Is Success a Choice?

Quite often, when I talk about opportunities to succeed on The Simple Dollar, I am accused of forgetting people who can’t help themselves – truly impoverished people, people with disabilities, and people with other strict disadvantages in life. I’m often told in no uncertain terms that for these people, success is not a choice – they’ve been dealt a bad hand in life.

Similarly, I’ll hear the hard-luck tale of someone who worked for forty years trying to build something successful and never quite made it. That person went out there, gave it their all, and success just never seemed to find them.

Because of situations like these, many people out there will shout from the rooftops that success is not a choice, that it’s merely a part of the hand that life deals you.

I flatly disagree, and here’s why.

Before I get going, let me say a bit about people who are disabled and those who are truly impoverished. People in those situations have indeed been dealt a bad hand, and it would be very trite of me to say that I could ever solve problems like disease or true poverty in a blog post. I don’t know the first thing about solving world hunger or curing Parkinson’s disease – those are problems for much wiser people than me to solve.

But I’m not talking about those people. I’m talking about people that are at least middle class (the upper 90% of income levels) and are of sound mind and body. That’s 80% or so of the American population.

For those people, a group that almost certainly includes you, success is largely a choice.

Every single minute, you have choices in life. You can sit there twiddling your thumbs and reading TMZ or you can bust your hump getting a great project done on time. You can burn $30 at the bookstore, or you can go to the library and get those same books for free. You can spend your evening watching television, or you can use it to educate yourself.

Each choice you make doesn’t guarantee success. You could make the “right” choice every single time for thirty years and still not succeed, or you could make just one right choice and have success fall right on your lap.

What these choices do over a period of time is open up more and more doors for success in life. Let’s say you’re interested in local politics so you choose to attend the city council meeting as an observer instead of watching television. That one choice might not mean much, but if you keep making choices like that, and then while at those meetings choose to ask questions and take notes, you might find yourself going where you want to go. On the other hand, if you go to one meeting, give up, and spend the next meeting watching television, you’re not choosing success at all.

I’ll use myself as an example. I’ve been trying to succeed on some level as a writer since I was fifteen years old. I’ve received a gigantic mountain of rejections over the last decade and a half. On the few occasions when I have sniffed success, that has faltered, too.

But I kept writing, and with each word and each moment of sustained effort, I became a better writer. I learned more about how the writing business works. I found new avenues that opened the door for success, tried them out, and failed at most of them. Right now, I’m finding some degree of success with the written word, but without that continuous effort, those constant choices that I made, I’d never be here.

You have a choice right now. You can go on doing things like you’ve always been doing. Or you can choose to try to do things better. You can keep shuffling through things, day in and day out. Or you can set a big audacious goal and choose to take the little steps that will move you towards it.

Your choice won’t guarantee you success, but it will open the door just a tiny bit wider, and each choice you make after that opens the door just a little bit more. Success may never walk in, or success may walk in tomorrow – but success will never walk in if you don’t put some effort into opening that door and putting out the welcome mat.

So, yes, I believe that for most people success is largely a choice – success can come to anyone at any time, but you steadily improve or worsen your chances with each choice you make. So go out there and start making choices to open the door a little wider – and have a little patience, too.

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