This is our third annual SUCCESS 25 list. It’s also our most eclectic; the men and women who made the biggest impact on the personal and professional growth of others through books, blogs, podcasts, social media presence, TED Talks and personal appearances over the last 12 months are a widely varied bunch. They include pastors, performers and producers; comics and content curators; first-time authors and those whose best-selling titles would fill a bookshelf; and entrepreneurs, academics and innovators of all stripes.
The author of Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living with Purpose and SUCCESS Leadership Editor, John Addison has a gift for distilling achievement strategies into actionable steps. Three of his lessons from 2016:
- Be a daily goal-setter and a daily goal-hitter. What you do today greatly affects whether you will achieve your future dreams. You have to intentionally design each and every day in a way that leads to getting things done.
- Focus, focus, focus. Successful people always know what is important in the moment, they are relentless in getting it done, and they don’t get distracted by unimportant stuff.
- Keep moving forward. Being the best version of the person we want to be requires incremental improvement and incremental improvement requires patience, persistence and faith. It’s a journey, but in the end it’s totally worth everything you put into it.
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Serial entrepreneur and angel investor James Altucher is the author of 17 books, including the Wall Street Journal best-sellers The Power of No and Choose Yourself. His blog has attracted more than 20 million readers since its launch in 2010 and his podcasts have been downloaded more than 12 million times. But the most remarkable number in Altucher’s bio is “15.” That’s the approximate number of items he owns since spring 2016 when he donated or tossed everything else, leaving behind only clothing and base essentials. Altucher also believes in discarding gratuitous dictums, such as “Find your purpose.” Instead, he exhorts: “Forget purpose. It’s okay to be happy without one. The quest for a single purpose has ruined many lives.”
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He’s one of only a half-dozen comics who can sell out New York’s storied Madison Square Garden. After seven seasons on the hit NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation, he created and stars in the Emmy-winning Netflix series Master of None. Aziz Ansari also has more than 10 million Twitter followers. So it’s not surprising that he scored a $3.5 million deal for his first book. What is a surprise is the book he chose to write. Modern Romance, co-authored with an NYU sociologist, is a research-driven, if irreverent, No. 1 New York Times best-seller that dives into millennial lifestyle, communication and dating.
The glam guru of mindfulness and miracles provides 24/7 guidance to her devoted fans. They can wake up with her Spiritual Junkie affirmation alarm clock app, view her brief videos on topics like “A Meditation to Calm the Eff Down” or “How to Change Your Mood in 60 Seconds.” When stress levels zoom, cook dinner while listening to her curated list of “soul songs” on Spotify, and fall asleep after dipping into her newest book: The Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear to Faith is Gabrielle Bernstein’s fourth best-seller. “The Universe is our classroom and when we accept our role as the happy learner, life gets really groovy.”
Five quotes from Brendon Burchard, best-selling author, high-performance coach, podcaster and self-help YouTube star (his 2014 video “How Incredibly Successful People Think” has been viewed nearly 3 million times).
- Ask yourself this question every morning: “Will who you are now lead you to who you want to be in the future?”
- Avoidance is the best short-term strategy to escape conflict and the best long-term strategy to ensure suffering.
- No matter how small you start, start something that matters.
- Mediocrity begins the precise moment you swap love for challenge with love of comfort.
- A meaningful life is just the sum of meaningful moments. Live in every moment.
“Forget purpose. It’s okay to be happy without one. The quest for a single purpose has ruined many lives.”
Harvard-trained lawyer Susan Cain was terrified of public speaking when she wrote Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. The 2012 book became a mega best-seller and, with some help from Toastmasters and an acting coach, Cain went on to give a TED Talk that has been viewed more than 15 million times. Quiet Revolution, Cain’s “mission-based” company, works with the likes of NASA, Procter & Gamble and General Electric on strengthening communications between introverts and extroverts. “You might be following the person with the best ideas, but you might not,” she says. “And do you really want to leave it up to chance? Much better for everybody to go off by themselves, generate their own ideas freed from the distortions of group dynamics, and then come together as a team to talk them through in a well-managed environment.”
