Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How to be Successful at Anything

If there is anything we all need, no matter what we do, what our goals are, or how lofty our ambitions, we need a path. We need a road map to guide us. And we need motivation. The trouble with these points is that we are all human; we fail often and miserably. But should our  vulnerabilities stop us?


I heard a story recently that made a huge impact in the way I look at success.

The story is about a young man who wanted to be the best athlete in his sport. He wanted to be famous and he wanted to make a lot of money. So the young man called up an old pro, a man who was considered a guru in the sport. He asked the guru if he could teach him the secret of his success. He asked if he could coach him and tell him what he had to do to be successful. Being the helpful man that he was, he agreed, and he asked the young man to meet him at the beach early the following morning.

The eager young athlete showed up a few minutes late, but the guru overlooked his immaturity and began his instruction immediately. He asked if the young man was willing to do whatever it takes to be successful, and the guy shook his head enthusiastically. The guru then walked through the sandy beach and into the crashing waves and signaled for the youngster to follow. The young athlete looked at him quizzically, but went ahead and did as the man asked.

The guru said, "Very good. Now keep moving."

The young man continued into the water until it rose above his knees. He wasn't much of a swimmer so he started to feel a little bit nervous and asked, "How deep are we going to go?"

The guru replied, "A little more." He waved his hand, commanding the athlete to continue, and he walked until the water rose over his chest. Naturally, the young man followed, but stood close to the guru, fear written all over his face.

The guru said, "Now take one more step."

The young man did so reluctantly.

"Now take another."

The young man took another step and lifted his chin so he could breathe and shouted, "I can't go any deeper without going under."

The guru smiled and said, "I know." He then griped the athletes shoulders and shoved him into the water and held him down. The athlete struggled, and kicked, and although he was as strong as a lion, the guru was stronger. He held him down until the young man almost passed out.

When the weary athlete came out of the water gasping for air, he coughed and spit out the salt water, shuffling through the waves until he returned to the sandy beach and plopped down, exhausted and lightheaded. The guru followed. And when the young man had caught his breath, he asked with a hint of hostility, "Why did you do that? You almost killed me!"

The guru bent down and looked at the youngster eye to eye and said, "If you want to be successful at anything, you have to want it as much as you wanted to breathe when I was holding you under."

The athlete just stared at the guru, stunned.

"If you want to be successful, you have to crave success more than your next meal. You have to want it as much as you want to sleep. You have to give up video games. You have to give up a few meals. You have to give up the things that everyday people are doing in their everyday lives, because success doesn't just come from wading through life. Success doesn't grow. Success doesn't appear. Success is what happens when you eat sleep and breath your dreams, not because you can, but because you cannot survive without it."

The guru stood up and left the young man on the beach.

This story is so applicable to writers. Publishing success is all about investing into a life-long dream, not a one-time achievement. And the same is true for any career, sport, talent, or hobby. Success is earned by putting much more time in than everybody else who is doing the same thing you are doing. We can't all be successful. But the ones who are, have been shoved under the waves and appreciate every gulp of oxygen they take.

Don't ever give up! But when you feel like quiting, you know what to do -- Dunk. Push. And hold your breath. A good drowning never hurt anyone swimming in success.

What do you think? What lessons have you learned about success?

Jeff Bennington  is the best-selling author of Reunion, Twisted Vengeance, and The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe.  


  1. Great story, but there's a big difference between the words "breath" and "breathe".

    1. Great comment, but there's a difference between a meaningful comment and this one.

  2. Hi, Jeff! Great article. The arts have a way of forcing us to either accept this reality or give up and do something else. Two short (paraphrased) quotes related to this - we write because our characters won't release us until we release them (onto the page, that is), and music is a jealous mistress. As artists, we write because it's not just what we do, it's who we are. I am not living unless I write stories and produce music. I was born to this. Writing and music are elemental/spiritual for me - the difference between truly living, and simply surviving.

    1. Exactly. Thanks for the comment and support.

  3. Howdy Jeff,

    I thought for all of your hard work and honesty, this blog post deserved a One Lovely Blog Award.



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