How Success Can Lead to Failure

Imagine having all the success you ever wanted. You get a job you want, start a business, get the body you want, get the significant other you want, learn that skill you want, you name it. Everything seems great and you are on top of the world. And then suddenly you start to drift backwards from where you came. Why is this?


I find the way people act very interesting. We can have a complete dominance in one field but be bereft of knowledge in another. After achieving dominance in one field (maybe despite no one else believing we could do it), we feel like we don’t need to put in work anymore. We start to fall in to the same pattern of thinking and talking as the people that once didn’t believe us when we wanted to achieve something seemingly insane.


I’m talking about complacency. I’ll give a personal example. I saw people in my French class in high school learn French to a very high level, and then of course when they saw me study Japanese on the side, they simply look at me and say “I could never do that.” I never understood why. They learned another language proficiently, why couldn’t they learn another one?


Apparently, some people feel as though they have a limited amount of “easy” successes in life that they can have so they pick and choose which ones are easy. Actually, I don’t know how to explain their reasoning. From my own experience though, if you put in blood sweat, and tears to get one amazing success, then you already know how get your next success. If you put the same amount of energy into what you now claim you can’t do as you did into the thing that you succeeded in, you will be able to succeed yet again. The only differentiator is the amount of effort you decide to put in. That’s it.


Another form of complacency: someone learns something to a high degree (a language, a martial art, etc) or gets that ideal body, and then stop doing everything that got them to where they are today. You can’t keep the six pack once you start guzzling beers without any exercise at all, you won’t maintain your musical skills if you don’t keep practicing them.


For some reason, people think that as long as you reached a high level of skill then it automatically is retained despite any effort (or lack thereof) on your part. It is not the case. If you do not use your skill, you lose your skill. I haven’t had a guitar for the past 7 months after moving to Taiwan. If I go to a guitar store to pick up a guitar, I cannot play as well as I did 7 months ago. That’s just a fact. I will have to put the work back in to get my chops back up to par.


The main takeaway is do not let success hold you back. The reason I call my blog “The Journey of Learning” is because it never stops. You can’t let just learn something and then stop. You can’t have one success and then stop. There is always something more to learn, always something more to discover. That’s the best part! It’s what makes everything fun.


Don’t fall into complacency. Yeah you achieved your goal, now set another one!


Using Narratives And Lists To Set Goals

Last week, I talked about using a prescriptive list to help you lay out your goals. That method is really useful to help you find the target that’s you need to knock out to help you get to where you want to be, but what about trying to figure out what you want beyond a year or two? Where do you want to be in 5-10 years? In my opinion, one of the best ways to not only figure out what you want, but also to help you spell out what you want is to use the Descriptive Narrative.


I call it the Descriptive Narrative because it very much resembles a narrative. I personally use this method to figure out what my end game is. Where I hope to end up.


The Descriptive Narrative is fairly simple to do. Think about where you want to be in life, overall or in 5-10 years. Now describe that person. If it helps, imagine someone is writing a character bio about the future you. What does s/he do? What habits does he (using he because it’s simpler to type) have? What traits does he embody? This can be in several paragraphs reflecting a variety of situations.


For example, if someone is particularly shy and wants to improve, he could write:

He has no difficulty in social settings, able to keep a conversation with anyone over a variety of topics. If he sees someone he wants to meet, he walks over without hesitation and introduces himself. He has what some people describe as a warm glow to him; people just like talking to him.

And etcetera.

This can give you a more in depth understanding of what it is exactly that you want. And you can keep revising this narrative until you are satisfied with it. Now you know the type of person you are trying to be. Make sure you are honest with yourself, yes writing a couple paragraphs about the “cool future you” might not seem that cool, but it really can help you find more about yourself: what skills you want to have, what job you want to get, where you want to live, etc. Sometimes up front, you write what you think you want, and then after reading it, you realize that what you just wrote is not really what you want in life. Repeatedly going through this process can help you figure out where you truly want to be.


What I like about this method more than the list method is the list method falls to the temptation of “I think I want it, so let’s throw it on the list.” While I know not everybody does that, it is still very easy to think you want something and then throw it on your things to do, when in reality, that does not align with your overall goals. Maybe for some people, they haven’t even figured out their overall goals.


Another bonus is that the Descriptive Narrative has great potential for flexibility. Since this goal setting method is similar to writing character bio (your future self) for a story (life), we all know that life is constantly changing and helping us grow. So maybe when you review your overall goals, you realize that there is a certain aspect that you wrote, and you realize you don’t like the tone in which it was written, or maybe that entire quality is something that you don’t really care for anymore, you can erase it, change it, add to it, whatever you want to. You need to constantly be evaluating where you want to be.


Maybe now your descriptive narrative sounds fine, but in a few years you realize that it sounds selfish, now you know something more about yourself. Now you know that you don’t want to be selfish. So what do you do? You add in to be more giving to others. Congratulations, you just evolved as a person.


How to Use the Two Together

Now, I said that I use both of these methods in order to help me figure out where I want to go in life and then to make sure that I get my goals accomplished.  Luckily, using the two methods in tandem gives you the benefits of both, and the each cancel the other’s disadvantages. Let me show you how.


Let’s take our example of the descriptive method from above:

He has no difficulty in social settings, able to keep a conversation with anyone over a variety of topics. If he sees someone he wants to meet, he walks over without hesitation and introduces himself. He has what some people describe as a warm glow to him; people just like talking to him.


Alright, from this we know what we want our end goal to be. Now, we can break down these goals in a list of actions that we need to take.


He has no difficulty in social settings, able to keep a conversation with anyone over a variety of topics.

This tells us that we need to be well-versed in several topics. So a few goals we might set could be:

-Read one book every month on a different topic.

-Read the news every day for 15 minutes

-Listen to an educational podcast everyday


If he sees someone he wants to meet, he walks over without hesitation and introduces himself.

We need to not be afraid of meeting new people.

-Introduce yourself to someone you don’t know once a week

If that is too difficult for you, then start off with something like:

-Start a conversation with an acquaintance that up till now you have only said high to (ex. A secretary at work)


He has what some people describe as a warm glow to him; people just like talking to him.

We need to be seen as nice to people.

-Develop the habit of smiling every time you say hi to someone

-Learn to focus the conversation on the other person

-Learn how to improve charisma


As you can see, there are a lot of goals you can create and these goals help you to form the plan as to how to get the results. Which goals you use are ultimately up to what you think you need most. If you want faster results, you will do more. If you like a slower but steady progress rate, maybe you will do only a few of the goals you come up with. As you get better with this, you will learn to break down the goals from the life time-term and the long-term into mid-term and short term goals. It takes practice, but you will get better.


Happy goal setting!