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Jumpstart Personal & Professional Success—And Keep It Moving

Updated on April 23, 2015

Seven Questions to Help You Jumpstart Success - And Keep It Growing!

"The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward."
~ Amelia Earhart

When Tony came to me, he was stuck. Nan came because she was drifting without direction. Both clients had desire and talent. Both worked hard. But neither could pull all the pieces together to create real and lasting success. Each made progress, then fell back. Each was stuck in a better, then worse, then… pattern that was sapping their energy and eroding their spirit.

Why were they stuck in this pattern? Because both of them spent too much time and money trying to figure out HOW to create success, before they had a clear idea of what the success they wanted looked like.

As a result they took a kind of scatter-shot approach to their efforts, and spent too little time taking action that supported the real and lasting results. They applied for jobs they didn't want, and didn't stick with when they got them. They thumbed the want ads without paying attention. The told themselves, "There's nothing there I'd really want to do. So, what's the point? Why try?"

Thinking like that, they'd quickly depress themselves. They would sap their own energy, waste their previous effort, and slide back into drifting, or being stuck. Sound anything like you? Or someone you know?

Perhaps You Ask the Wrong Questions?

Perhaps, as Tony and Nan did, you ask the wrong questions. Or maybe you ask the right questions, but in the wrong order. To jumpstart real and lasting success, you do best to start with the questions "What?" And "Why?"

The question, "how to do it?" is important. But you can't get good answers to it, until you have clearly identified the answers to “what” and “why.”

The following seven questions have helped thousands of individuals, teams, and small business owners jumpstart success on their own terms, and keep it jumping through good times, and bad. Before you start throwing time and money at your career or business efforts, why not take the time to thoroughly examine the answers you generate with these seven questions.

1. What Brings You Most Fully Alive?

What truly matters to you—in life, as well as work, or business?

What excites you? What energizes you at a deep level? What are you passionate about? What results would you love to see exist in your life, work, whatever?

Long-term research on Harvard Business School grads (from the Class of '45) found that those who organized their lives and work around their passions were much more likely to succeed (and become millionaires) than those who merely focused on making $1,000,000. In other words, those who knew what they were passionate about, and focused on it did well. Those who just focused on making money did less well.

Maybe it's not work that's got you stuck, but life. The same principles apply. As singer/songwriter Kate Wolf advised, "Find something you really care about, and live a life that shows it."

So what do YOU love? What are you passionate about? What gets your juices running, and your energy flowing?

Not sure? Try this short experiment.

On a blank sheet of paper, or in your journal write down a list of the best things you have done, or imagine you could do. Keep writing until you hit something that makes you shiver with emotion. Do not worry, yet, whether what you want is realistic, or doable. (We will look at reality in question 3.) For now, just list your heart's desires, and remind yourself that "the heart wants what the heart wants."

Also, do not confuse “lust” with “love.” Most people do not really love money. They love the things they can do or create with money. So write about those things, and keep writing until you stumble across something that chokes you up, or brings tears of joy to your eyes.

This is an important exercise. Identifying your deep and true passions can open immense sources of power. It is an evolutionary step toward creating real and lasting success.

2. If You Created It, What Would It Look And Feel Like?

Then next step toward success is to focus your passion into a vision of specific results. Focus sets limits, and limits generate power.

Tony, for example, was passionate about skiing. But he could not see how to build a “respectable” career around his hobby. Because he had a flare for design, Tony's father had been pushing him toward architecture, but that felt too "mainstream” for Tony. Besides, it was his father's vision, not his.

I helped Tony see that he could combine his passion for skiing with his talent for design. By focusing on these two things, he became a successful ski area designer. He made an excellent income, got to ski five days a week, and felt deeply fulfilled by the work he was doing. Even his father grudgingly admitted that he was impressed!

Too often the goals people set for success are "concepts." They are general goals such as writer, executive, entrepreneur, or sales wizard. But they are too broad, to all encompassing to generate excitement and energy.

Instead, a wannabe writer like Nan might envision, “My recipe book about organic hot dogs is #1 on the Amazon, New York Times, and Oprah bestseller lists.”

An individual who wants to work for him or herself would want to specify what they'd be doing, where, with whom, serving who, offering what, in what kinds of packages, etc…. Specifying the details of your vision sets you apart from every other writer or entrepreneur.

So clarify and specify your vision. Making vision clear and compelling translates your passion into the power needed to take action--and to sustain it in tough times.

3. What Is The Current State of Your Result?

On the road to real and lasting success, it's not enough just to know your destination. You must also know where you are starting. Imagine asking directions if you did not know where you are? Not easy, eh?

To turn your vision into a successful result, you need to know both where you are and what you have to work with. You need to strengths, assets, experience, contacts, etc. You need to be aware of deficits, obstacles, and adversity. You need to clarify your current reality relative to the result you want to create.

The key to clarity is to describe reality, don't judge” it. Judging distorts reality, and makes it harder for you to take effective actions

If, like Nan, you know a lot about organic hot dogs, but have no experience writing, do not judge: “I cannot write a book.” Such a judgment is likely to stop you in your tracks. Instead, describe: “I cannot write a book, yet.” This kind of description is more accurate, more hopeful, and much more likely to lead to action than the previous judgment.

Remember: reality is your ally, not your enemy. So be honest about where you are and what you have. Tell the truth about reality, and let the chips fall where they may. Truth is power!

To ensure that a statement is an objective description of reality, ask yourself, “Is this true? Is it absolutely true?” If it is not true, it is likely a judgment, and distorting.