COURTESY OF PETER DIAMANDIS
The Bronx-born, Harvard-educated physician and serial tech entrepreneur Peter Diamandis has been supporting innovation ever since he won first place in a rocket design competition at the age of 12. He co-founded the Silicon Valley think tank Singularity University and pretty much launched the private space industry when his XPRIZE Foundation awarded a $10 million prize in 2004 to the first team to send a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks. Now Diamandis, a SUCCESS Ambassador, has announced the four-year IBM Watson A.I. XPRIZE: In 2020, $5 million will go to the creators of the artificial intelligence project whose team delivers the best TED Talk.
ZACH TERIS PHOTOGRAPHY
Grit used to be better known as the nasty debris that flew into your eyes on a windy day than as a character strength. But that was before Angela Duckworth, University of Pennsylvania psychology professor and MacArthur “genius” grant winner, published her 2016 best-selling book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance and gave a TED Talk with the same title that has been viewed nearly 9.5 million times.
Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
You may never master all the rapid-learning techniques of a 4-Hour Workweek, a 4-Hour Body or a 4-Hour Chef, to cite the titles of three of Tim Ferriss’s best-sellers. (His fourth book, Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers, was an Amazon No. 1 new release, weeks before its December publication date.) But you can certainly boost productivity with some of the life hacker’s favorite apps:
- Evernote: My external brain, used for all note-taking, decluttering, research, and more. I normally use it 10-plus times per day.
- Noisli: Sounds, white noise, and colors for productivity or relaxation.
- Coache.me: For adding new habits or ending old habits. This is the only thing that got me to floss regularly.
- Headspace or Calm: Never been able to meditate? Need to calm your children? These guided meditation apps make all of the difference.
“The most meaningful way to success is to help others succeed,” says Adam Grant, Ph.D., organization psychologist, New York Times No. 1 best-selling author and, at 35, Wharton’s youngest tenured and highest-rated, professor. Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg has called Grant “one of the most important influences in my life” and writes in the introduction to his newest book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World that he was an unwavering friend after her husband’s sudden death. “When I thought I would never feel better, he flew across the country to explain what I could do to build my resilience…. He helped me find answers when I thought there were none.”
The genre of personal-development podcasts wouldn’t be as popular as it is today if it weren’t for former Wall Street lawyer Jordan Harbinger. For the last decade Harbinger has produced and hosted the highly rated weekly podcast The Art of Charm, curating interviews from a wide swath of thought leaders in business and self-improvement. His 2016 guests included many luminaries from this very list: among them Adam Grant, Angela Duckworth and James Altucher. Harbinger’s own advice is pretty sound, too. “Expect the best of yourself, but allow for failure. Always evolve, but realize that it takes place one step at a time. Be your own harshest critic, but also never be harder on yourself than you’d tolerate from someone else.”
Three Things You Might Not Know About Steve Harvey
- He hosts four shows. A daily radio show, a daily TV talk show, a daily TV game show (Family Feud) and a weekly children’s talent show (Little Big Shots).
- He’s written four self-empowerment books, including Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man; Straight Talk, No Chaser and Act Like a Success, Think Like a Success.
- Harvey’s fourth book Jump: Take the Leap of Faith to Achieve Your Life of Abundance grew out of a spontaneous conversation he had with his studio audience in January 2016 after a taping of Family Feud. Unaware that the cameras were running, Harvey shared deeply personal thoughts about achieving happiness and a sense of purpose. The six-minute video clip went viral and has been viewed more than 60 million times.
In September 2016 the pastor and best-selling author celebrated 40 years in the ministry. President Obama, who’d attended a private service with Jakes on the morning of his 2009 inauguration, was among those offering congratulations. “With compassion and grace, you’ve inspired and touched the hearts of people across America and around the world through the power of faith,” Obama wrote in a statement. “As you reflect on the difference you’ve made, know that I deeply appreciate your friendship, your commitment to expanding possibility, and your prayers for me, my family and this country we love.”
