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Business Strategy

The Success Paradox: 3 Well-Known “Success Principles” That Actually Hold You Back from Success

When you walk into a bookstore (if you can even find one these days, LOL), which section do you head to?  The fiction aisle for a gripping novel? Non-fiction to check out the latest biography or business bestseller? Or perhaps the personal development section?

More and more these days, I’m heading straight to the personal development shelves, because I believe if I don’t keep developing myself –  if I’m not personally evolving at the same pace as my business – then my business can’t keep growing.

(Site note: In line with this philosophy, I’ve just started on a new meditation course because I l know I could use more mindfulness and calm especially when I’m in the midst of those all-to-frequent crazy periods.)

I’m also making it a goal to read at least 1 new book a month to help me do more, be more, and embody more so I can consistently be my best self and do my best work (one of my recent favorites is a book called The Rise of Superman by Steven Kotler. I discovered the key to unlocking human potential from this excellent book and you can read my review here).

But here’s the thing about personal growth and success advice…

When you’ve been reading the books, attending the seminars and watching the videos for as long as I have, you’re bound to come up against a fairly serious issue: after a while, a lot of what you hear starts to sound like worn-out clichés.

I find this is especially true when it comes to advice targeted at entrepreneurs and business owners. So many of the tactics that are available today, have been repeated for decades even though the world has changed and the way we work and live have dramatically shifted.

Tips like “get out of bed at the crack of dawn” or “work smart and not hard” and “think outside the box,” just don’t apply in the same way they did back when old school self-help business gurus started talking about them in the mid- 20th century.

While there more than a handful of well-known “success principles” that are obsolete, I want to highlight 3 in particular because they’re more than just unhelpful — they can actually hold you back from achieving your business and life goals.

Crappy Success Principle #1 : “Follow Your Passion”

This one’s a pet peeve of mine…

So many self-help gurus have told us to “follow your passion” over the years that we don’t question this advice, even though we should.

But the truth is passion doesn’t pay the bills. Passion will not guide you to make choices that are right for you. Passion won’t help you overcome overwhelm, exhaustion or boredom.

The trouble with telling an entrepreneur to “follow your passion” is that it asks that you focus on your feelings to create success in your business.

As you know, feelings shift and change.

You’ve probably experienced feeling passionate and inspired by an idea for a couple of weeks or months only to lose that passion, without warning. Imagine the chaos that would occur if you invested a ton of time and money on a business that’s based on a fleeting passion?  

Plus, here’s another critical point to keep in mind: even if your passion stands the test of time, it may not be a viable business idea. You can find out if your passion has the potential to become a profitable business by putting it through the 2-Question Viability Test:

  1. Will people part with their hard-earned cash in exchange for ­­­­­­­­­___________ (fill-in-the-blank with the thing you’re passionate about)?
  2. How will my passion significantly improve, upgrade, or create ease in someone else’s life?

Let’s say you’re passionate about watching Marvel movies. You’ll see that this instantly fails the 2-question test. It’s unlikely anyone, anywhere will pay you to watch The Avengers and you having a great time at the movies is certainly not going to improve anyone else’s life in a significant way.

Does all of this mean you should ignore your passion altogether? Not at all. My advice is that you use your passion as a jumping off point.

Understand that “follow your passion” is what you do to get the ideas flowing but be honest with yourself. Use the 2-Question Viability Test to make sure your passion will work as a profitable business and know that in the end, it’s good, old-fashioned hard work, focus, commitment and persistence that will get you all the way to the top.

Crappy Success Principle #2: Goal-Setting

I know this might come as a shock but the cold, hard truth is, setting great goals will not create success in your business.

Taking action on those goals, will.

So many entrepreneurs set amazing goals: they plan to write a book, build a 6 or 7-figure business or become a powerful leader. They’re excited. They tell everyone about their lofty plans.

Then, crickets. Nothing happens.

It’s almost as if a part of them believes that simply setting a great goal guarantees success. I want you to think back on your own experience. How many times have you set a goal and then stopped short of taking action?

I’ve been able to help my students (and myself) get unstuck and release resistance, procrastination and inaction by following a simple formula: set goals within 90-day time periods. Research shows that we all have the ability to create clear plans, hold focus, and commit to taking action for at least 90 days at a time (I talk about this in detail in The Power of 90).

Never forget: magic happens not when you set that goal but when you take consistent, strategic action to hit it.  This is a simple but powerful truth that you must keep in mind as you set goals to create your dream life and business.

Crappy Success Principle #3: “Just Do Great Work”

I think this one probably causes the most damage….

Just do great work and you’ll receive the recognition and reward that you deserve.

I wish I could tell you that doing extraordinary work in your area of expertise or niche will make success a certainty but if I did, I wouldn’t be telling you the truth.

Great work is a foundational tool for success. It is not a reliable strategy.

