Success is Binary


Since LinkedIn opened its blogging platform to all users, I’ve read dozens of articles on leadership, entrepreneurship and success.

What occurred to me recently is that success, at its core, is simple – it’s the daily discipline of practice toward your goal.

My favorite entrepreneur of the moment is Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes. What’s so remarkable about her story is that, in an era of start-ups and venture capital funding that rivals the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s, she managed to keep her telemedicine pioneer Theranos (necessarily) out of the spotlight for years.

While countless other (primarily tech) startups have prioritized press over profits – or been the darling of SXSW only to recede into obscurity months later, Holmes built her vision quietly—day by day—over the last 12 years.

The lesson? Some innovators talk; others do.

To me, it’s that habitual practice and priority on substance over flash that defines success.

Today I went to the gym at 6:00 am to do exercises I hate – squats and deadlifts. To be clear, I’m not (nor have ever been) an athlete or a bodybuilder. Rather, I’m just a guy in his 30s who wants to keep his body running as smoothly as possible.

But going to the gym is one of many habits I’ve developed. And it illustrates the point:

Success, at its core, can be boiled down to two key elements: time management and a binary question (i.e., one with only two answers – yes or no):

Did I practice today?

Here, “practice” can mean any number of things, depending on your goals. Perhaps a better term for practice is “X” (insert your favorite verb).

Some context:

I went through a major life change 14 months ago. It made 2014, in many ways, a re-building year.

But as the blooming cherry blossoms in Washington DC last weekend heralded the coming of spring, I reviewed my successes of the last year and considered my goals for the remaining eight months of 2015.

To be clear, I’ve done a lot this past year.

The biggest epiphany in reviewing my list, however, was realizing what I didn’t accomplish.

My blog is dead. My social media presence is sad. And I’m not yet the amazing salsa dancer I promised myself I’d become a year ago.

Why? I didn’t adequately apply myself to those pursuits. Sounds simple, but it really comes down to just two things: attention and daily practice.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

I had 52 weeks in which I could easily have published 52 blog posts, 52 weeks in which I could have published more consistently to LinkedIn and Twitter.

So for the remainder of 2015, my success metric is simple:

Did I X today?

Did I go to the gym today? It doesn’t matter if the weight or reps I lifted were more or less than last week’s, it matters just that I went. The rest will take care of itself.

Did I pitch another half dozen reporters on behalf of my clients today? Six calls a day = 30 a week. Even with a paltry five percent success rate you’re still booking six interviews a month.

Did I flirt with my beloved today? It could have been a lingering kiss on the way out the door, a sweet email or text message mid-day, or coming home a bit early to help make dinner.

If you work in sales, maybe X is extra research on a prospect so that your first contact is that much more personalized.

“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.” – Bob Dylan

Either you do, or you don’t. When your head hits the pillow each night, ask yourself if you X’d today, whatever X means to you.

If not, do it tomorrow. 365 days later you’ll be amazed at what you have accomplished.

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