5 Universal Success Principles That Have Nothing to Do With Motivation

UPDATED: June 7, 2023
PUBLISHED: June 14, 2016

Most of the success advice you read is crap because it mistakes correlation for causation.

“Eighty percent of successful CEOs wake up at 5 a.m.—follow their example!”

Waking up at 5 a.m. doesn’t make you successful. The type of personalities that tend to achieve major success also happen to be the type that like to wake up at 5 a.m. and can sleep far less than the rest of us. But if you don’t already function like this, the only thing waking up at 5 a.m. will do is eliminate your nightlife.

Related: 6 Qualities of Wildly Successful People

Success advice also mistakes good fortune for proven business models.

“I’ve made millions in e-commerce. Buy my course to make your own millions.”

This guy sold a worthless company for $2 million at the height of the internet bubble. That guy made millions in black-hat SEO back when you could cheat your way into Google search rankings. The only thing their students know how to do is pay them money.

Success advice defaults to meaningless motivational jargon.

“Challenge yourself. Take risks. Believe in yourself. Have vision. Take action.”

Yeah, OK. Having the right mindset is important, but parroting vague motivational jargon is grade-D advice.

I’m not a success guru, but I do know how to look at success and divide the repeatable from the uniquely circumstantial. And I want to give you some real advice; I want to offer some universal principles that have always been true and will always be true.

Do with them what you will.

1. Find the capital.

Money makes money. That’s a simple economic truth. Whether we’re talking about personal finance or entrepreneurship, you have to find capital if you want to succeed.

The key here is to expand your mindset on what “finding capital” means. When entrepreneurs think about capital, they think about raising a big financing round. If you’re connected to people with money and influence, that might work. But for a lot of people, that strategy never pans out.
And that’s OK.

The point is that capital can come from income, crowdfunding, other businesses or numerous other sources outside of venture capital. Go after the source that makes the most sense for you.

Utilize this same mindset in personal finance, but with more focus on opportunity cost. Is forgoing an extra $40,000 per year for five years with the optimal payout being 2 percent stake in a $10 million startup? Not unless being a part of that startup will bring you career satisfaction or a boost of happiness.

Capital is king, but how you acquire it should be based on your own skills, connections and aspirations rather than some standard strategy such and such successful person used.

2. Networks grow faster than individuals.

Self-made is a myth. No one accomplishes anything in a vacuum.

Whether it’s the people who mentored you, the people who helped you, the people who bought from you or even the people who worked hard to create the society you prospered in, every person’s success is dependent on others.

Growth is always quicker with a team or network. If you can get direct advice from people who have done it already, you will grow quicker. If you can partner with people who possess complementary skills, you will grow quicker. If you can collaborate with other people or businesses targeting the same audience, you will grow quicker. If you can focus on your team’s and clients’ success rather than being preoccupied with your own, you will grow quicker.

No one succeeds on their own. If you embrace that and let it permeate your thinking, you will succeed faster (and probably have a lot more fun along the way).

3. Pick one skill set and master it.

Generation X looked for jobs. They picked a career that would pay nicely while not making them miserable (hopefully), and then they worked. They came in day after day. They bought their house at 22. They worked 30 years at the same job. If they were smart enough to invest some of their ample savings in the early ’90s and pull it back out before 1999, they’re retired on their yachts now.

That reality no longer exists. In today’s climate, people who simply look for jobs tend to lose jobs later. If you want to guarantee your own success, you don’t need a job—you need a unique skill set.

Unique expertise is key. You’ll always need to be competent in multiple areas, but don’t let that distract you from the area where you are most valuable—the skill set that makes you indispensable. If you can make yourself a master at one skill set, you can create your own job security.

This is true for entrepreneurs, too. If you are doing everything, you will accomplish nothing. You have to be able to focus on the areas you are most capable of delivering tangible value. The more you focus, the more you will succeed.

4. There will always be sacrifices, but you get to choose them.

There is a myth that tends to come up frequently around the topic of success which suggests sacrifices exist in a binary format. You can have either A or B. Pick career success or family. Pick travel or savings. Pick your passion or something profitable.

On the flip side, there is an equally egregious myth that suggests you can have it all.

The truth is, sacrifice is a sliding scale. You will always have priorities, but you have the opportunity to choose exactly where you fall on the multifaceted slider of life.

I enjoy writing and I’m fairly good at it. When I first started writing online, my favorite topics were sports and theology. But I realized I couldn’t make money in those fields. Since I was also interested in making money, I moved my passion slider down a bit and settled on marketing. It gave me the right position on my profit slider while remaining in my acceptable interest range.

If I wanted to make even more money, I could start selling B.S. get-rich-quick schemes, but my interest and satisfaction level would drop dramatically. Marketing gives me a great mix between passion and profitability.

5 Universal Success Principles That Have Nothing to Do With Motivation

This is how you have to approach every tradeoff in life. It’s not either-or. It’s a slider. Find an equilibrium that gives you everything you need to enjoy your life.

5. You’re only as productive as your energy level.

Productivity is an important part of success. As I mentioned in the intro, people who tend to be world-class business success stories tend to be the type of people who hop up at 5 a.m. itching to get back to work.

You can’t alter your biology or turn yourself into a freak of productivity, but you can optimize what you have to work with. Long term, the way to accomplish this is through physical health and fitness.

A lot of people spend their entire day online and then wonder why they’re always tired. It’s not a secret. When you’re active, you have more energy, which allows you to be more productive and motivated. Maintaining a fit lifestyle positively affects your body, your psyche, your sleep, your confidence… the list goes on.

Discipline and motivation tend to be all-or-nothing things. Very few people can be stringently disciplined in some areas of life and wildly irresponsible in other areas. When you are making disciplined choices with your fitness routine and nutrition, it’s also much easier to be disciplined with your work habits.

Maintaining your health via proper nutrition and fitness will factor into both your monetary success and overall life satisfaction. Make it a priority.

There’s your non-awful advice for the day.

  1. Find the capital.
  2. Prioritize networking.
  3. Master a profitable skill.
  4. Choose the lifestyle that makes you happy.
  5. Maintain your health and energy.

Related: 4 Secrets of Insanely Successful People

Jacob McMillen is a website copywriter and marketing consultant. When he’s not helping businesses make bank, he writes marketing and career advice that doesn’t suck on his blog Digital Careerist. Follow him on Twitter @jmcmillen89.