Why Chasing Success Won’t Make You Successful

Why Chasing Success Won't Make You Successful

I believe in confidence. I like to be confident and my closest friends are strongly confident people. That’s why Steve Errey caught my eye a long time ago, and not just because his blog was fuchsia pink at the time. (It was a bold, confident color, but I like the current blue better.) Steve is a confident, insightful person who knows a hell of a lot about the subject – well, he would, considering he’s THE Confidence Guy.

So I was glad when he sent me a post about success and confidence, because I know many, many freelancers struggle with both. Here it is; enjoy.

So you’re building something. A business. An enterprise. A freelance lifestyle. Whoop-de-doo.

I hope it works out for you. I really do. But before I call the mayor and get a parade organised to celebrate your success, I just want to ask you something:

This thing you’re building… You are doing it for the right reasons, aren’t you?

You may not be.

Here are a few of the wrong reasons to build a business:

  • To blow other people away with what you’ve built
  • To earn yourself some great money
  • To impress your peers
  • To bring about a better lifestyle
  • To be your own boss
  • To work on your own terms
  • To feel successful; to feel like you’ve “made it”
  • To finish it, because you already decided to build it
  • To take vacation time when you want
  • To be respected by your peers, mentors, family and friends

Sure, those reasons sound pretty darned great, but if the pursuit of them is the reason you’re so busy, let me wave a red flag and ring the alarm bell right now.

Wave-wave. Ring-ring.

See, far too many people fail to create their own definition of success. Instead, they chase an idea they’ve patched together from what they’ve read, observed, or think they should be aiming for.

They go after the wrong kind of success and wonder why it feels hollow when they get there.

You might be motivated by the qualities you think success delivers when it arrives, but whether it’s the feeling that you’ve “made it”, that you’ll be free of worry and stress or just feel able to buy nice stuff, these are all externalized projections about what success will bring you.

When you make decisions based on an external motivator, you’re making room for struggle, second-guessing and doubt.

Success isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and it isn’t all you think it will be. In fact, success often increases worry and fear, as you question how to sustain it, how you can repeat it or stress over losing it.

Being successful does not change how your brain works. Unless you change your thinking, no amount of success will work for you.

There’s only one reason to go about building a business:

Because it matters.

Let’s say you want to become the best tennis player in the world. You could place your sights on winning grand slam after grand slam. You could focus on lifting the trophy cup and hearing the roar of the crowd. You could think of breaking records or enjoying the lifestyle fame brings.

But none of that answers the question why you want your dream, and none of that helps you become the best tennis player you can be. Your dream only happens if you get enjoyment from the act of playing tennis itself and only if you decide to jump in and play more.

Like you, I’m building a business. Sometimes, it’s almost impossibly tough. I’m saddled with a mountain of debt, which means I have to spend time and energy working another job to pay it off. I have an illness that prevents me from hustling as much as I might want to, and sometimes it stops me dead in my tracks for weeks at a time.

But I’m still in the game. I’m still playing. I’ll bet against anyone or anything stopping me from building this business, for the simple reason that building this business matters to me. It just does.

I don’t think about whether success will come, because I know that success is transient, just like screwing up or failing. Success and failure happen sometimes as a result of what I do, but those events don’t define what I do or how I do it.

It’s causal – what I do determines the shape of the success or failure. Success or failure doesn’t determine what I do.

So I know that my best chance of experiencing more success in my business is by engaging with what matters to me and playing the best game I can.

The same goes for you. It’s the choice to engage with what matters to you, and doing so aligns your efforts with whatever has personal relevance and meaning. It also ensures that you’re intrinsically motivated to play to the best of your ability.

And that intrinsic motivation is priceless. It ensures that your decisions and behaviour are born from that spark, and having that congruence of thought brings grace and confidence to your efforts that just aren’t there otherwise.

That’s why (and this flies in the face of conventional wisdom), you should shift your thinking away from being a successful person.

Don’t be successful. Be confident.

People aren’t successful or unsuccessful. Success and failure are peppered throughout your life and they’re just… well, things that happen. Building your behaviour around these external events is building your life in a reactionary way. You’re smart enough to know how crazy that is!

Have implicit trust in your behaviour rather than focusing on the outcome of that behaviour. Funnily enough, that’s how you’ll increase your chances of experiencing meaningful success more often.

Don’t go about your business or your life based on external, meaningless motivators. Blow yourself away with how much of a great player you’re becoming. Blow yourself away with how much value you get from playing the game. Blow yourself away with what you’re building.

