I had planned to write a traditional review of 50 Success Classics, but instead I will share some wisdom from its pages. This is an excellent book. I recommend it highly. Personal finance is not its focus. It’s about success. (For a description of the book, read my first impressions from last week.)

Success is the courage to live out your dreams.

Living out your dreams is scary, dangerous because it’s not routine. We’re scared of the unknown. Routine is comforting. It’s familiar. We know our place and what is expected of us.

It’s a tradition. And because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do. — Tevye, Fiddler on the Roof

By definition, what most of us cling to is comfortable mediocrity. We don’t try for more because that would require leaving the safety of the known to try something new, would require venturing into the unknown. That’s scary. We’re frightened of failure, and of the unexpected. In the forthcoming The Six-Day Financial Makeover, Robert Pagliarini writes:

Failure is the one thing that separates winners from losers. Winners fail and losers don’t. Yes, you read that correctly. The key characteristic of a winner is that they fail miserably, and some fail quite often. Thomas Edison failed more than a thousand times trying to invent the lightbulb, but — because of his commitment to this goal — finally succeeded. [...] You cannot achieve worthwhile, challenging, and deeply personal goals wihtout experiencing failure.

It is better to write a novel that is never published, to record an album that never sells, to found a business that closes shop within a year, than it is to succeed at doing nothing. In 50 Success Classics, Tom Butler-Bowdon writes:

Sometimes the urge for more is drummed out of us by upbringing, or culture, so you may have felt compelled to lower your expectations and settle for a less extraordinary life.

We live in a society that promotes mediocrity. The manufacturers, the advertisers, and the mass media are all pleased to have you live a life of quiet desperation. Your mediocrity is the key to their success. When you stay where you are, they make money. Stop helping them achieve their goals — achieve your own!

Even your family and friends value your complacency; it helps them maintain their own comfort zones. Only you are responsible for your own success. Only you can choose to make your life extraordinary. Only you can know when you’ve achieved your goals. Success is not an event — it’s a process. It’s up to you to find your niche, your place in the world. Success isn’t about winning — it’s about doing your best.

Pagliarini and Butler-Bowdon each offer a list of characteristics found in successful people. Successful people possess:

  • Expectations. “Successful people expect the best, and they generally get it, because expectations have a way of attracting to us their material equivalent,” writes Butler-Bowdon.
  • Tough-minded optimism. Optimism is power. Optimism is motivation. Optimism is forward-thinking. Optimism is the ability to draw something good even from failure.
  • Purpose. Successful people have goals. They have a vision of where they want to be.
  • Self-confidence. Pagliarini says that successful people “believe that [their] actions will create results tomorrow.” Have confidence in your abilities.
  • Industry. Expect to work toward your goal. Effort expended today is in service of the Big Picture. It’s what’s at the end that matters.
  • Discipline. Persistence is key. A journey of a thousand miles doesn’t just begin with a single step — it’s made up of other steps just like it.
  • Mindfulness. Successful people are self-aware. They know their strengths and weakness. They heed intuition.
  • Balance. Do not neglect other aspects of your life in a single-minded pursuit of your end. Your goal is important, but it’s meaningless if you sacrifice the rest of your life to reach it.
  • Curiosity. Successful people seek self-improvement. They read. They take classes. They keep an open mind.
  • Mastery. Become skilled at whatever you do. Pursue excellence. Be the best that you can be.
  • Daring. To succeed, you must take risks. There is no risk by staying where you are, but there is no reward, either. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
  • Focus. Doggedly pursue your goals and aims. Constantly review your objectives so that if you become distracted, you can get back on track.
  • Persistence. Do not let failures deter you from your goal. You will meet setbacks, but view these as learning experiences, not the cessation of your endeavors. Pick yourself up and move on.
  • Activeness. Successful people do not wait for things to happen to them; they make things happen. The only one who can achieve your goals is you.

As you work toward your goals, do not compare yourself to others. You are unique. You have your own goals. Only you can define success for your life. Challenge yourself. Think big. Dream. Strive to be your best.

To suffer woes which hope thinks infinite,
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night,
To defy power which seems omnipotent,
Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent:
This… is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free,
This is alone life, joy, empire and victory.
Shelley, “Prometheus Unbound”