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Apparently we’re all suffering from a collective case of clutter-itis. Symptoms include not only messy closets but also pervasive feelings of unease. The antidote: the KonMari Method, a strategy for decluttering your home that Japanese organizational guru Marie Kondo described in her 2014 book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which in 2016 celebrated 100 weeks (and counting) on the New York Times best-seller list. Kondo’s tips: Commit yourself to tidying up. Before you start, visualize your destination. Tidy by category (clothes, papers, photos) not by room (bedroom, office, den). Hold each object in your hands and ask yourself if it sparks joy. If it doesn’t, discard it. The moment you start the process, Kondo says, “You reset your life.”
JOHN C. MAXWELL
In June 2016, “execute” was the theme of one of SUCCESS Ambassador John C. Maxwell’s daily one-minute coaching sessions. Here’s what Maxwell, who’s among the most influential leadership experts in the world, had to say:
How do I get off of the “I think I’ll do it” to the “Do it” stage? You see, for many people their life is something like this, ‘Ready, aim… aim, aim, aim, aim, aim.’ They never fire. They never shoot. They never execute. Now, let me just say there are some people, it’s ‘Ready, fire… aim.’ They don’t execute either. They just shoot somebody accidentally. Execute means that there’s a ready, preparation, aim. You get your target. But then you shoot, you get going. The greatest gap in the world is the gap between knowing and doing. The word ‘execute’ means, I not only know, but I do.
COURTESY OF JOEL OSTEEN MINISTRIES
As the pastor of one of the largest churches in America, Joel Osteen certainly knows scripture chapter and verse. But what has helped make him one of the most influential spiritual leaders of our time is his ability to refresh these ancient texts for modern times. Along with having the No. 1 podcast on the religion and spirituality chart, he has more than 14 million Facebook fans and nearly 5 million Twitter followers who prize his ability to deliver homilies in 140 characters. Three recent tweets:
- What you believe is what you’ll become. Your life is going to follow your thoughts.
- Don’t wait for everything to fall into place to be your best. Be excellent where you are right now.
- You may be a product of your past, but you don’t have to be a prisoner of your past. Move forward with your life.
Yes, he made headlines—and enjoyed a significant ratings bump—when Donald Trump chose The Dr. Oz Show as the setting to discuss his medical records during the presidential campaign. But what has earned Mehmet Oz nearly 4 million Twitter followers and draws robust audiences to his website, books and magazine (The Good Life), as well as to his daily TV show, is his reassuring advice that small lifestyle tweaks can make a big change in your life. Take these three: Do five shoulder rolls in each direction as soon as you wake up. Turn your alarm clock around and move it across the room. Sprinkle salt on your fruit to enhance sweetness and make it a satisfying swap for an afternoon candy bar.
How serious is financial guru Dave Ramsey—whose syndicated radio show and newspaper columns are carried in hundreds of markets—about the importance of living debt-free? So serious.
- The Dave Ramsey website doesn’t take credit cards.
- He advocates paying off every single debt but your house.
- If you can’t afford to purchase a car without car payments, Ramsey suggests buying a $2,000 rust bucket that you can use to get around for 10 months. Take the $400 or $500 you’d be spending on car payments and stash that in a car fund. Keep doing this, trading in one heap for another, until you have enough saved to pay for a keeper ride with cash.
- He tells his followers not to save any money for retirement until they’ve retired all their debts.
Six Twitter-ready quotes from the human-behavior researcher and best-selling author of Are You Fully Charged: The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life.
- Make work a purpose, not just a place.
- The pursuit of meaning—not happiness—is what makes life worthwhile.
- The opportunity to do something you love will always be there, as long as you start today.
- Spending on people and experiences yields the greatest return.
- Focus on less to do more.
- Trying to do a little bit of everything leads to doing nothing of substance.
