What Is The Key To Success In Life?

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” — Calvin Coolidge

Our world is filled with distractions. They offer a ceaseless barrage of incessant notifications and attention-grabbing headlines that distract us from our long-term goals. It’s easy to see why most people don’t succeed in life or are unable to accomplish their dreams when we live in a world filled with so much noise.

In an effort to garner our attention, that noise is often parlayed in the form of negativity and fear, two things that humans tend to gravitate towards. It’s one of the detracting features of our society, but also an unavoidable status quo. How can we possibly succeed when we’re so inundated with garbage throughout the day and night?

Clearly, for those that are serious about getting ahead in life or exiting this thing we call a rat race or achieving anything worthwhile, rising above this conundrum is paramount. So I recently asked myself this question. What’s the key to success in life? How is it that one person can achieve their wildest dreams while the next person is suffocated by “circumstances”?

If you’ve been reading this blog for any measure of time, you already know that I’m obsessed with understanding human nature and uncovering the motivations behind why we do the things that we do. Now, I’m not perfect. In fact, I often royally screw things up. I’ve failed so many times. I’ve also given up. Through it all, I’ve learned some powerful lessons about failure and success.

Because of my curiosity, and because failure is so taboo in our society, I’ve often scoured for examples of failure stories amidst some of the most famous and successful people to have walked this earth. In fact, I’ve written quite extensively about it. But this post isn’t about failure. This post is about success and just what it takes to achieve our outlandish goals. But those two worlds collide.

The truth? Failure is definitely one of the proverbial keys to success but it’s not the most important one. Failure is actually a stepping stone to achieving big goals, and the more you fail, and keep going, the more likely you’ll be to win. However, failure isn’t the biggest driving force in success. There’s something else.


What Does It Take To Truly Succeed?

In order to better explain this concept behind what unlocks the doorway to success, I wanted to relay a very powerful story that was recently shared with me. In fact, when I first heard the story, I was surprised that I had no idea who this individual was. Yet, his contributions to the field of electrical engineering and mathematics made him a celebrity for decades during his lifetime.

If you don’t know who the Wizard of Schenectady is, that’s quite alright. I had no clue myself. In fact, if you think about some of the greatest human minds of our existence, Charles Proteus Steinmetz is right up there with the likes of Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein. Yes, he’s that important.

Although he stood just 4 feet tall, he was a giant amongst men and a pillar in the scientific community. However, due to a genetic birth defect that created an overarching hump in his back, he was socially shunned. Introverted and conscious about his appearance, he immersed himself in his work.

After immigrating to the United States from Germany in 1888, he went to work for a company in Yonkers, New York called Eickemeyer and Osterheld where he discovered a mathematical solution for the phenomena behind power losses, which led to revolutionary new breakthroughs in our understanding of alternating and direct-current electrical systems. This later became known as Steinmetz’s Equation (or the Law of Hysterisis).

Thomas Edison’s General Electric group discovered what Steinmetz was doing at Eickemeyer and Osterheld and decided to acquire the company along with Steinmetz’s patents, rendering his service obligations to GE now. In 1894, as a result, Steinmetz picked up and moved to Schenectady, where he would spend the next three decades of his life working for GE.

In fact, it was right there in Schenectady, New York, that Steinmetz became a legend amongst men. It was there that he continued to hone his craft, refining his understanding of complex mathematical equations and a knack to discover hidden algorithms to uncover the precise methods and analyses that would allow him to carefully explain the behavior of alternative current circuits.

As his fame rose amongst the scientific community, Henry Ford, hearing about Steinmetz’s prophetic ways, summoned the electrical engineer to his River Rouge plant in Detroit Michigan. It turned out that none of the talented engineers at Ford’s plant could solve a problem with a gigantic electrical generator.

The problem was costing Ford a great deal of money. Having heard about Steinmetz’s brilliance, and upon his arrival at the plant, Ford and his team were surprised when Steinmetz shunned them all, turning away their help. Instead, all he asked for was a notepad, a pencil and a bed so that he could carefully observe the machine both day and night.

For those two days and nights, the only breaks that Steinmetz took from observing and listening to machine, were in the evenings to get a few hours of sleep. The balance of the time, he was busy scribbling computations, formulas and algorithms based on his observations with the machine.

It wasn’t until the second night that Steinmetz asked Ford’s team for a ladder so that he could climb the giant machine and place a chalk mark near a metal plate on the side of the massive generator, indicating that it needed to be opened up at that point. Steinmetz instructed Ford’s engineers to remove a metal plate and replace 16 of the windings from the field coil.

