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The Secret of Success

I’m working with a young professional golfer at the moment and it’s a lot fun. I say he’s a professional, but that’s not technical true, he’s an amateur that possesses a professional mindset.

I was initially contacted by his father who was concerned that his son didn’t really know what to do with his life. We talked about values and all that other good Life Coaching stuff I do to help people figure things out and the father said he’d like me to coach him.

I never take a client on without speaking to them first so we had a good chat and decided to take things further.

Halfway through our first proper session it was obvious this wasn’t going to chart the normal course.

I presumed from the first two conversations I was going to have a kid that was unsure what he wanted out of life or where he wanted to go.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. He was focused, determined, motivated and knew exactly what he wanted out of life.

To be the greatest golfer on the plant.

The problem with goals like that is they are easy to set and fiendishly difficult to accomplish. After all, there is only one #1 ranked golfer in the world at any one point in time.

In the 24 years since the ranking system was introduced have only been 12 in total and other than a period in 2005 when Vijay Singh took over, Tiger Woods has been number one for the last decade.

That’s a fairly exclusive club and one that I would imagine every single professional and wannabe professional aspires to join. So what is required to become truly world-class?

Is it Belief?

You’re definitely going to need to be confident and have a strong belief system to be the best in the world. But most people who excel in their field have an abundance of belief in themselves.

Is It Talent?

The sporting world and otherwise is littered with talented people that never fulfilled their potential. Recent book like Outliers and Talent Is Overrated have even cast doubt on whether talent even exists and it isn’t just continual and repetitive practice over a period of 10,000 hours or more.

Is It Commitment?

I think we’re getting close with commitment, especially when you couple it with tenacity and determination. Having belief and talent is useless if you’re not committed to going out and practicing come what may. So it’s all of these things and a bit more because it’s this:

Having the commitment, and even desire, to do the things other people aren’t prepared to do.

In the early 1980’s Nick Faldo was one of the top golfers in Europe, but he had never won a major tournament, in fact he’d choked in two when close to winning. He decided with the help of his coach, David Leadbeater, that his swing wasn’t good enough to get him to world number one.

Faldo had 2 options. He could stay with his current swing and earn a few million bucks as a top level player that never quite became the best. Or he could rip it apart and rebuild it with no guarantee he’d even get back to where he was, never mind become any better.

He took the latter option and for two years he plummeted down the world rankings. He didn’t just fail to win tournaments, he was often missing the cut which meant he didn’t even get to play on the 3rd and 4th days.

Just in case you don’t know, Faldo went on to become the most successful British golfer of all time. He won 29 European tour events, 6 majors, more Ryder Cup points than anybody in history (including the US players) and he was world number one for almost 2 years.

That is doing what others wouldn’t do.

The Good: Hit 1,000 balls in practice

The Great:  Hit 1,000 golf balls in the freezing rain or when they don’t feel too great.

The Good: Stand on the tee and visualize where they want their shot to go.

The Great: Pass on going to the bar with their buddies so they can lie on their bed practicing visualizing techniques.

The Good: Enter tournaments in the middle of their ability level and enjoy the accolades when they win.

The Great: Enter competitions populated by players at the level above them knowing short-term wins are unlikely but the experience is crucial.

The Good: Say they are determined to succeed and show you their list of goals to prove it.

The Great: Invest in hiring a coach to help them get there.

If you want to truly excel (and by the way it’s cool if you don’t, not everybody does) and become world class at what you do, at some stage you’ll have to do things other people don’t want to do.

Are you prepared to do that?

I’d really like to hear any stories of you or people you know doing things that others wouldn’t normally do in the comments.


Lovely Bud Hennekes from A Boundless World has released a free e-book of his own this week, if you want a copy of The Fear Gym, click away on the link.


I rarely read, never mind click through, unsolicited e-mails, but I had one last week that intrigued me enough to get me to do both.

I’m glad I did because I laughed my ass off. Even after corresponding via e-mail I still have no idea what the people at Infinity Strategists are up to. They do tell me though this is the first in a series of mockumentary films looking at the coaching industry.

19 comments to The Secret of Success

  • Hmmm….this is a tough one, Tim. I really used to think that I wanted to be great as you’ve defined it – being willing to do what others aren’t. And I have done that in many areas. But as I’ve gone along in life, I’ve also found the limits – things I’m unwilling to do. (Like hitting 1,000 golf balls in the rain.) I thought I was willing to do that stuff, I did some of that stuff and still didn’t end up with the results I was shooting for, and instead found myself exhausted, depleted and disheartened.

