Success isn’t about what you do.

A guest post from Jeff Goins.


Jeff is one of my favorite hangs. He’s a progressive thinker and even better communicator—always promising an enlightening conversation.

Jeff recently put together a resource that I was thrilled to contribute to—and am just as thrilled to pass along. “The Surprises of Success: 15 Tips on Living the Life You’ve Always Dreamed Of” is a compilation of thoughts on success from the likes of Seth Godin, Michael Hyatt, Pat Flynn, Bob Goff and others. And it’s available for a limited time for a free download. (See info below)

The following thoughts from Jeff are some of my favorite from the book. Hope they help!

Enter Jeff.

• • •

“I don’t have a dream.”

It was the fear that haunted my thoughts that day. I sank down deep in my seat, surrounded by a hundred pairs of hopeful eyes. We were all there, gathered in that multipurpose room (which was doubling as a conference center for the day), for the same reason: to pursue a dream. To find the thing our hearts had been searching for.

Some of us wanted to be novelists; others aspired to start our own ad agencies or travel to South America to make a documentary. Each dreamer represented a unique and beautiful dream, some special skill that the world needed.

The passion in that room was infectious, which only reinforced the feeling that I did not deserve to be there.

“What’s your dream?” was the opening obligatory question, and we all did our best to respond in kind. It was even something we had to inscribe on our name tags. I think mine said something profound and nondescript like “creative catalyst.”

In other words, I didn’t know.

I had no idea what my dream was or what I was doing there, no idea how I ought to be spending my life. I just knew I didn’t want to succeed at the wrong thing.

When people asked what I wanted to do with my life, I used big, fancy words and phrases that meant little to me but caused people’s eyes to glaze over just enough to prevent them from asking any follow-up questions, which was precisely my intent.

“I want to be a storytelling sherpa,” I told a guy carrying an iPad. He nodded, the fear of following up obvious in his eyes. Mission accomplished.

A few times during the conference, I talked about my day job, but that felt boring. I was sure my dream was something new and interesting, something “out there” that I’d never done before but would recognize as soon as it appeared.

Every time I answered another question, I felt like I was betraying myself, that people were slowly seeing through the facade and beginning to feel sorry for me. Me, the hapless wanderer who was at a dream conference and didn’t have a dream. The guy with no vision for the future, just a fancy name tag.

And then, just as I was getting ready to excuse myself from my table and sneak out the back exit, the opening speaker stepped up to the podium. With a few short words, he shattered my illusion.

“Some of you here don’t know what your dream is,” he said. “In fact, most of you don’t.”

I looked around to see dozens of heads nodding slowly in unison. Apprehensively, I did the same, a little worried who was watching but eventually letting go and feeling the freedom that came with admitting I didn’t know what I was doing.

“But the truth is,” he continued, “you do know what your dream is … You’re just afraid to admit it.”

My heart sank. As soon as he said those words, one word popped into my mind and immediately made its way onto my notebook: writer.

That surprised me. I didn’t know that urge was in there, in me. So when I wrote that word, when I admitted I already knew what my dream was, it scared me. Why? Because suddenly, I was without excuse. I was no longer afraid of failing. Instead, I was afraid of not trying.

Over the next two years, I made the transition from working a day job to eventually becoming a full-time writer. And it all began with that moment back at that conference, when I finally embraced who I was.

Most people waste the best years of their life waiting for their purpose to come to them. They succumb to the status quo and dream of life being different some day. They wait, unsure of the right path to follow, and as they wait, they miss an opportunity.

I used to think success was about doing something. Now I know it’s about becoming someone.

We often think of success as something that happens to us. But I don’t think that’s true. When it came to discovering the work I was born to do, it was a process that surprised me. It wasn’t some grand epiphany. I already had some sense of what I was supposed to do with my life. I was just scared to do it. Maybe you can relate.

We all want to “just know” what we’re supposed to do with our lives, for our purpose to be spelled out for us. But that’s not how life works.

We have to show up and do the work. We have to make ourselves available and face our deepest fears and biggest dreams. I used to think success was about doing something. Now I know it’s about becoming someone.

– Jeff

success eBook

(Click to download)

PS. In this short eBook, you’re going to find more stories and wisdom from some of the smartest people I know, all surrounding this question: “What’s something about success that surprised you?”

For me, it wasn’t the money I made or the fact that I eventually got paid to do what I loved. It was that I already knew somewhere deep down inside what I was supposed to do. I just needed to pay attention to what my life was trying to tell me. Others have had similar experiences, which we’ve captured in this little book and aptly called, The Surprises of Success.

I think too many people in this world are trying to sell you the “secrets” to one thing or the other. But what I now know is that there are no secrets. There are only the facts we are willing to face, and those we are not. My hope is that as you read this little book, you will take away something away about what it means for you to find the work you were meant to do.

The process of finding my life’s work surprised me. Maybe the same will be true for you, too.