What Is Actually Required For Success?


For over one year, I trained with the great folks at Columbus Weightlifting.

One of our lifters, Heather, joined the team and didn’t have a pair of weightlifting shoes. So, she borrowed a beat up pair that was riddled with cracked leather. They were easily over 10 years old. For months, I would come into the gym and there was Heather, working her butt off in those crappy, old shoes.

What happened?

She qualified to compete in the National Championships — with shoes that were barely holding themselves together.

Results like that serve as a reminder of what is actually required for success.

Think about all of the things you assume that you need to succeed — the “right” gear, the “right” credentials, the “right” experiences, the “right” degree — how much is that stuff really worth? How much of it is actually required for success?

Wasting Time on the Last 10%

We love to obsess over tactics and strategies that make the last 10% of difference.

For example: Didn’t have a good workout?

Well then, let’s debate all of the reasons why it could have been something other than you. Maybe you need to have your post–workout protein shake 30 minutes after working out instead of 60 minutes after working out. Maybe you need to get a better pair of shoes. Or a belt. Or a sweat–wicking shirt. Or knee sleeves.

What’s incredible is that these are things we actually waste time on! I’ve heard all of those crazy excuses mentioned in conversations. I’ve even said some of them myself.

Why? Because it’s easier to waste time debating the last 10% of improvement than it is to just do the thing that makes 90% of the difference. It’s easier to claim that you need a better diet plan or a new workout template or different gear than it is to admit that what you really need is to not miss a workout for the next six months.

This same idea holds true for diets and nutrition, business and entrepreneurship, writing and art, and virtually any other endeavor we attempt. We want strategies that scale. We want tactics that are optimized. But eventually, you realize that the biggest difference between success and failure comes from mastering the fundamentals.

  • Maybe a faster computer will make Stephen King a better writer … because he has already mastered the fundamentals of writing every day.
  • Maybe optimal meal timing will make an Olympic swimmer a better athlete … because she has already mastered the fundamentals of eating healthy and training hard.
  • Maybe a better guitar will make Eric Clapton a better musician … because he has already mastered the fundamentals of playing consistently.

But for most of us, the final 10% of optimization will rarely lead to the difference we’re looking to achieve.

The Greatest Skill

Here’s the single greatest skill in any endeavor: doing the work.

Not doing the work that is easy for you to do. Not doing the work that makes you look good. Not doing the work when you feel inspired. Just doing the work.

You might not be a brilliant writer, but if you actually write something each week, then you’ll be better than most because you are doing the work.

You might not be an incredible athlete, but if you never miss workouts, then you’ll be better than most because you are doing the work.

You might not be a savvy business person, but if you make a point to serve your customers every single day, then you’ll be better than most because you are doing the work.

And so it goes for any and every challenge we face. People love to soak in the details, search for new tactics, and debate the things that make a tiny difference. But at the end of the day, the greatest skill is always doing the work. That’s what makes the difference between professionals and amateurs.

What You Don’t Need

You don’t need a better computer to become a good writer. You don’t need a better guitar to learn how to play. You don’t need a better camera to become a good photographer. You don’t need more experience to become a public speaker. You don’t need more credentials to build a business. And you don’t need awesome weightlifting shoes to become a good weightlifter.

You don’t need any of it.

What you do need is to make a decision, set a schedule, and get started.

What you need is to do the work.