If you do, success and failure become meaningless. And you’ll have all the confidence you need to reach your vision of meaningful success.

About the Author: Steve is a leading confidence coach who dances like Ernest Borgnine. While he may not be able to improve your dance moves, he can build your confidence. Grab his RSS feed here and follow him on Twitter.

If you really struggle with confidence, check out Staying Up When You're Put Down by Steve Errey.

It's a brilliant resource for people who've been put down so often by others they've lost faith in themselves. If that's you, pick up a copy today.

Post by Agent X

Agent X is the name many mysterious and intriguing people take on when they guest post at our site. Their mission is to slip in like a thief in the night, leave you with entertaining, valuable and useful content, and slip away again - without getting caught.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. Thank you Steve, this is exactly what I needed to hear today. And bless you James for posting it.

  2. Believing in yourself is critical for success, but tempering that belief with reality is also required as well. For example, I can 100% believe that the next product I’m creating is THE answer to my future customers needs, throw my entire incredible strength and talent at, deliver an awesomely magnificent product (so far, I’m operating based upon my definition of success) and then….lose 23K because it was 8 years ahead of it’s time.

    Witness The Real Estate Pro’s Internet Edge. So incredible it was the product of the year by Realtor Magazine, so ‘way advanced (realtors didn’t really use the Internet back then) it ended up costing me 23K (instead of making me the 250K The Internet Recruiting Edge did).

    I KNEW I would have a success based upon my LAST success and believed in myself wholeheartedly, but I had failed to account for other aspects (customer computer knowledge, customer means of advertising, etc.). ie, I trusted in my behavior alright without taking into account what’s common sense to me today (start off selling what you KNOW is craved, not what you THINK will be embraced).

    Wow, that was 10 years ago that happened, and I will admit – I consider the 23K cheap for the lessons it gave me. And you have to admit – it makes one heck of a story today!

    Believing in yourself – critical. Choosing your actions wisely – just as critical, just as required.

  3. Annie Stith says:

    Hey, Steve!

    I started building a business on the web. Then some big stuff happened in my life and I wasn’t able to get back to it for about two months. When I did, something felt wrong. I mean really wrong. So I took some time to look at it very hard.

    It finally hit me that it was my attitude and approach that was all wrong. I was building a site that I planned would evolve in a pattern I’ve heard from many gurus would work, the end result of which would be sales pages for some really cool stuff.

    But that’s not really why I was motivated to build the site to begin with. It was because I believe I have the experiences and insights to help a specific group of people. A group I’ve found no help for, either on the web or the self-help section of bookstores.

    That motivation got lost as I planned the site using a small business model. And that’s not really what it is.

    So, I’ve gone back and reunited with my motivation. I’ve changed my definition of success to going live on the web and Facebook, and tweeting it a couple times so that I’m “out there” and hopefully end up helping at least one person who needs me. Failure, then, simply becomes not getting it done. And getting back to that original motivation has completely energized me!


    • Love it. It’s easy to get lost in a process, framework, plan or goal and completely forget why you started. Always remember the reasons for being in the game – because it matters. That’s why I don’t coach people with normal goal-setting shenanigans!

  4. People aren’t successful or unsuccessful. Success and failure are peppered throughout your life and they’re just… well, things that happen.

    I like that. I’m not sure it’s entirely true all the time. But it’s a good way to reflect on success and failure, especially for those of use who dwell on it too much.

    Most business people will tell you they’ve had more failures than successes, and they definitely have a positive attitude towards it. Failure isn’t a personal reflection so much as something that didn’t work on the road to something that did.

    I 100% agree with you that you need to define your own terms for success, and pursue your own path. Easier said than done for some people though, and a success in itself when you do.


  5. Very insightful – and much needed – advice. Too many of us loose confidence each time the P&L statement takes a down turn. And lately, there have been a lot of down turns. I really like the attitude that as long as we’re focused on doing the best we can to develop, the P&L statement doesn’t really matter. I may have a little trouble getting my mortgage broker to agree, but I like it!

    • All you can do is your best, and have that mean something to you, right? The bottom line is a practical consideration, sure (as your mortgage broker will delight in telling you), but it can happily sit in a bigger context.

  6. Thanks for “reframing” Success. Interesting ideas about confidence.

    I’ve always liked the quote by Maya Angelou:

    “Courage allows the successful woman to fail–and to learn powerful lssons from the failure–so that in the end, she didn’t fail at all.”