Nan once told me, “I have no skills.” But, when we applied the test questions above, she saw her judgment was untrue. When prompted by me to do so, she was shocked at how many varied skills she could list.

Current Reality also might also include problems, obstacles, and fears, doubts, and uncertainties. Don't let yourself get freaked out by these things. Just see them as aspects of reality. Acknowledge them, be aware of them, but do not dwell on them. Focus instead on what you really want, on what works, and on what is already in place, and working in your favor.

Simultaneously focusing on what you want and what you already have sets up a useful "creative tension." Tension means "a tendency to move." Creative tension energizes you. It makes you optimistic. It builds momentum that moves you in the direction of your desired results.

4: What Are Your Best "Next Steps"?

When you hold a clear, compelling vision together in your mind with a clear description of reality, a gap, even a chasm, appears between them. Don't be put off by the gap. Accept it; embrace it. Use the creative tension that arises out of the gap to build a bridge from where you are to where you want to be.

Bridge building requires two kinds of actions--strategies and tactics.

Strategies are large, often general action steps such as “develop a book proposal,” or "create a marketing and promotion plan" that support your desired end result such as "A Bestselling Book. But these steps are too big to just take. And this is where many people get stuck. They don't know how to take these large steps, so they don't.

To make progress, you have to transpose these large strategic steps into strategic sub-results (book proposal, outline) and then break them down further into sub-sub-results, all with the same vision, current reality, and action step framework that I'm leading you through here.

That way all of your action steps, even the very necessary baby steps are embedded in a meaningful and energized context. If you took the baby steps, you'd create sub-sub-results that would combine to form sub-results such as a draft proposal, or a rough promo plan). Then, when you add these strategic sub-results together, they would lead to the larger end result you envisioned.

But, as you can see, you do not do strategies; you do tactics that support strategies.

5. How Do I Get To Small, Easy-To-Take Actions?

Once your strategic steps/results are roughed out, ask yourself, “What smaller results and actions would support my larger results?” You need to figure out your tactics, those small actions that add up to bigger actions and bigger results.

Tactics are small steps such as, “research the market,” “clarify my offerings,” and “develop a hook for chapter One.” Taken together, they yield larger results such as “a marketing plan,” or "an annotated chapter outline."

Starting with such small, easy steps leads to quick success. A number of quick successes builds patterns of success. Such patterns demonstrate your skill and competence, and give you confidence. Together, competence and confidence lead to momentum, which leads to larger steps. Success builds on success.

You do not need to create an airtight "plan." You don't need to outline all the steps between where you are and where you want to be. You just need to identify your most promising next 2, or 3 steps. Taking action steps will change reality. New steps will become obvious. Take them, note your results, and then ask again, “What are my next steps, now?”

This plan-as-you-go process honours both vision AND reality. There is no failure in this approach, only feedback. Your actions and results, however imperfect, will teach you what to do next. You will make up your path as you go.

6: How Do I Deal With Setbacks, Obstacles, and Adversity?

People who succeed in all areas of life and work know how to handle setbacks and adversity. They know how to turn obstacles into opportunity, and to use reality as it is as their raw material for creating desired results.

Research by Positive Psychologists such as Martin Seligman and Paul Stoltz shows that successful people see and explain current reality in a more realistically optimistic way than either pessimists or Pollyanna optimists.

• Successful creators focus on what they can CONTROL, if only, sometimes, their attitude toward the adversity they face. Within the limits of their control, they take appropriate action. They realize the wisdom in the old saying, “We cannot control the wind, but we can adjust our sails.

• Successful creators take OWNERSHIP for the results they want to create. That means they focus on those results and taking supportive action, regardless of what happens or who is to blame. Blame is for losers. Ownership is key to success.

• Successful creators see adversity as TEMPORARY. They recognize the wisdom in the old phrase, “This too will pass.” They accept problems as part of reality, and move on by focusing on desired results.

• Finally, successful creators see adversity as LIMITED, contained to specific situations. They do not let the adversity, or feelings about it, bleed over into, or effect other areas of their life and work.

By accepting adversity and focusing on results, successful creators use problems and setbacks as “creative moments”. In such moments, they re-establish the vision-reality gap, learn from their situation, and take action toward the results that want to bring into being.

7: How Will I Know When I'm Done?

A clear vision includes specific success criteria. Our writer, Nan, who wants to be on the bestseller lists will know she has succeeded when she sees her name, and the name of her book, on the bestseller lists she specified.

Tony knew he had succeeded when he completed his first ski-area design, and got rave review--and a bonus--from his clients.

Some creators set financial criteria. Some set quality criteria. Others set both. For many, knowing when they are done is just a deep sense that, “this is it--reality now matches my vision. It's good enough!"

When you complete your result, take time to celebrate your success. Affirm both the specific success, and the fact that you can succeed. Then use the energy of completion to start your next creation.

By asking and answering these seven questions, both Tony and Nan jumpstarted their success—and kept it jumping, even when times were tough. You can do the same. The key is to ask, and keep asking the question.

Start small, stick with it, and remember—success breeds success


Bruce Elkin is the author of Simplicity and Success,Thrive and The ABCs of Emotional Mastery. He is Personal/Professional Life Design Coach with 20 years experience help writers and other creatives organize their lives and work around their passion.

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The Story of Success, with Malcom Gladwell


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    • eddiecarrara profile image

      Eddie Carrara 

      8 years ago from New Hampshire

      Nice hub Bruce, very informative and some great starting points. The video with Malcolm Gladwell opened my eyes to the reasons why I was able to drive good at such a young age and also why it's taking so long to learn IM. I need about 5000 more hours before I get it, lol


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