16 Secrets Successful People Don’t Tell You

There’s a lot that successful people don’t often publicly share about how they were able to achieve such great goals.

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Updated May 28, 2024
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Whether it’s a CEO, top athlete, or award-winning musician, we often don’t think of the struggle each one faced on their road to success. While there are some occasional overnight wonders, success is most often the result of a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.

Here are 16 secrets that helped successful people stop living paycheck to paycheck and make it big.

It takes unwavering discipline

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Discipline can refer to several different things in this case, including dedication to work, study, or self-improvement. But one thing successful people typically have in common is a dedication to their end goal.

We all deal with distractions in our day-to-day lives, but successful people have a clear set of priorities and know how and when to put up barriers to block out something that may get in the way of their goals.

You have to sacrifice other priorities

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Another thing successful people may not share is what they had to sacrifice to devote enough time to their goals — like time with friends, relaxing evenings, or other enjoyable or worthy activities.

Part of putting up barriers to achieve a goal unfortunately often involves putting some things you may enjoy very much on the back burner.

Accept loss and failure

Unitas Photography/Adobe hammer and nails

You’ve heard the stories before — great athletes like Michael Jordan discussing all the shots he didn’t make or writers like J.K. Rowling discussing how many times her Harry Potter series was rejected before it finally got published.

The important takeaway from stories like these is that these people and other successes like them not only accepted they were going to fail but took that failure in stride and persevered.

Risk-taking is mandatory

DragonImages/Adobe team lead pointing at chart on whiteboard when pitching project to colleagues

Successful people aren’t afraid to take risks. In fact, you have to take certain risks in order to be successful. No one is going to invest in your business or publish your manuscript if you’re too afraid to pitch it.

Expect rejection

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Getting rejected when you’re working on something you’re truly passionate about can be devastating. Plenty of people feel like (and do) give up once they’ve experienced enough rejection.

But successful people have been rejected, too — likely many times. It’s important to be comfortable enough with yourself and your ideas to move on.

Self-belief is crucial

hitdelight/Adobe woman pointing finger at reflection in mirror

Just like everyone else, successful people question their abilities and go through periods of self-doubt as well. The difference is that successful people don’t let these negative thoughts take over, and continue pursuing their goals.

The key is continuing to believe in yourself and your abilities despite any setbacks.

It takes thick skin

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In addition to having the self-esteem to pursue one’s goals, successful people are able to take setbacks and criticism in stride. They have a certain faith in what they have set out to do and they stay true to that faith, and their ambitions, despite what others may think or say to them.

Successful people don’t abandon their ideas or values after one bad meeting or review.

Think outside the box

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Successful people often get to where they are because they’ve taken a new approach to something. This often involves a certain degree of thinking outside of the box.

Co-founder and mastermind behind Apple’s success, Steve Jobs encouraged aspiring entrepreneurs to let curiosity lead them — a simple philosophy that supports creativity and innovation.

Know your strengths and weaknesses

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Self-awareness is another key to success. After all, no matter how successful someone seems, no one is good at everything.

Those who prosper in business and other endeavors know this, play up their strengths, and often find support (or hire people) to help them out with their weaknesses.

Daily routines are important

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This doesn’t mean you have to wake up at 5 a.m. every day, only eat raw food, or make any other outlandish lifestyle adjustments you may have seen tech CEOs discuss in various interviews. It just means that you make the most of your time.

If you’re trying to start a new business, this may mean devoting a few hours every evening to working on your business plan or waking up one hour earlier to research the best ways to pitch to investors.

The ability to focus is key

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Successful people are often masters of staying focused on their main goal, which means they have the ability to tune out other, less pressing matters.

Rather than getting caught up stressing about how many emails they have to send out or a past mistake, these people know how to turn off distractions and tune into working toward that goal.

Goals should be clear

JYPIX/Adobe businessman's hand writing goals and list in the diary

In order to stay focused on a goal, what you want to achieve should also be clear. Experts recommend avoiding vague goals — like owning a lucrative business — and focusing on more specific goals, like owning an award-winning restaurant.

When goals are clear, it’s easier to plan what steps you’ll need to take to work toward those goals.

You need to control your calendar

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Another piece of wisdom Steve Jobs shared during a 2005 graduation speech at Stanford was how important it is to be smart with your time. Successful people need to be in control of their calendars and feel comfortable turning down plans when they need to be focusing on work.

Jobs also stressed the importance of giving your all every day, and realizing how little things like embarrassment and fear of failure will matter in the long run.

Self-development is part of the plan

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No matter what field you hope to succeed in, you will need to be constantly developing your skills. Being stagnant often gets in the way of success.

This may include regularly reading and keeping up with news about your chosen business, listening to podcasts that can help you achieve your goals, and taking care of yourself so you’re in the best shape to work hard.

Stress must be managed

Prostock-studio/Adobe woman meditating in office coping with stress

When you’re working toward an ambitious goal, things will naturally go wrong every now and then. Successful people know how to manage stress so that no matter what pops up, they handle it and don’t lose sight of the goals they’re working toward.

Learn to challenge yourself

Prostock-studio/Adobe leave your comfort zone for personal development

Successful people often find ways to embrace challenges. They may be just as scared as anybody else to take a chance, but they do so anyway, knowing the risk is necessary if they want to achieve their goals.

When working toward your goals, a major milestone is learning how to leave your comfort zone and rise to new challenges.

Bottom line

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Behind almost every successful endeavor is a story of struggle, discipline, and someone’s fearlessness in the face of rejection — even when they were looking for ways to pay the rent.

Even Walt Disney, perhaps one of the most famous names in the world, was once fired from a local newspaper because his editor felt he lacked “imagination.”

But like so many successes before and after his time, he chose to exercise a bit of blind faith in his abilities. The result? In 2021 alone, The Walt Disney Company made about $67 billion.

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Author Details

Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore

Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore is a seasoned freelance writer who also teaches writing courses at Rutgers University. She's based in Jersey City and enjoys travel, live music and, of course, spending quality time with her pup.