function? Not on your life. But if you asked me who the Best. Damn. Soldier is that I want as my wing man? Well, then hands down it is this woman. I have promoted her at every turn because she is just that good. Losing her would be a terrible blow. If you are an introvert, then you need to find yourself a General who values all that you can contribute.

        1. “If you are an introvert, then you need to find yourself a General who values all that you can contribute.”

          Well-said. Being surrounded by the right people who value your strengths is what help people do their best work. There are no stupid people. Just people in the wrong roles.

        2. You just exemplified precisely what I’m saying. The introvert will “never be the boss”, only the bosses wing man. Sure, you can certainly succeed in your career and do well for yourself, and maybe the bosses wing man is still pretty darn good, but eventually you hit a point where you need to be able to put yourself out there, to speak to people, to be opinionated, to be confident enough to tell someone when they ‘re doing a crap job etc. If you can’t pass that point, you’ll hit a big fat STOP sign in your career purely because you’re an introvert.

    2. The black and white idea that one is either an introvert or an extrovert is overly simplistic and needs to be thoroughly discredited. No one is purely an introvert or purely an extrovert. All of us are at least combinations of those two.

      Having said that, having been a manager for many years, I notice that the most successful individuals are approximately 70% introvert and 30% extrovert. That is, they are patient, thoughtful, and have the cerebral qualities that are often associated with introvertedness but also have some of the social skills of extrovertedness.

      1. I’d have to disagree with the 70/30 introvert to extrovert notion. It’s pretty well known extroverts on average are paid a higher salary (http://tech.co/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/myers-briggs-average-income.jpg) than introverts.

        Your argument seems to touch on Myers Briggs more so than just extrovert/introvert. If you look at those graphs, what you seem describe is the highest paid personality. Extroverts who can think logically, rather than emotionally, and judge organized data rather than perceive disorganized chaos. On the other end of the spectrum is almost entirely emotional introverts. Luckily I’m an ISTJ, which is the highest earning introvert combination.

        What’s more important than extrovert/introvert though, based on that graph, is that you are a “TJ” rather than an “FP”. This concurs with my comment yesterday that emotions hold people back in all manner of life, not just investing. Business has little place for emotional decision making, logical analysis should always prevail. There are very few industries that emotions typically help, I can only think of industries that require empathy, like teaching, nursing, carers, therapists. Also creative fields probably benefit from emotion, like writers, photographers, designers,, actors, artists etc. Unfortunately these are all typically poor paying careers, at least for the average person.

        A lot of this really depends on your career though, it’s important to pick a career that matches your personality. If you’re a data scientist for example, you can be the biggest introvert in the world, as long as you’re good at it it makes no difference. If you’re in a field that requires dealing with people in any way though, extroverts have a major advantage.

        What holds introverts back somewhat is the highest up positions in companies typically require more and more interaction with other people, such as constant meetings, presentations, public speaking, networking etc. Extroverts can handle this fine, introverts, not so much. There are some introverted leaders, but extroverts outnumber them significantly.

    3. The black and white idea that one is either an introvert or an extrovert is overly simplistic, and needs to be thoroughly discredited. No one is purely an introvert or purely an extrovert. All of us are at least combinations of those two.

      Having said that, having been an upper-level manager for many years, I notice that the most successful individuals (whether engineers, medical doctors, or entrepreneurs) are approximately 70% introvert and 30% extrovert. That is, they are patient, thoughtful, and have the cerebral qualities that are often associated with introvertedness, but also have some of the social abilities of extrovertedness.

  4. Not buying it.

    You succeeded by creating more opportunities for yourself, and you did it thru perseverance. You stayed the course longer, made the extra effort, sacrificed/invested more money to learn. None of these things guarantee success but they sharply increase one’s odds.

    Your “building a village” is just a euphemism for perseverance.

    1. While I agree that perseverance is an important part of the process, perseverance within a bubble will get you nowhere. You just end up spinning forever, with no progress.

      I was only able to persevere because I saw some success after I got help from agents and other writers who told me what I was doing wrong. Had I just continued persevering without the help of other people, I would’ve spun forever.

      Surrounding yourself with the right people also keeps you persevering because you end up being accountable to those people, not just to yourself. That’s why successful writers have an audience. Writers who write for themselves but never show it to anyone don’t succeed.

      1. You need money to make money! So regular people making $39,000 per year will not be able to retire before 60/65 years old. People with children making $60,000 will not be able either. Just saying!