    So, now I don’t really know how to think of myself. I know I have talent and unique gifts to share, but very often, I can’t get myself into the ‘anything, no matter what’ mindset. Does that make me lazy, ordinary, or a less than great person? I think of myself as more than that – but I can’t prove it by my willingness to “do anything.” Perhaps I

    • No I don’t think it makes you any of that. Maybe it means you are not that 1 in 7 billion person that can truly be called the best at what they do, but that is a long way from being lazy or even ordinary.

      Success is an emotive word and I’m not sure I used it correctly because it’s possible to be a success even if you’re flipping burgers as long as you are happy with your life.

  • Blog land is a funny place when you are trying to define success. I’ve done things that constitute success based on societal terms (grad school, made a decent amount of money, blah blah), but my dream was to stay home with my kids when they were little, and not be distracted by anything else.

    I did that. I soaked them up and took them everywhere I went. We had a ball, and it was one of the best times of my life. I consider it my greatest success.

    Other people would tell me they wished they could stay home with their kids, but they couldn’t afford it. But they didn’t seem to notice that they were driving a new car, while mine was 10 years old, or that they had a house full of new furniture, while I had slip covers on mine and let my kids jump on it.

    Now I could probably get nicer furniture and a newer car, but I have two big slobby dogs and 3 cats, so why bother:)

    • I did a terrible job of setting that post up and I blame my brain.

      I was in the mindset after speaking with my client of success being the best at something and I know better than that.

      His definition of success is being the best in the world and that’s brilliant for him, and he will have to do what others don’t or won’t do to achieve that.

      But there are millions of successes out there that don’t go to extremes.

      I think I should fall on my sword ;-)

  • BTW, that video IS hilarious!

  • No, I totally got what you were saying. My point was that I wasn’t being the best at anything, I was doing something others wouldn’t do. They wouldn’t give up their “stuff” to do what they wanted to do.

    Besides, maybe I AM the best mother in the world:)

  • Viv

    There are too many variables beyond our control when it comes to succeeding at our chosen goal.
    talent+luck+the right people+hard hard work=possible success
    Luck is the factor we can’t control(of course, the ‘right people’are too) and that includes avoiding injury(not easy for a sports person) illness, accident etc, as well as getting and spotting the breaks that come our way(or not)
    Plus no matter how much beyond the norm you go, there comes a time when there are no more hours left in a day. And then, maybe it’s worth asking if your actual talent is what you thought it was, because you might well be breaking your back, heart and family bonds for something that is simply beyond you. Silk purses out of sows’ ears.

    • Luck? Not sure about that. I think it may happen in some areas, but I don’t think in objective activities like sport is comes into play that much.

      Tiger Woods cannot luckily find himself #1 in the world for 10 years. You cannot luckily win Wimbledon or become heavy weight champion of the world or be world Karate champion. Sure, you may have some luck along the way, but so does everybody.

      On the other hand I think subjective roles can involve a lot more luck. Acting for instance, I’m sure there are world class actors that were never in the right place at the right time.

      Same goes for authors. If I wasn’t picked up by John Strelecky’s agent with How To Be Rich and Happy, then I doubt we’d have sold the book into Germany, France and Holland. In that respect I was lucky.