    I try things, take risks and fail a lot. BUT I’M STILL IN THE GAME.

    Now, confidence–have to work on that one.

  7. Lovely Steve I’m going to take a teeny issue with one thing on that list.

    ‘To be your own boss’ is an absolutely brilliant reason for starting a business and without it a great many businesses would never get started. I

    Is is THE best reason? Is it as good as wanting to be great at something because you love it? Maybe not, but half the people I coach don’t even know what they love and that is way more common than most people realize. And that’s why some people are scared to admit it, because it seems the norm and they think there’s something wrong with them because they don’t know what they’re passionate about.

    OTOH if you are passionate about something, then I agree wholeheartedly 😉

    • Lovely Tim. I think my issue with “to be your own boss” is that people too often jump to it as a solution for something they might not have fully looked at. It’s an external vision of what could be, based on the desire to resolve a current set of circumstances or issues, and that’s probably all based on a heap of assumptions.

      if it comes from a place of what matters, i.e. from the inside-out, go for it. Thanks buddy.

  8. Hmmm… I can’t say I agree that all of those reasons are “wrong” reasons to build a business, although I do agree that it’s crucial that you really examine your values and determine what your own big WHY is. But “To take vacation time when you want”? That’s pretty powerful stuff if your passion in life is travel. 😉

    • I guess it’s a question of direction Miss Britt. If taking vacation time when you want because it’s fuelled by something that has meaning and relevance to you then that’s more than peachy, it’s compelling. If it’s something that’s just a nice idea or you think it’s a pretty cool lifestyle then something’s missing. If it sits in the context of a game you want to play, go play :)

  9. This is the most refreshing article I’ve read in a long time – I like what you had to say about success not being nearly as important as confidence. Nobody is successful all of the time, and it takes confidence to get back up and try again after failures. I agree 100% that confidence is the most important attribute for any successful person.

    • Well thank you David, you’re clearly a very wise man 😉 Actually, to be serious for a moment (it doesn’t happen that often), my whole point is that all of the talk out there on the Internet about building businesses, making money, entrepreneurship, etc that I’ve seen assumes that you’re confident enough to not only start, but to continue when it becomes impossibly tough. To me that’s a massive missing piece of the puzzle, and that’s what matters to me.

  10. Something that really bugs me is how “success” is packaged and sold. Oversold. It becomes yet another product we’re supposed to be desperate to buy–as if buying something will get us there.

    None of us can be successful all the time. None of us gets to be the best in our field forever. We can only strive to be the best *we* can be. Otherwise we end up eating a lot of dust.

    I like the way you frame both success and failure as a normal part of life. That kind of thinking gives people breathing room so they can be creative as well as confident.

    Nice way to end the week, thank you Steve.

    • Stacey, I should have read your comment before I replied to David. I share that bug-bear, big time. Slick sales pages and videos that package up a guaranteed way to build a successful business are all too common, but miss the point.

      Choose a game that matters to you and start playing. And then, as you suggest, if you come to realise that there’s another game that matters more, go play that.

      Making the choice to engage with what matters is success in itself, and it comes with confidence.

  11. Spot on. “Because it matters” should be the mantra of anyone looking to start something new in this economy. “Because I want to make money” will not get you through to actually making money, just as the headline says about chasing success. Thanks for posting.

  12. Great article and I agree completely. The author of the book Well Fed Writer said something similar that always stuck with me. I probably won’t get the quote exactly but to paraphrase: You cant control the results of your actions, you only control your effort. So don’t worry about success or failure, just put everything you can into the effort.

  13. Thanks Steve for this great framework to take a strategic step back and ensure we are living fulfilling lives. So many people advise following your heart to your livelihood, but few state why as well as you did. And your checklist of the wrong reasons leaves no where to hide!

  14. This is such a great point – build a business because it matters.

    For years many of us have had it drilled into our heads what is and is not success, and how to achieve that – typically by using someone else’s model and definitions. This screws more people than I can imagine. There is no one best path for anyone, it’s all about finding what works for you and making it happen in a big way.

    And if there is no greater purpose behind it, then what is chased will never be attained.

