6 Reasons Why Smart, Hardworking People Don’t Become Successful


Think back to when you were in school. Do you remember that one person who stood out? That person whom everyone thought would change the world someday?

Parents and teachers showered the person with praise for their grades. Wherever you went, you overheard people talk about the things that person would go on to do one day.

Now fast forward a decade or two to the present day. Nobody has seen the person achieve anything spectacular or noteworthy. In fact, nobody has heard anything at all.

Maybe you know someone like this. Or maybe, you are that person.

I used to think that the recipe to success was a combination of hard work and intelligence. But it turns out that’s not the case. While they’re important qualities, other factors come into play as well.

Developing Focus and Creating Opportunities for Yourself

Most people go about their lives trying to get through each day. Rather than working towards a long-term goal, they work aimlessly, counting down the hours until they can take a break or catch up on the next episode of their favorite show.

We all have aspirations that we want to achieve someday, but the problem is that they’re often just far-reaching dreams that bear no resemblance to reality. We might even have numerous goals, but we just can’t get around to doing it all.

And as Sylvia Plath once said  — “Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously close to wanting nothing.”

Do you find yourself being pulled in numerous directions?

Do you change your mind often about where you want to spend your time and energy?

If you said “yes” to both of these, then you need to figure out what exactly do you want. When you become clear on where you want to go, you can devote all your resources towards heading in that direction.

With your destination in mind, you can increase your chances of success by doing the following:

  • Connect with others.
  • Open yourself up to chance.
  • Make the most of your opportunities.
  • Commit yourself to your goals.
  • Believe in yourself.

When you work on each of these factors, you can combine your intelligence and work ethic into creating something of value.

Let’s see why smart, hardworking people might have trouble finding success:

1. They don’t reach out to new people.

Let’s face it — it’s easier to hang around old friends than reach out to strangers. When you meet up with the same people, you know what to expect and feel at ease immediately.

But it’s just as important to introduce new people into your life as reuniting with old friends.

Why? Because you get stuck in a bubble when you always meet the same people over and over again. The group dynamics are static, and people tend to recycle the same ideas.

Whenever I meet a new person, I get to hear their story and learn new things. I learn about their experiences, their aspirations, and their perspective on life.

It can be tough to reach out at first, but starting small can help. Aim for a small goal, such as meeting one new person a week.

You can reach out by introducing yourself to someone where you frequent or by emailing someone to share ideas or ask for advice. Maybe you’ll only talk once, or maybe you’ll keep in touch and collaborate on a project.

2. They don’t take risks.

There are two types of risks:

  • Blind risks, which involve greater downside than upside.
  • Calculated risks, where the upside is greater than the downside and it’s potentially life-changing.

When you take risks, you have to think about the potential loss and potential gain from it.

Unfortunately, a lot of smart people opt out of both and choose the safe route. They follow the same path as their peers or choose a career that’s socially acceptable.

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, shared how he decided to quit his secure job at an investment company to create an online bookstore. Here’s how he used what he calls the “regret minimization framework”, in his words:

“So I wanted to project myself forward to age 80 and say, ‘Okay, now I’m looking back on my life. I want to have minimized the number of regrets I have.’ I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried. I knew that that would haunt me every day, and so, when I thought about it that way it was an incredibly easy decision.”

Eventually, you need to consider what’s best for yourself in the long run. Would you be happier knowing that you took a calculated risk that didn’t pay off, or if you took the safe path?

3. They think that their credentials will automatically lead to success.

“I went to [insert school], so I deserve [X].”

This is a line that I commonly hear from highly intelligent people who have worked hard all their lives and expect to be compensated for it. Sadly, that’s not how things work.

High-achieving people tend to have an impressive alma mater, many achievements, and high grades. They’re used to being at the top and receiving praise for whatever they do.

While these things feel nice at the time, they can also lead people who have succeeded in school to believe they can coast on their previous achievements.

As Mark Twain said — “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

So don’t stop learning.

Read. Experiment. Talk to people.

Use real-life experiences to supplement the knowledge that you already have.

4. They don’t go out of their comfort zone.

Being stuck in the same environment for a long time makes it hard to adapt to new situations. You grow complacent and eventually become fearful of anything new, even if the changes are for the better.

Embrace discomfort. It’s the only way to grow and get better.

For example, when I needed to contact people for feedback on my writing, I was hesitant. But once I reached out to a few people and received a response, I decided to try it again. Now, it’s become a regular habit that doesn’t daunt me anymore.

If you find yourself making excuses and resisting something new, pause for a moment. Ask yourself: Will doing this make me a better person in the long run?

Sometimes we don’t say “no” because something is unimportant. We say “no” because it’s the very thing we need to become better.

5. They can’t stick to a decision.

Smart, hardworking people are frequently told that they’re smart, they’re capable, and most of all, that they can do anything they want.

This is where the problem lies.

You see, being smart and hardworking means that people tell you that you can achieve anything if you just put your mind to it. You’re told that there are all sorts of possibilities. The world is your oyster.

But having all sorts of opportunities can be just as crippling as not having enough of them. Being overabundant in choices makes it difficult to know what to do. As a result, it’s easy to dabble in different things and “see what suits you”.

Before you know it, a decade has passed and you haven’t achieved much.

So if you’re thinking of pursuing a route, talk to different people and learn more about it. That way, you’ll get a better feeling for what suits you instead of diving straight in.

Focusing your efforts on one goal yields much better results than dividing your attention among many goals.

6. They don’t believe in their capabilities.

Smart people can be self-critical. They look at the work they create and always find something wrong with it.

While this attitude can help people push themselves to do more, it can also keep them from getting started in the first place. Perfectionism causes people to overthink, to doubt, and to do anything except take action.

When you use negative phrases to describe yourself, you eventually start believing that they’re true. If you have a tendency to do this, rephrase those sentences in your head.

For instance, if you think “I’m not a good runner,” your actions will start to reflect this and you’ll give up. Instead, here’s a better phrase to use: “It’s not that I’m a bad runner. I simply need to train more often to become a better runner.”

See how the belief changes from something innate to something that’s within your control?

Everyone was a beginner at some point. But when you change the words you use to describe yourself and your work, it becomes easier to keep practicing and finding ways to get around setbacks.

Create Consistency to Succeed

Yes, intelligence and work ethic are important qualities for success in any field. But what we often overlook is consistency.

Consistency means doing what’s required of you to reach your goal, regardless of what happens. It means putting in the effort even when the work feels mundane, when you’re tired, and when the results seem uncertain.

Of course, hitting a setback and finding a way around it isn’t as simple as it sounds. That’s why I created a guide on committing to your goals. It’ll show you how to focus on your goals and overcome inevitable obstacles that show up on your path.