        1. I agree that it will be more difficult, but doesn’t mean it’s impossible. One of our readers, Colby makes $30,000/year in as an English teacher in South Korea. But he saves $20,000/year or (66% of his salary), because his employer pays for flights and accommodations and the tax rate is 3% in Korea. Since his savings rate is high, he is only 12-15 years from retirement.

          Also, just because people are making $39,000 per year doesn’t mean they will make that salary forever. You move up the corporate ladder and make more as time goes on. There are also options to have side income…for example, Sean Cooper only made $40k/year as pension analyst, but he worked as a freelance writing on the side and grocery clerk. As a result, he boosted his income to 90-100K/year by having 2 side jobs. It wasn’t easy or fun but there are options. And I think people are creative and resourceful enough to figure out side income.

          Then there’s the guy in Bangkok, with 6 kids, who learned how to build his own adobe house and live off the land with his family and built an entire community from it.

          Also, not everyone has to fully retire. Having some money in investments, generating passive income helps you step back and go part-time or work on a business you start yourself.

          There is no perfect solution for everyone’s situation, but having the mentality of “oh I don’t make much, therefore I can’t do it”, will result in staying exactly where you are. If you’re happy with that, then by all means, continue doing that.

  5. I’m sure the situation is a little more complicated than this. Your friend probably has other priorities that she values more, and is accomplished in other ways.

    Anyone can pony up a few thousand dollars and put up a big smile to meet some new people. Those are the easy things, and don’t require any special “smarts” or even skills.

    You can only BS your way up to a certain point. What really counts, at the end of the day, is whether you have the intellectual ability to get things done.

    1. Intellectual ability has nothing to do with success. It’s actually one of the least important. It’s useful for getting good grades in school, but not for success later on in life. I know so many people who were geniuses in school, but got their ass whooped by their “dumber” classmates. That’s why the A students go on to work for the C students.

      Also, “having other priorities you value more” is just an excuse for not accomplishing your dreams. People say that all the time because they’re too afraid to fail. Way easier to hide behind those “better priorities”.

      And guess what? Because I “ponied up” the money to meet the right people, I now have connections that are paying off years later. That money came back to me tenfold. You can’t just pay money, go there and smile. You need to actually network and become friends with the people you meet. But I would’ve never met them if I hadn’t gone to those conferences (they don’t live in my city). That’s how you get shit done. No one gets far in life by being in their own bubble.

      1. Sufficient intelligence is a requirement for financial success but at the level genius it becomes a situation of diminishing returns, often because the person’s strength is loaded on intellectual pursuits and weak in the other areas you mention that are equally important (e.g. Social skills). Most of us non-geniuses want lots of money so we can country-hop and chill, but many geniuses genuinely are not in the least bit interested in wealth accumulation.

        We’re trained from a young age, at least in modern western society, to inflate external (environmental) factors to explain success over internal (genetic) factors but the truth is that each are probably significant components. You were able to become an engineer because you were born with the raw materials to learn it. Many people – no matter how hard they try – can never become proficient at it. Just like I will never be able to punch as hard as Mike Tyson even if I spent every day in the gym training.

        At the end of the day, nobody knows their limits until they push themselves toward it. Success requires trying and trying very hard.

        1. Punching as hard as Mike Tyson is not a intellectual limitation, it’s a physical one. That’s why some people are better athletes than others. But intellectual ability is different. You can’t change how tall you, how faster your reflexes are, or your bone structure, but you can increase the connections in your brain. It evolves and grows over time.

          I disagree that I was born with the raw materials to learn it. If I did, I wouldn’t have had to spend 8-12 hours, working on one tutorial while other people just did it in-between classes in 45 mins. I wouldn’t have had to stay behind, trying to finish a lab in a panic, while everyone else was done half way through. When I went into engineering, I barely even knew how to set up an email account.

          How I even got into university was by taking extra summer courses, so that by the time the final year of high school came around, I only had a half day of school. That gave me the edge I needed because I had double the amount of time everyone else had to do the work. I also became good friends with my teachers so they would be willing to help me out whenever I got stuck.

          Strategy counts. It’s not all about being born smart.

          1. Just as you struggled more than some to learn engineering there are others that could spend more time than you and never pick it up. We observed this in the classmates we grew up with every day. Despite all efforts some people struggle at math while others struggle to draw pictures in art class.

            Each brain has natural predispositions, talents, and limitations. These limitations may or may not be as salient as physical limitations (we can all build muscle working out, but some people have stronger muscle fibres and build it quicker with the same diet and training), but they do exist. They can be augmented or mitigated by many things such as diet, personality, interests, philosophy,dedication, hard work, and so on, but no brain is exactly alike and capable of all things other brains are. Einstein’s and Mark Twain’s are exceptional minds. They were born with the raw material to think in ways most brains cannot.

