What is the Key to Success?

What is the Key to Success?

You have goals and projects that you want to be wildly successful. You’re a writer who wants to be published. You’re a programmer who wants your weekend project to turn into a company.

You’re hoping you meet the right people, learn the right things, have the right ideas. You’re waiting for the day that you are in the right place at the right time to grab and opportunity and run with it.

And you’re wondering what the key to success that you’re missing is.

The answer is simpler than you think.

Revisiting Your Work So Far

I’ve been connecting with people in the local print media lately. I wrote a featured article about blogging for Advantage Small Business Magazine, and they are about to run my second piece about giving away expertise to build a customer base. I’m the cover story this month for the Jacksonville Observer. An interview I did with Dirk at UpgradeReality.com will be posted in a week or two. I have several more appearances in the pipe that haven’t come to fruition yet.

Part of my process for writing and being interviewed is reviewing my past writing. I do that to get a sense of the story as I’ve told it so far, and to prime me to be able articulate whatever ideas I’ve published.

In light of that, I’ve noticed how atrocious my writing was, even a year ago.

The Bomb and the Bystander is one egregious example of embarrassing writing.

One moment calm, the next an enormous sound shook the building, making the plates and light fixtures shudder; a flash of bright light, all the electric lights popped and went dark…

One moment the restaurant buzzed with a lunch crowd talking over mariachi music piped in from overhead speakers, the next moment an enormous blast rocked the building, shuttering the plates and light fixtures. A flash of bright light, all the electric lights popped and went dark, the music fell silent with a crack, everyone in that restaurant jumped from their seats at once to run.

Aside from awkward phrasing and vague waffling, the whole essay wanders. Leadership. No, a Mexican restaurant, then to a college class, oh wait, a different college class, then there’s a seizure, and maybe an ice sculpture? What the fuck am I talking about? I had a point, but it drowned in the puke I set it swimming in.

The result is flaccid. No one has ever read that essay. I couldn’t understand why because I wasn’t a good enough writer to notice how vapid it was.

But the point isn’t that I was bad. The point is that I’ve improved.

How do I improve?

I write.

I post essays on Mondays and Fridays, even when I really don’t feel like it. I write articles for other publications. I also help other people with their writing, and I read authors who are better writers than I am. But the main factor that makes me a better writer than I was a year ago is that I write.

This site is my art gallery that exists.

Daily Progress

Readers, interviewers, and acquaintances ask me almost every day for the sound bite that makes my story of freedom possible. They want the key to unlock their own potential, and they want it to fit neatly into their sweaty, outstretched palm.

Good news: the key to success really is easy to grasp. I’ll give it to you right now, and I hope your wildest dreams come true:

The key is doing it. You show up every day and you add one tiny, ill-placed paint stroke to your art gallery.

You don’t think about doing it, or dream about doing it, or read about doing it, or plan about doing it. You do it.

Thinking, dreaming, reading, and planning are all worthwhile, but do those after you do something.

The Power of Retrospect

You know you’re making progress when you are embarrassed of your art gallery that exists. When you’re good enough to notice how bad you used to be, you’ll realize the incredible power of just doing something—anything—daily.

Looking back at your progress will motivate you to continue moving forward because it provides a frame of reference for your improvement.

Taking small actions toward your goal every day will build the history, experience, and body of work that are fundamental to creating success. Those people you want to meet, and the brilliant ideas you want to capture will come to you as you hammer away, day after day. Having a schedule and sticking to it will also build the discipline you will definitely need to push past the difficult parts of that process.

Too many people are stuck thinking and dreaming about the life they want to build. Those people are waiting for the day they are good enough to bust onto the scene in a blaze of glory and take over the world. But that’s not how success works.

I admonish you to post your shitty writing, to sell your crappy product, to add that tiny paint stroke to your art gallery. That’s how success works.

That is the key to success. Whatever you do, show up and do it.


  1. Tony ()

    You really hit the nail on the head with this article Pete: “Just Do It”. OK Nike thought of it first, but really they nailed it. Maybe “Just Keep On Doing It” is better? :) (Reply)

      • Anna C. ()

        Malcolm Gladwell substantiates this “just do it” secret to success in his book, Tipping Point. The “just do it” ends up eventually adding up to around 10,000 hours and beyond: by then one gains a degree of mastery as well as having accomplished a body of work. Great observation, Pete. (Reply)

        • Pete ()

          Yes, he also talks about it in Outliers… that deliberate, consistent practice is totally fundamental, no doubt! (Reply)

  2. sandy ()

    “The key is doing it. You show up every day and you add one tiny, ill-placed paint stroke to your art gallery. ”

    this is one lovely point I will remember from your article :) (Reply)

    • Pete ()

      Yeah, I think it’s easy to get stuck on the “ill-placed” thing. People think they are going to show up and do something awesome everyday, but that’s not the point at all. Just show up and do ANYTHING, and eventually “anything” will be consistently awesome. (Reply)

  3. Ricardo Bueno ()

    “Practice makes perfect” as they say. It’s totally true, the only way to get better at something is to show up (and do it) each and every single day.

    I’m working on improving my own writing and executing on my ideas by taking action each and every single day. I write in my moleskine notebook daily (in the mornings, during lunch, in the evenings) and I publish content (on my company blog and personal blog) almost daily (well, between the two anyway).

    In an effort to improve my writing, I’m also reading a lot more. Reading is a source of creativity for me. It inspires me to create more. And in doing so, it’s also neat to see different writing styles and ways of sharing stories. (Reply)

    • Pete ()

      Awesome job Ricardo, keep it up! And I do the same. One blog I read a lot just for the writing is The Last Psychiatrist. That guy can turn a phrase! (Reply)

  4. Jeff ()

    I agree Pete – “just doing it” is the most important factor in seeing results. I believe there are two additional factors though that go hand-in-hand with your concept:

    1. Having enough confidence to hit roadblocks and continue on…many people start out with a “just do it attitude, but quit at the first sign of things not going as planned – much of it comes from fear, some of it due to a lack of belief in themselves, that they will be able to handle the setback or rejection (as a writer you certainly will have gone through this :-)

    2. The second concept is how you pay attention to the outcome of just doing it. One result of just doing it is to hit a brick wall and if you continue to do the same thing, you will continue to hit a brick wall. The other option is to KNOW you are hitting a brick wall and next time, you do it differently until you get a result.

    I agree – all of this is a result of taking action, but dealing with setbacks and learning from each action-reaction is critical too (Reply)

    • Pete ()

      You’re definitely right on about that Jeff, you have to be willing to persist, and to keep trying new things so you don’t get completely stuck. It’s actually something I talk about in a later essay–if something goes wrong, try 100 other things! (Reply)

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