Pivotal Decisions That Create Your Successes

How you can achieve success through episodes of courage.

Posted Sep 11, 2018

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My in-laws are wealthy because some decades ago they started investing in property.  Their pivotal decision was taking the leap to buy that first rental property, and then their success grew from there.

When you look at people who are successful, a big proportion of their success often stems from just a few decision points.  If you believe that success requires constantly making astute, brave decisions, then succeeding can seem more intimidating and difficult than it is in reality.  Instead, you can think of success as requiring periods of bravery and sacrifice, and it'll feel more achievable.  You only need moments of courage, not permanent courage.

Here are some more examples:

  • You had no social life for years while you were a medical school but that period of sacrifice set you up in your career for the rest of your life.
  • You were never a fan of dating but you put yourself through a period of it, and found your life partner.
  • When you started a new job, you ticked a box on a form to opt-in to retirement savings with maximum employer contributions.  Once you made that commitment, you just let those funds auto-deduct from your paycheck, and you've amassed a sizable retirement fund as a result.
  • You bought a house young when most of your friends were renting.
  • You're a researcher.  Early in your career you reached out to a colleague you didn't know and it began a decades long collaboration.  There are very few major projects you've done without your colleague (This is similar to the dating example but for the work context).
  • You applied for something (a scholarship, award, job, etc) you thought you had no chances of getting, but to your astonishment you got it.
  • You're socially awkward but you went to your professor's office a few times to ask questions, and that person eventually offered to be your graduate school advisor.
  • You decided to try buying some items used (through sites like Craigslist and ebay) rather than new.  Once you got in the habit of buying used items, you never went back to buying things new for most items.  You've saved many thousands of dollars through this habit.  When you need/want to buy something, you automatically look first for a used version rather than hitting the usual retail channels.
  • One holiday weekend you tried to fix your clogged toilet rather than calling a plumber.  You looked at some YouTube videos and successfully unblocked it.  Since then, you've done lots of basic repairs around your home, saving yourself hundreds of dollars.

Why are these examples important?

  • The examples help show the importance of tolerating psychological discomfort.  Success usually requires taking actions that feel uncomfortable, challenging and stressful. 
  • People can't constantly exist outside their comfort zone, but they can venture outside it periodically.  When you recognize that episodes of good decision making (rather than constant perfect decisions) can drive considerable success, you can be more forgiving of yourself for past mistakes. 
  • If you've tried things that didn't succeed (or left some projects unfinished), then recognize that you can have many of these instances and still be very successful.  You only need to triumph a few times.
  • The examples highlight that taking action, rather than endlessly thinking or researching, creates success. You don't succeed at dating by spending hours browsing dating apps or websites, without actually going on some dates.  If you have a tendency towards over-thinking and over-researching, then you have an opportunity to take a leap forward by acting.

Keep in mind:

  • Excessive social comparison can get in the way of taking action.  For example, you think "I didn't buy a house when I was young" and now I've screwed up my financial future.  Whatever you've done in the past, there are still plenty of opportunities for you to make pivotal decisions now.
  • In some cases, pivotal decision points are surrounded by years of hard work (before and/or after), but this isn't always the case.  If you look at the examples you'll see a mixture.  There are times when you genuinely only need to venture outside your comfort zone briefly in order to set yourself on a path to success. 
  • Notice that I've used examples that relate to a diverse range of life domains.  If you tend to fixate narrowly on only 1-2 life domains, consider expanding your thinking to other areas.  In what areas of your life are you prepared to try venturing outside your comfort zone in ways that could produce a very large accumulated benefit over the long-term?
  • If you're in a relationship, consider making this article a conversation starter with your partner.  Talk about the decisions you made in the past that have catapulted you onto success trajectories.  Again think broadly (e.g., money, your health and fitness, staying organized, parenting, your relationships).  Alternatively, you could have the same conversation with a sibling, close friend, or colleague.  Give yourself credit for your successes and identify where you have room and a desire to grow.