            However, this is not a reason for anybody to throw in the towel. Without putting in effort (also a function of one’s brain), one cannot reach their full potential, whatever it may be.

            1. Exactly. The last part is the key. No one knows their full potential until they try. Just throwing in the towel because you figure “your brain is not wired that way” is a self-fulling prophecy. Because without trying and learning, you’re right. It won’t grow and stay exactly as is. But resourceful go-getters will always find a way, they will just take a different path if the current one doesn’t work out.

              1. “resourceful go-getters will always find a way”

                I fully agree and I would put everybody reading your blog firmly in this category. Readers are here putting in effort to learn.

    1. ” I truly believe that whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you can be good at networking. Both have inherent strengths and weaknesses. By finding ways to enhance strengths and minimize weaknesses, anyone can be a great networker.”

      That’s exactly it. Both have strengths and weaknesses. Extroverts have weakness’s too…they’re not perfect. I like how this article points that that you have to figure out what works for you. I think for introverts, it might be easier to talk to one person at a time, and then rest in between social events. But it doesn’t mean they can’t network. They just need to find something that plays to their strengths…and it’s going to be different from what works for extroverts

  6. Wow wow wow. This is the kick in the pants that I needed. There are definitely some days that I wonder if I should still continue down this path and get lots of good feedback but hearing about perseverance the networking/village building that you’ve done is inspiring. Congrats on reaching your dreams and I look forward to reading about your successful endeavors 🙂

    1. Keeping going, MSM! You will get there. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve doubted myself and wanted to quit–I’ve lost track. You just end up pushing the ball a little farther, a little father each time, until you kick it into the goal. As long as you are getting father each time, you know you’re going in the right direction. If you end up making no progress, then it’s time to reach out and get help/advice. The good news is that once you accomplish one challenging goal, you gain the confidence to do pretty much anything in the future. Because you know how the process works.

  7. If I’ve followed you correctly, it sounds like you’ve been able to earn about $45K from writing (a ten-fold return on two $2K conference and $500 on an agent review). Did that come before or after you had left the workforce?

    1. Overall we made $28K from writing (most of it after we left the workforce). So around 6X, not 10X. I was dividing by $2500 instead of $4500. Good catch. Correction made.

    1. In this case, it was success with respect to accomplishing my dreams of becoming a writer. So sort of related to career, except my career at the time was engineer. So side-career?

      But from a broader perspective, this post is related to accomplishing goals. To succeed in accomplishing your goals (whatever they may be), you need to surround yourself with the right people.

  8. Just putting it out there…”networking” can be done many different ways. I’d posit that some of the best historical “networkers” were people who kept a vast written correspondence that spanned the globe. And as introverts can be great writers…so…is this the modern day version of introvert networking at its best? 🙂

    1. Good point. I also know some introverts who are good at network via social media and emails. Though in general, meeting face to face is best for developing a longer term friendship and really getting to know that person. For introverts, that could be meeting people one-on-one instead of at big gatherings.

  9. I tell this to my wife all the time, ‘I need to be around people who are better than me!’ (This is a life based thing not including relationship…..ha). This is no reflection on me as a superhero, I made some life choices involving travel etc and so I had to start at the bottom.

    Since reading your posts, I have found more motivation finding people interested in improving their lives and the main thing I strive for PROGRESSION.

    I have picked up an additional job and pushing my ‘side hustle’ (I believe that is the correct term for a side business these days), so between this and reading Game of Thrones i’m pretty busy.

    Living in Muskoka, Ontario there is not a huge pool of local resources that are open to sharing but I try hard via the internet which is pretty much my only resource. I search for groups that are helpful in sharing ideas/resources/advice but apart from my wife’s uncle (a well connected business owner) I don’t really have much.

    Apart from Chautauqua and this online community any direction/advice for me would be greatly appreciated!

    1. “I have picked up an additional job and pushing my ‘side hustle’ ”

      Well done! I’m very impressed that you are willing to put in the hard work and are humble enough to realize that we need other people.

      And yes, PROGRESSION is the key. Not perfection.

      I wonder if there’s a “meetup” group you can start in your area to get FIRE-minded people together to build your village.

  10. I love this post and it is so true that surrounding yourself with motivated, can-do, energetic people makes such a big difference in life and helping you to get places! Thank you for sharing!

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