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In 2014, creator-producer-writer Shonda Rhimes had three hit shows on the air—Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder—and more in the pipeline. Yet, she was, as she writes in her best-selling book Year of Yes, an anxiety-ridden introvert. So, Rhimes decided that over the next 12 months she would say yes to everything that scared her, including:
- Giving a commencement speech at Dartmouth
- Appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live!
- Making her acting debut on The Mindy Project
- Losing weight
- Saying no
“And a crazy thing happened,” Rhimes says in her highly popular February 2016 TED Talk. “The very act of doing the thing that scared me undid the fear, made it not scary. My fear of public speaking, my social anxiety, poof, gone. It’s amazing, the power of one word. ‘Yes’ changed my life. ‘Yes’ changed me.”
Motivational speaker, best-selling author, CNN commentator and SUCCESS contributing editor, Mel Robbins is the creator of the “5 Second Rule,” which she explained in a TEDx Talk that has been viewed 7 million times.
If you have an impulse to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill the idea.
If you have a goal of launching your own business, Google a free business plan template, and then fill it out.
Whatever your goals are, show the world, and yourself, that you’re serious by taking action, however insignificant that action may seem, right now. When you do something you’re not used to doing, you are in the act of building new habits and erasing existing ones.
“The very act of doing the thing that scared me undid the fear, made it not scary. My fear of public speaking, my social anxiety, poof, gone.”
Arguably the most influential motivator and self-improvement coach in the world, Tony Robbins kept up a frenetic schedule of workshops, seminars and speeches in 2016, appearing everywhere from Florida to Fiji. He shared with SUCCESS the sense of satisfaction that fuels his fervor.
It’s euphoric—it’s out of this world. Sometimes I walk backstage and tear up. I feel like God comes through me. [People] have only so many ways to be stuck, and I have lots of ways to break their stuck-ness. How do I know? You can feel it, you can see it. You can feel when they go from depressed to lit up. And when you see them three weeks later in a new pattern, it excites the hell out of you.
Even the best-selling happiness author sometimes experiences self-doubt. During those moments, as shared on an episode of her top-rated podcast, Gretchen Rubin remembers her husband coming home back when he was an associate at a law firm and saying that he wasn’t sure if he’d make partner, but he did know that if he did, he wouldn’t be the dumbest partner at the firm.
I think about this often. For example, when I was thinking about starting this podcast, was it going to be good enough? How anxious was I going to get about striving to make it as good as it could possibly be? When I get in that mode, when I’m feeling uneasy or insecure, I don’t want to accept mediocrity certainly, but I take great comfort in the thought, I may not be the best, but I’m probably not the worst.
“What good is an idea if it remains an idea? Try. Experiment. Iterate. Fail. Try again. Change the world.”
“Optimist” is the first word Simon Sinek uses to describe himself on his LinkedIn page. A fuller bio would note that he’s an adjunct staff member of the RAND Corporation think tank, author of the best-sellers Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last and that in 2009 he gave what has turned out to be the third-most-viewed TED Talk—more than 29 million views—of all time. In Sinek’s newest book, and his third best-seller, Together Is Better: A Little Book of Inspiration, he offers bracing bites of optimism: “What good is an idea if it remains an idea? Try. Experiment. Iterate. Fail. Try again. Change the world.”
“The essential question is not, ‘How busy are you?’ but ‘What are you busy at?’ Are you doing what fulfills you?”
She still reigns. More than five years after her seminal talk show ended its run, Oprah Winfrey is still a towering presence on TV. Her network, OWN, is generating strong ratings with dramas such as Greenleaf and Queen Sugar and the inspirational series SuperSoul Sunday. On Broadway, Winfrey is a producer of the Tony-winning musical revival of The Color Purple. She’s also re-energized her book club, and in January she published her cookbook, Food, Health, and Happiness. What unites these projects is passion. As Winfrey says: “The essential question is not, ‘How busy are you?’ but ‘What are you busy at? Are you doing what fulfills you?’ ”
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.