If you’re aiming for high levels of impact and income in your business, you must do great work and then you must spend time and energy making sure other people know about the great work that you did.

This is a big part of what we do here at Live Your Message. We work on branding, messaging and marketing strategies to increase visibility with the right influencers, clients, fans and followers. We help students and clients be seen, heard and understood so their great work flows out into the world and creates the impact and the results they want.

Never forget that great work is the first step to business success – not the last.

These success practices have been accepted without question for years and years but they just don’t work in the way we think they will.

It’s time to release outdated ideas and shift into updated ways of working and living so we can achieve our business and personal goals with confidence and ease.

Now, I’m curious…

Have you tried any one of these 3 practices only to end up disappointed? Maybe you have another piece of well-known “wisdom” you think belongs on this list?

Do share your experiences and insights in the comments below. I’d love to know!

Love it? Hate it? Let me know...

  1. Patricia Lemieux

    Hi Marisa!

    Great article!!!

    I’m learning to set my goals quarterly so my ambitions stay fresh (I’m also excellent under deadline pressure… 🙂 ). I was trapped in long-term goal setting with no follow up for years.

    #2 is exactly like the misconceptions on the Law of Attraction! Some people assume that they can just sit on their collective butts and ask the universe for what they want and get it!! What they don’t realize is that after they ask, they need to take measurable steps towards what they want in life! I take steps, no matter how small, towards what I want to accomplish in life – every. single. day.

    I love that you’re constantly on the self-improvement track every month. We have to grow with our businesses and keep new thoughts flowing. You are such an awesome role model for me!

    Reply ·
  2. Andrea

    Everyone says ‘hard work’ or ‘work hard’ and they never define that.

    ‘know that in the end, it’s good, old-fashioned hard work,’

    Why does it have to be ‘hard’? Who finds it ‘hard’? Is it universally ‘hard’ or do some people actually find it ‘easy’ and fun and ‘isn’t that so for everyone’?

    Is there a special virtue to ‘hard work’? What is that virtue? Or is it just a moral hangover…

    I wish someone would explain out loud – perhaps in a blog post…

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      That’ a great point Andrea and I absolutely agree that hard work can be fun and easy. I work all the time and I love it. It comes easily to me and I have a lot of fun. So my definition would be that hard work is time-consuming. You have to roll up your sleeves in put in the time. Now your relationship to that time is up to you. I’ll consider a post on “The Myth of Hard Work”.

      Reply ·
  3. Michael Montague

    If you want to upgrade these 3-ideas, here is my suggestion. 1) Embrace your purpose. focusing on your dream and your story has it’s place, but in order to fulfill your purpose you must change your focus from “how can I serve myself?”, to “how can I serve others?”. This shift in perspective will bring you more sustainable motivation and lead to more success and fulfillment. 2) Use goal setting to clarify your priorities for action. Marisa is right… short-term goals that are just outside your comfort zone will allow you to grow and enable you to see progress which leads to more confidence. Don’t focus on the mountain summit of your long-term dream, focus on your immediate next step. The pot of gold is not at the end of the rainbow, it is found in how fully you embrace the magic of today. 3) Deliver value to others and you will have created great work. A book that is not written, a course that is not developed, or transformation that is not delivered are still only good intentions without the audience to experience them. What you desire is to positively impact aother person’s life and business. Marisa’s videos, blog articles, trainings and live events are great at delilvering message and impact. Learn from her example.

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      Wow, Michael, thanks for adding so much value to my post! These are great suggestions and updates… and I agree wholeheartedly.

      Reply ·
  4. Don

    Making Passion Pay

    Find a niche/target market that other people are highly passionate about. Examples could be keeping pet snakes or quilting.

    Deliver really good value and great experiences to this passionate group and you will make money from passion.

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      You can absolutely make passion pay, but it does require a reality check sometimes and some elbow grease that goes beyond the passion that inspired everything.

      Reply ·
  5. Tusingwire Julius

    I truely love it,
    so inspiring and teaching.
    Be blessed day by day.

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      Thanks Julius!

      Reply ·
  6. Trudy Phillips

    Thanks for exposing these 3 myths.

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      Sure thing Trudy!

      Reply ·
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About the Author Marisa Murgatroyd

Marisa is the founder of Live Your Message, where she turns entrepreneurs into Online Superheroes, and the creator of Start With You where she helps people just like you to discover the business they're meant to build, not just the business they can build. At 4’11 and a quarter, she’s called the shortest woman in marketing — and that doesn’t stop her from having huge ideas. She’s the “go to” brand builder for industry luminaries and heavyweights such as Justin Livingston, Callan Rush, Danny Iny, Alexis Neely and Susan Peirce Thompson. Marisa helps entrepreneurs create a business that is authentic and aligned with who they are, to empower them to turn up the dial on their “inner superhero”, so they can be the superhero to their tribe, as well as in their own lives.

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