    • Exactly! What worries me is all the folks who go about building a business or creating something based on what they *think* they *ought* to be doing, or because a slick expert guarantees success. It all seems a bit back to front to me…

  15. Last year my confidence took quite a battering. Illness slowed me down and for days on end I could hardly get out of bed. Business slowed to a crawl. When I got better, I wasn’t sure I even remembered how to rebuild

    Where I’m going with this is that one specific thing helped me rebuild confidence (and my biz) more than anything else. That was setting my own standards for what would make each individual day a success. I kept (and keep) these standards simple and modest. I choose an action to meet the standard, declare it, do it (or–sometimes–not) and report on what happened at the end of the day. I am blessed with a Master Mind community where I can do the declaring and reporting online.

    Making these modest commitments to myself and either keeping them or systematically renegotiating them steadily and surely resotred my confidence. I know I can trust myself to do what I say I will do. The motivation to do each small things comes from my desire to create outcomes in the world, not from the desire to impress others. The results impress the heck out of me.

    • A great example Molly. Confidence is something that’s built in 2 ways, from the inside out by looking at what you have of inherent value and honouring those things, and by acknowledging the results of your participation in the world. You used the word “trust”, and that’s the very essence of it – being able to trust your behaviour with implicit trust in that behaviour (not the outcome).

      Your approach does that very gently, without judging. Love it. Hope you’re feeling better.

  16. Steve certainly is confident of his opinion. This doesn’t make it correct though.

    I do agree with it. My free report used to be called It’s Not About Success. I edited it slightly and changed it’s title to Authenticity is More Important than Success.

    However, I don’t see much alternative to being sensitive to what is going on around us and learning from others, or, “Instead, they chase an idea they’ve patched together from what they’ve read, observed, or think they should be aiming for.”
    That something just does matter can be because of the stuff we have patched together from others too.

    How to filter all those (contradictory) pieces of advice. I think disgust and anger and pain are good guides. They show us that something about who we are is involved – and they all have a way of getting our attention.

    • Confident indeed, but I don’t cling onto these ideas out of self-protection, ego-boosting or self-validation. They’re just observations based on what I seen when working with clients. But you’re right, my observations aren’t necessarily correct.

      The key thing is to look at what works for you – that’s the whole point. And when I talk about what matters to you I’m talking about what REALLY matters; your personal values – you need to do some digging to figure those out, but when you do there’s no mistaking them.

      The disgust, anger and pain can provide interesting clues sometimes, as they can be triggered when one or more of your values is denied, supressed or repressed. Dig in to that experience and you uncover something useful. Thanks Evan.

      • Hi Steve, thanks for your reply. My core value is authenticity. This is the one that feels ‘inescapable’ to me (it feels that I would somehow fundamentally not be me if I didn’t have this value). The rest are probably covered by joyful-compassioin or compassionate-joyfulness or elated-calmness.

  17. Wow….this was a great gut check! I think that I can sometimes be lulled in to wrong thinking because the glamorous attributes of running your own business (whether they are correct or mere fantasy) have a significant effect on our minds.

    Along with most things in life, it is really necessary to examine our motives and make sure that we are doing things for the right reasons.

    Great insight Steve!

    • It’s really easy to fall into the habit of just doing stuff because we’ve read that’s how it should be done or we’ve seen someone else do something similar. Checking in with you gut is always a great thing to do – it knows what it’s talking about!

  18. Right on! I’ve seen people chase all those wrong reasons through whatever vehicle they feel will provide them. A couple have even become multi-millionaires in the process. But even that level of monetary achievement still left them hollow. When I see that I am always reminded of what Jesus said, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”

    How much better to invest your energy into something you are passionate about!

    • Wow, never seen that quotation before, thanks. It’s true, you can have all the outer success in the world, but unless that’s balanced with the right amount of inner success (that is, meaningful success) for you it will always feel hollow. That said, it’s not that pleasurable to have bucket loads of meaningful success when you’re sitting on an old mattress in a freezing cold, damp studio apartment eating beans from a can. The trick is to find the right balance of inner and outer success for you…


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by BloggingTweets, Troy Manning. Troy Manning said: Why Chasing Success Wont Make You Successful http://bit.ly/9bIQKf […]

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by bkmacdaddy designs, Charles Richardson. Charles Richardson said: RT @bkmacdaddy: Why Chasing Success Won't Make You Successful – http://bit.ly/aGO4Hm […]

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Zainul Franciscus, Zainul Franciscus. Zainul Franciscus said: I like this one: "Success is measured by how confident you are on what you choose in life"http://bit.ly/bv7rVy […]

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Birmingham Profile, Phyllis Neill. Phyllis Neill said: Why chasing success won't make you successful: http://bit.ly/a7Mrlj […]

Leave a Comment