Would you pay to learn the key to success? The secret to health, wealth, and happiness? If so, you’re not alone. Americans spend nearly ten-billion dollars per year on self-help products from gurus touting the secrets to help you lose weight, get rich, or find the perfect mate.
At the risk of destroying their industry, I’ll share the key to success with you for free. There isn’t one.
Success is not a door that you unlock with a ring of keys. It’s a puzzle that you put together piece by piece. Sometimes the pieces fit and you have a moment of celebration before moving onto the next one. More often they don’t, and you have to try again. At the end of your life, the puzzle makes a picture, and you hope that it’s one that you like.
Some people have different strategies for putting together the puzzle. My mom taught me to start with edge pieces, but my 2-year old niece is a puzzle wizard and she ignores that advice completely. We figure out what works for us and try to learn from others along the way, but we each have our own puzzles, with our own circumstances that we have to adapt to.
Fixating on figuring out the key to success, or living the perfect life, can be literally maddening. Just this past week, the New York Times published one article by a woman whose obsession with success drove her to drug addiction alongside another by a college student whose parents promised her gifts for low grades in order to keep her from driving herself crazy.
With practice, we can learn to get better at putting the puzzle together. We can learn new strategies from others who have done it before. But in the end, we’re each putting together something different, making our own lives. Success means something different for each of us. Some see it in their work, others in their families, and others in the way they contribute back to their communities.
It’s liberating when life becomes a puzzle instead of a door to unlock. When the journey becomes more important than the destination. You no longer have to obsess over the smallest details. Using the wrong key means that you’ll never make it to the other side of the door. Trying to fit the wrong pieces together just means you need to try again.
It’s time we stop looking for the keys to success and start reframing what it means to be successful. Success is the recognition of your own accomplishments. It’s built by investing in yourself so that you can accomplish more and investing in others so you can share in their small victories.
Along the way, you’ll probably fail a few times, and that’s OK. It’s the foundation on which you build future successes.
This perspective won’t make me rich selling you self-help books, but it will make you happier and more successful. And that’s a piece of my puzzle.