4 Lies About Success it’s Time to Defeat

Maybe you’ve heard a few lies about success.

Worse, maybe you believed a few.

There’s a common thread…sometimes unspoken, sometimes articulated, that suggests that success always has to come at the expense of the deeper or more important things in life.

Often, the narrative involves questioning the motives and tactics of anyone who’s ‘successful’—whatever that means.

Even ‘success’ itself is an elusive term. What does it mean?

For me, I like to define success at work as accomplishing your mission. When I was in law, it was serving the client well and winning as many cases as possible (remember, it’s the judge who decides who wins, not the attorney). When I led a church, it was about reaching more people and helping them develop a genuine faith in Christ.

These days, I define success as helping people thrive in life and leadership. And a successful life personally (for me) happens when I’m personally thriving spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and physically.

Regardless of how you define success, there are some nasty lies about it it’s time to defeat. Here are four of them.

1. Success Requires You To Work Ridiculous Hours

There’s a narrative that says the only way to true success is to work ridiculous hours, fall into bed every night perpetually exhausted, and—probably—eventually burn out.

First of all, I’ve done that as a young leader. I promise you it’s as terrible as it sounds.

Second, I’ve been far more ‘successful’ since I stopped doing that—on all fronts.

Working ridiculous hours is a bad strategy because it assumes that you’re a machine, that your energy never waxes or wanes, or that you can keep perfect focus.

Here’s the truth: as hours worked increases, performance decreases.

If you want to be more effective, work a little less. You’ll accomplish more.

I explain exactly how and why that works here.

2. You Can’t Take Any Real Time Off

Another myth about success is that you can’t take any real time off if you’re going to be successful. Effective leaders are always on, rarely off, and even when they’re vacationing, stay connected and engaged at work.

That’s a lie.

Again, this is something I have struggled with for years. I bought the lie that success means you never take a break.

I not only would check in every day, I did more than a few working vacations along the way—working in the morning and then taking time off in the afternoon.

Here’s the simple truth about working vacations: working vacations don’t work.  You don’t get any meaningful rest nor do you produce your best work.

A further reason failing to take time off is not a mark of success—you likely don’t delegate well. Leaders who have to be in control of everything rarely empower other leaders.

Over the last few years, I have discovered that real rest not only refuels and rejuvenates you, it also fuels better work.  A rested you has far more to give back when you come back.

If you want to know how to really unplug, this post outlines 7 steps that will help you take a real vacation.

3. You Need to Sell Your Soul to Succeed

Another lie around success is that you have to compromise your ethics to achieve it.

You’ve heard it—and maybe thought it yourself— What did he/she have to do to become so successful? 

Have some people compromised to get ahead? Absolutely.

But let’s start here with this lie: success that causes you to lose your soul isn’t success.

Similarly, winning at work doesn’t mean you have to lose at home. And winning at home doesn’t mean you have to lose at work.

If you choose your objectives at work and in life thoughtfully, you’ll do better at each.

So what factors into great results, you might ask?

The good news is that when you combine hard work (not overwork, just hard work), a honed skill set, and some providence, you can easily accomplish your goals and mission without selling your soul.

I add providence (which others call luck or chance) because every successful person who is also honest will tell you that while they worked hard, there was a lot of grace in the mix. Factors like good timing, a lucky break, an amazing team that came together, or other conditions outside their control factored into their results.  In other words, providence.

No one is self-made. And no one made all the right calls all the time.

And you don’t have to sell your soul to get there.

4. If You’re Burning Out, You’ve been Faithful

My friend Jon Acuff, a New York Times bestselling author and sought-after speaker, once asked me this important question: “So, do you have to burn out? Is it just a rite of passage that every leader has to go through? Can’t you write a life story where there’s no burnout chapter?”

Jon was in his late thirties when he asked me that question, just a few years younger than I was when I burned out back in ’06. Jon’s also a devoted husband and father of two teenage girls.

I didn’t have a good answer when he asked that a few years ago. I have a better one now.

No, Jon, you don’t have to burn out. It’s not inevitable. 

Burnout, exhaustion, and faithfulness are not inextricably linked.

Just because you’re exhausted doesn’t mean you’ve been faithful.

I’m not saying everyone who’s burned out has been unfaithful (remember, I burned out too). What I am saying is they’re not necessarily linked.

These days, I’d go a step further: staying faithful probably means you’re less likely to burn out.

Thriving in life and leadership means you’re figuring out how to lead well and how to live well, that you’re approaching life (hard as it is) from a place where you’re full more often than you’re empty.

If you’re curious about how to do that—how to live in a way today that will help you thrive tomorrow—in my new book At Your Best I share the strategy that’s not only changed my life, but helped thousands of leaders along the way.

Regardless, real success feels more like this: living in a way today that will help you thrive tomorrow, at work and at home.

If you want to learn more, you can get check out the book here.

What Lie Are You No Longer Falling For? 

Any success lies you no longer fall for?

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4 Lies About Success it’s Time to Defeat

4 Comments

  1. Autoflower Seeds on September 21, 2021 at 4:38 pm

    When it comes to work, I believe that a job well done is one where you were able to fulfill your objective. As a lawyer, it was all about serving the client to the best of your ability and securing a win as many times as possible (note: judges make the decisions as to who wins). When I had my own church, my goal was to serve and inspire a large following.

  2. Philip Wong on September 13, 2021 at 4:41 pm

    Half-truths are more likely to be believed than total lies. The half-truth is that hard work with dedication leads to burn-out. That was what I first heard about the term in a medical conference in the US when I came from Hong Kong for Post-graduate Family Medicine Residency Training in the early 80s. 2 years ago I was talking about it in a state-wide Family Medicine Conference in China as an invited Keynote-speaker from the US. I reminded those trainees and trainers to be aware of burn-out soon after the WHO defined it as a medical condition related to work. It is true that you will not get burn-out if you are not hard-working or devoted to your work but you don’t have to burn-out just because your are. I am 69 and I am still enjoying my hard work as a full-time family doctor and teacher.

  3. Carey Nieuwhof on September 13, 2021 at 2:10 pm

    Thanks Skip. It’s amazing to be on the other side, isn’t it? You see things so much more clearly.

  4. Skip Smith on September 13, 2021 at 8:09 am

    Thank you, Carey. I’m 20 years post flame out….. God is ever faithful. Super excited about your book launch. I was imagining all the new minds and lives that will be positively motivated to lead and live better then before. Grace and Peace

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