How To Be Successful

This article, by Michael R. Hicks, originally appeared on his site,

I apologize for the rather sensational title of this post, but I got to thinking the other day about my own struggles to get where I am now and thought that it might help someone with their own life journey.


I’m sure you know that you can drop a fortune at Amazon or anywhere else on books and other stuff to help you learn how to “be successful.” I’m not saying that stuff doesn’t work – it very well may – but I’ve never responded well to that sort of thing. I mean, let’s face it: how many of us confess to ourselves that we’re not successful? On top of that, how many of us really have a clue about what being successful means for us as individuals?


The key, my friend, is in goals. Let me give you an example from my efforts as an aspiring (starving) author:


Back in 1991, for various reasons best left unsaid, I decided to do something rash: to write a novel. I had set myself an extremely challenging goal – in part, I must confess, because to that point I felt I’d achieved very little in many ways – although I never really considered it as such. I spent the next four years (part-time) writing In Her Name, then probably another six months editing and revising it. I didn’t really praise myself at that point like I should have – hey, you deserve to pat yourself on the back if you do something like that! – but I did manage to finish it. But that’s where my goal-setting – and success – ended: I shopped it around to a number of publishers at that point, and got the customary rejection notices. But there were other things going on in my life at the time, and without a firm goal I just shoved it aside for about a dozen years.


Then the Amazon Kindle came out, and I finally decided to give publishing In Her Name another go, this time on my own. But this time, I set a conscious, stated goal. If you don’t have any goals set, you have no way of measuring your success; you have no benchmark. And believe me, I am not a big goal-setter! This was totally alien to my way of thinking. I normally just bumble along in life, but publishing a book – being an author – was a dream I’d had since at least high school. Hell, I’d written the book already – that part was done! All I had to do was get it out there where somebody might trip over it and maybe even buy it.


So, with that firm goal in mind, I did all the stuff necessary to put it out in the Amazon Kindle store and Mobipocket (and later into print), and it started pulling in some sales. It was exciting: people were buying my book! But then I started to notice that I was checking the sales figures all the time, and would really get bummed when there were dry spells. When the first reader review was posted on Amazon, it really made the week for me. And then more reviews were posted – all of them four and five stars (so far) – and I got psyched. But I would still get into this funk about where it all was going. Would the book be a success? Would I be a success as an author?


That’s when I had a bit of an epiphany: what exactly did it mean – to me – to be a successful author? How was I going to really measure that? What was my goal now that I had published a book?


I think all authors have the same dreams: wind up on the NY Times bestseller list, have your book appear on Oprah, have it made into a blockbuster movie, make a bazillion bucks, and so on. I certainly have those dreams, but after I thought about it a while, I came to the startling conclusion that the best indicator of my success as an author was that people enjoyed reading what I’d written. And I don’t mean just members of my family who wanted to humor me, but people I didn’t know, who didn’t know me, but who checked out the blurb on my book and liked it enough to plunk down their money to buy it, then came back and spent their precious time writing a review of it. Will I sell a bazillion copies and chalk up some of those dreams I mentioned to you? The statistics are against me, but I don’t really care now, because in writing that book I’ve actually achieved three major goals – successes – in my life:


  • Writing In Her Name in the first place. And it’s actually three novels in one, so technically I should give myself triple credit!
  • Getting the book published. This was a particular achievement because, taking the self-publishing route, I had to do every bit of it myself, from cover art to promotion.
  • Learning that I’d written a story that people enjoyed. This was, by far, the most rewarding of the three things I’d achieved in writing this book. The money from sales is always welcome – and Oprah, I’ll be happy to be on your show, anytime! – but the inner satisfaction I get at hearing what people have to say about In Her Name is a very precious reward.


Anyway, while this example was about a guy (me) writing and publishing a book, the underlying key is the same for anything: you have to make goals for yourself, both to help guide your life and give you some feedback on how the heck you’re doing. And then you have to focus on them and follow through. If you find that every day you’re just doing the same old crap and don’t seem to be going anywhere, it’s because you haven’t set any goals! You’re not working toward anything, so your just spinning on the ol’ hamster wheel. Yes, you don’t want to aim the bar too high: just aim for something you think you could do, then work to achieve it!


And forget about excuses (particularly that you don’t have time): part of giving yourself the gift of success is prioritizing and making some changes in your life. Just as an example, if you’re really out of shape, set yourself a goal of run/walking a 5K race this year (that was the goal my wife and I set for ourselves fitness-wise last year). That’s three miles, and there are tons of places that hold 5K events. Even if you’re a total couch potato, if you started now you could at least walk three miles by mid spring – think of how good it would feel to cross that finish line, even just walking! So, instead of sitting on your widening rear end and watching TV for that sixth hour of the evening, why don’t you take the first hour of TV time and just go for a walk? Take the entire family!


Another example (and this is dedicated to a good friend of mine): if you’re stuck in a job that you hate, look around for other opportunities. Even in this crappy economy right now, opportunites can be found. But only if you look! Maybe you’ll find something soon, maybe it’ll take a while. But if you set that goal you’ll have a benchmark to measure your success. There are times when my own job drives me nuts, but all in all it’s great. And I firmly believe that people shouldn’t have to work at jobs they hate: you spend a third (or more) of your life at work. Even if you don’t really enjoy your job, it shouldn’t totally suck.


So, think about that and see if it helps you. Think about some things you’d like to accomplish in your life, then – as Chalene Johnson says – write them down. Tape them up on the refrigerator if you need to, then work toward them. Every day. If I can find success in my life, with as much of a bumble as I normally am, you can, too!


Please visit for many more posts on the subjects of self-publishing and Kindle formatting and conversion.

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