Following Examples to Success

Recently I came across a blog post that discussed the brilliance and drive of Erez Lieberman-Aiden, a brilliant interdisciplinary mathematician with a whole slew of noteworthy accomplishments under his belt – and before turning 30 at that. The blogger made the argument that emulating Lieberman-Aiden would be a great way to defeat procrastination. While I don’t disagree, I think the case can be made that finding someone who has accomplished your dreams and following the principles along their path to success is a tried-and-true way to make any worthy life goal a reality. There’s a great deal of power in seeing that someone has actualized what might seem like a far-off idea or dream, taking cues from the steps they took. 

How can you best analyze and emulate another’s success? Here are some tips:

  • Look for principles, not circumstances – Each individual may travel a different path, but there are always lessons to be learned by looking beyond specific details and finding what it was the person did to succeed. Don’t fall into the trap of attributing the success – or lack thereof – to environment or circumstances. While those do have an effect, they’re generally beyond your control. How you act and react within those boundaries is where the real difference lies. Look at what steps others have taken to rise above roadblocks. How can you use their story as a case study and learn best practices for business and life from them?
  • Read between the lines for character – Similar to the point above, there are often attributes successful leaders have honed over the years. What character traits do you want to improve in yourself? Find someone who radiates that trait and watch them closely. What small actions show that trait? It can sometimes be a “fake it ‘til you make it” situation – start with the actions that reflect that trait, and the trait will grow. Remember that everyone has traits that come more naturally for them than others, so be patient with yourself as you cultivate these characteristics.
  • Push past what’s easy – Rarely do the movers and shakers in life take the easy way out. It’s their tenacity and vision to push past the crowd and take the road less traveled that makes them stand out and succeed. They’re willing to take on the challenges and sacrifices that so many would rather avoid. It’s not wise to choose difficulty for difficulty’s sake, either, but as obstacles arise, remember that those challenges are part of the journey. Instead of folding, use them to become stronger. Study how other leaders have made it past challenges – it often involves staying true to themselves and their vision.
  • Make an action plan – The best way to actualize a goal is to make an action plan, complete with objectives, strategies, tactics, measurements, and milestones. Begin with the end in sight, as Stephen R. Covey teaches, and then work backward, setting milestones and midway goals, complete with deadlines. Again, look to the example of those who have succeeded before you. What steps did they take along the way? What setbacks did they face? Is there a way to plan for those sidesteps when making your action plan? Don’t forget to celebrate those small victories along the way.

“Overnight success” is a myth. People may achieve prominence in an instant, but even in the rare case that happens, they’ve been working for years to hone their skills and develop the character traits to achieve their goals, including a myriad of milestones along the way.


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