      • Viv

        Well, to be honest, even in sports, where having the talent and the guts to keep up, luck plays a bigger part than you seem to give it credit. Avoidance of injury for example. There’s been many a premier league footballer, sprinter, or other athlete whose career snapped with an achilles tendon. There’s also the luck of being born in a family that supports and encourages you. I’d be willing to bet that there are plenty of superb sports people whose careers never got going because their family didn’t give them the crucial pushes when they were young.
        I’ve seen the video of Tiger Woods as a 3 year old: his dad was a golfer. Mozart was the son of a music teacher; had he been born to a family of say shoemakers, would his talent ever have emerged?
        Ok, let’s put it this way: the avoidance of bad luck then. not to mention stupid bureaucrats. I’ll give you an example. It’s not sports, but it serves the purpose. My father was born in a slum in the 1930s. By some miracle he survived that and took his 11+(You surely remember that!) at age 9, and was secured of a place at a very well respected grammar school(the same one as Paul Mc Cartney actually). He did well, despite being 2 years younger than everyone. He survived being left out during an airraid, he beat the malnutrition by being milk monitor and getting the spare milk(he made it to 6ft, unusual in slum kids of the day) He did well in exams. Then, his mother had a surprise, a new baby, 14 years younger than him appeared and the world became meaner. He had to leave school and not go onto further exams, despite his promise. There was not enough money to keep the family. He went out to work, as a lab tech. He went to night school. He took exams. One of those exams was one which earned the highest scoring student a scholarship to study medicine at the university. He got the highest score. But this is where the bad luck and bureaucrats come in. When his records were looked at again it was discovered that (on the advice of his tutors at night school) he’d skipped a year of the course and that invalidated his scholarship. He did not go to university after all.The place went to the guy who came second.
        What I am trying to say is that sometimes all the hard work, determination, talent and going the extra ten miles just gets kicked back and the golden career/life just never falls into place. I have no means of knowing that my dad’s life would have been like; it turned out pretty well, for a kid from the slums. He even uses a Mac these days. I think he’d have made a superb doctor. the guy who came second became a specialist consultant.
        Some things just never happen.

        • I suppose it comes down to how you define luck I guess.

          Being born to a father that plays golf obviously helped, but I’m not sure that would count as luck per se.

          I’ll concede that bad luck may end opportunities, but good luck doesn’t make somebody the best in the world.

          Millions of kids were and are born to parents that taught everything from music to golf to science, but 99.999% haven’t and wont go on to world dominance.

  • That was hilarious. I’ve never seen anyone try to take a stab at life coaches in such an elaborate way. I like it.

  • I am going to go off board here for a moment and ask the following:

    Why did the dad think his son does not know what he wants to do in life? Because become a golfer is “unrealistic”?

    Did he want his son to be a doctor/lawyer or even the kind of doctor who doesn’t really help people (PhD)?

    Now don’t get me wrong here, I get the dad, I do but trying to get it more.

    And as for this kid, I applaud him and I hope I can get to meet him one day.

    Back to the post, well, runners, not just me but many of them. During marathon training they sacrifice night out with the boys/girls in order to get more sleep. They don’t eat as much. They don’t drink as much. They spend the time running instead of going to a movie. Many even tell me that some family time are lost because of training (but the family doesn’t mind because it keeps the runner sane).

    Are these runners ever going to win a race? Not all of them. But these are great examples of people who go out there day after day to do what they want to do. To become a runner. To cross the finish line. Snow/rain/hot/cold, they are out there. And if not, then the treadmill.

    Just tonight someone tweeted that running taught me some lessons in confidence that I can do whatever I am willing to focus on.

    And this is just one general example. As for specific people in become the number one in something? I know those too.

    • Good question and one I asked myself. I always tell parents that I’m happy to coach their kids, but only to the kids agenda and not theirs. This guy was 100% cool with that.

  • “To be the greatest golfer on the plant.”

    Plant? I agree, screw putting, it’s those shots in the rough that are the most difficult to make.

    Just poking fun. Great article. :P

  • Jose Bolaños

    Great article tim,

    evertime i see some one write “the secret to success” i imediatly jump on it…

    Success, what an extremely dificult term to pin down…

    Part of me thinks its the ability to set goals and achieve them…and we become succesful in that particular area. In every goal we achieve we learn something, it builds us up and strengthns our ability to be succesful in the following goal or other areas.

    Another is to feel authenticaly satisfied with ones life. I emphasize strongly on the word “authenticaly”.

    You know how many coaches or self help profesionals have the tendency to say that people have all the potential to achieve whatever they set the minds on. I think its a load of crap.Just because many people set their minds on the wrong things and for wrong reasons.

    I believe you have all the potential to achieve your purpose, not anything you set your mind to. This means you must be in tune with what your purpose is, and then do the necesary work to fulfill it.

    Example: if you focus on being rich, and you work hard and struggle to achieve it. maybe even step on a few feet on the way, you might make it. There are no guarantees. But if that wasnt your purpose in life, then boy will you be unhappy in the future. No success there.

    Stick to your passion, do what you love, feel on purpose, be commited, dedicate time and hard work to what you love, seek support to get better at it, help others get better at it also, money may come (no guaranties), be satsfied.