To Ford and his team’s surprise, immediately upon replacing those 16 windings from the field coil, the machine began operating to perfection without a single hitch. The team was delighted and Steinmetz went on his way back to Schenectady. Some days later, Steinmetz issued an invoice to Ford for $10,000 (or $275,000 in today’s dollars when accounting for currency).

While Ford was excited that the problem had been resolved, after receiving the invoice he scoffed at the figure, asking for an explanation. Steinmetz personally responded himself, stating the following:

“Making chalk mark on generator:    $1.

Knowing where to make mark:         $9,999.

Ford paid the bill.”


The Pursuit Of Persistence

The story of Steinmetz or any of the other famous people who have failed should illuminate the fact that success is evasive. Oftentimes, it can even elude the brightest minds, such as in Ford’s engineering staff. The truth? The only thing that separates most people from success is the simple act of persistence.

Steinmetz, beyond being a brilliant mind, knew that he needed to carefully analyze the machine and its behavior. And in order to do that, he needed to spend as much time with it as possible. Because of his persistence, he was able to solve a problem that had bewildered some of the most talented engineers on Ford’s staff.

Similarly, most individuals have succeeded, not because they failed at something, but because they persisted, even through failure. Ford’s failure to rectify the problem with the electrical generator was resolved when he deferred to Steinmetz. He persisted by continuing to search for the answer, even when all others were telling him that the problem wasn’t solvable.

In the past, what if others had given up before they struck proverbial gold? What if Edison had given up before inventing a commercially-viable electric lightbulb? What if Einstein had given up on the theory of relativity or any of the other profound scientific contributions he made to our society? What if others simply walked away after they failed a few times or even a few dozen times?

Persistence is the key. It takes persistence to succeed in life. It doesn’t matter how slow you go as long as you keep going. That is the secret. That is the trick. There are no hidden secrets or methodologies. There is no conspiracy theory setup against the poor by the rich. There is no super-secret formula to achieving your dreams.

The key really is persistence. That’s what it takes. You need to persist through failure after failure. You need to pick yourself back up again and do it one more time. It doesn’t matter how much it hurt or how badly you felt afterwards. The only pathway forward is to march straight through it.

The biggest difference between those that succeed at the highest level and those that give up at the drop of a hat, is this concept of persistence. So how is it that one person can stay persistent while another can’t seem to bear the mere thought of failure, cowering away in fear and anxiety?


How To Be More Persistent

Okay, so if persistence is the key to success, the biggest question then becomes, how do you become more persistent? Is persistence something that’s learned or is it a habit that can be developed over time? In fact, the answer to this question is pretty important. You might be sitting there wishing you could be more persistent, but every time you try to do something, you end up giving up when the going gets tough. So what gives?

The truth? Persistence can’t be learned. It can only be discovered. But the good news is that it’s within all of us. But it needs to be mined out as if you were searching for gold in a deep cave somewhere within the far reaches of your mind. The way to do that? Set goals the right way.

You see, the best vehicle for persistence is in actually setting yourself up to win with goals that are meaningful enough to you that you’re willing to do whatever it takes. Often, the two things that drive us are the concepts of pain and pleasure. We usually do more to avoid pain than we do to gain pleasure in the short term.

But, when you come up with powerful reasons about why you absolutely must achieve your goals, you begin to do more to avoid pain in the long term by following through with your actions. In fact, you end up taking massive amounts of action as a result of setting your goals the right way.

All you need to do is ensure that you write down your goals, but get very specific with them. What do you want, precisely? Define it. Don’t be afraid. Once you’ve defined it, pick a date on the calendar then decide why you’re willing to do just about anything to achieve it. Is it because you want freedom or to take care of your family? Maybe it’s to seek adventure and travel the world. Maybe it’s to help contribute to others.

You have to come up with something that you’re willing to do anything for to achieve it. Think about it. In the past, when you set your mind to something, and I mean really set your mind to it, you went to great lengths to follow through, didn’t you? That’s the biggest difference. That’s where you’ll discover those keys that open the doorway to success.

This is not some massive secret or hidden strategy. This isn’t something created for some illustrious illuminati group, shrouded from the eyes of the masses. No, the key to success is right there for anyone to find. It isn’t complex. It’s simple and basal. But how often do people really take the steps to get there? How often do we go out of our way to do anything until we can achieve our dreams?

The fact is that we get complacent and comfortable. But you can’t allow that to happen. Use language to fuel your quest towards success and ensure that nothing stands in your way. Wake up early each morning with the passion, drive, inspiration and motivation to achieve even the most outlandish of dreams. And persistence is the vehicle that’s going to get you there. That’s your ticket to success.