Why are you successful (or not)?

by morgan · 7 comments


If you’ve ever wondered why “success” is so hard to come by, this blog post is for you.  If you’re already as successful as you want to be, then you probably don’t need to keep reading (and congratulate yourself that you’re in the minority of about 1% of all people!).

What is success?  That totally depends on you.  But if you’re in an academic career, that often means getting a PhD, getting some publications, doing a post-doc, getting some more publications, getting some kind of faculty job, or so on.  If you’re not into the academic thing, you may define success as finding a great-paying job in industry.

Whatever you define as success, the question is: why don’t you have it yet?

You may think to yourself, “Morgan’s going off the deep end with this self-help stuff…” but I want to explain.

Getting a great faculty job, getting grants funded, and getting tenure at a tier-I research U were all difficult.  But you know what is more difficult?  Starting and running a profitable business.  I’ve been involved in six business ventures in my life, four of which no longer exist.

While I often say that getting an academic job running a lab is like running a business, there is one big difference: when you’re in an academic job, you often have a net to save you if you fall.  That’s not the case in the business world.

The reason I bring this up is that when I opened my bike shop, it was a bigger struggle than any of those in my faculty career.  In order to turn that business around, I had to “resort” to self-help.

And indeed, what I learned applies to you if you don’t have the success you want yet: we hold ourselves back from success.

Now that I understand this, I see it all the time – in myself, in my students, in my staff, in my coaching and training clients – in most people I meet.

Today I listened to an interesting bit by a guy Noah St. John about his book “The Secret Code of Success.”  One of the key points of that book is that we are holding ourselves back because we’re asking ourselves the wrong questions.

Yes, the human mind is powerful, and it likes to answer questions.  And in life we often get the answer we’re looking for.

So if you ask: “Why is it so hard to get my PhD?” then guess what: your mind will find all the reasons that it is a struggle to finish.

What he describes in the book is turning that around from a negative question into a positive one:

“Why is getting my PhD going to be straightforward?”  Again, your mind searches for the answers, and finds them.

Normally I might put up some kind of link to the book, but here’s the reason I don’t: my audience is full of techy/geeky(that includes me!)/science types who are often averse to self-help, and even more averse to self-help that contains religious references.  Well, as useful as I think Noah’s stuff is, he does make religious references somewhat often for my tastes.  So I can’t outright suggest that you go read his book unless you’re perfectly ok with that kind of thing.  If you can deal with it, he has some great ideas to share.

But, even if you don’t check out any of his stuff, definitely think about what questions you are asking yourself.  When I started doing that, the result was surprising and very useful.

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