post written by: Marc Chernoff

10 Simple Truths Smart People Forget

Simple Truths Smart People Forget

Some of the smartest people I know continuously struggle to get ahead because they forget to address a few simple truths that collectively govern our potential to make progress.  So here’s a quick reminder:

#1 – Education and intelligence accomplish nothing without action.

It doesn’t matter if you have a genius IQ and a PhD in Quantum Physics, you can’t change anything or make any sort of real-world progress without taking action.  There’s a huge difference between knowing how to do something and actually doing it.  Knowledge and intelligence are both useless without action.  It’s as simple as that.  For some practical guidance on taking action, I highly recommend The Now Habit.

#2 – Happiness and success are two different things.

I know an extremely savvy businesswoman who made almost a million dollars online last year. Every entrepreneur I know considers her to be wildly successful.  But guess what?  A few days ago, out of the blue, she told me that she’s depressed.  Why?  “I’m burnt out and lonely.  I just haven’t taken enough time for myself lately,” she said.  “Wow!” I thought.  “One of the most successful people I know isn’t happy.”

I also know a surfer who surfs almost all day, every day on the beach in front of our condo complex in San Diego.  He’s one of the most lighthearted, optimistic guys I’ve ever met – always smiling from ear to ear.  But he sleeps in a van he co-owns with another surfer and they both frequently panhandle tourists for money.  So while I can’t deny that this man seems happy, I wouldn’t classify his life as a success story.

“What will make me happy?” and “What will make me successful?” are two of the most important questions you can ask yourself.  But they are two different questions.

#3 – Everyone runs their own business.

No matter how you make a living or who you think you work for, you only work for one person, yourself.  The big question is:  What are you selling, and to whom?  Even when you have a full-time, salaried, ‘Corporate America’ position, you are still running your own business.  You are selling one unit of your existence (an hour of your life) at a set price (the associated fraction of your salary) to a customer (your employer).

So how can you simultaneously save your time and increase your profit?  The answer is slightly different for everyone.  But it’s an answer you should be seeking.  The 4-Hour Workweek is a good read on this topic.

#4 – Having too many choices interferes with decision making.

Here in the 21st century where information moves at the speed of light and opportunities for innovation seem endless, we have an abundant array of choices when it comes to designing our lives and careers.  But sadly, an abundance of choice often leads to indecision, confusion and inaction.

Several business and marketing studies have shown that the more product choices a consumer is faced with, the less products they typically buy.  After all, narrowing down the best product from a pool of three choices is certainly a lot easier than narrowing down the best product from a pool of three hundred choices.  If the purchasing decision is tough to make, most people will just give up.

So if you’re selling a product line, keep it simple.  And if you’re trying to make a decision about something in your life, don’t waste all your time evaluating every last detail of every possible option.  Choose something that you think will work and give it a shot.  If it doesn’t work out, choose something else and keep pressing forward.

#5 – All people possess dimensions of success and dimensions of failure.

This point is somewhat related to point #2 on happiness and success, but it stands strong on its own as well…

Trying to be perfect is a waste of time and energy.  Perfection is an illusion.

All people, even our idols, are multidimensional.  Powerful business men, polished musicians, bestselling authors, and even our own parents all have dimensions of success and dimensions of failure present in their lives.

Our successful dimensions usually encompass the things we spend the most time doing.  We are successful in these dimensions because of our prolonged commitment to them.  This is the part of our lives we want others to see – the successful part that holds our life’s work.  It’s the notion of putting our best foot forward.  It’s the public persona we envision as our personal legacy:  “The Successful ABC” or “The Award Winning XYZ.”

But behind whichever polished storyline we publically promote, there lies a multi-dimensional human being with a long list of unprofessed failures.  Sometimes this person is a bad husband or wife.  Sometimes this person laughs at the expense of others.  And sometimes this person merely takes their eyes off the road and rear-ends the car in front of them.

#6 – Every mistake you make is progress.

Mistakes teach you important lessons.  Every time you make one, you’re one step closer to your goal.  The only mistake that can truly hurt you is choosing to do nothing simply because you’re too scared to make a mistake.

So don’t hesitate – don’t doubt yourself.  In life, it’s rarely about getting a chance; it’s about taking a chance.  You’ll never be 100% sure it will work, but you can always be 100% sure doing nothing won’t work.  Most of the time you just have to go for it!

And no matter how it turns out, it always ends up just the way it should be.  Either you succeed or you learn something.  Win-Win.  Remember, if you never act, you will never know for sure, and you will be left standing in the same spot forever.

#7 – People can be great at doing things they don’t like to do.

Although I’m not suggesting that you choose a career or trade you dislike, I’ve heard way too many smart people say something like, “In order to be great at what you do, you have to like what you do.”  This just isn’t true.

A good friend of mine is a public accountant.  He has told me on numerous occasions that he dislikes his job – “that it bores him to death.”  But he frequently gets raises and promotions.  At the age of 28, out of nearly a thousand Jr. Accountants in his division, he’s one of only two who were promoted to be Sr. Accountants this past year.  Why?  Because even though he doesn’t like doing it, he’s good at what he does.

I could come up with dozens of other examples just like this, but I’ll spare you the details.  Just realize that if someone dedicates enough time and attention to perfecting a skill or trade, they can be insanely good at doing something they don’t like to do.  For an insightful read in this department, I highly recommend The Talent Code.

#8 – The problems we have with others are typically more about us.

Quite often, the problems we have with others – our spouse, parents, siblings, etc. – don’t really have much to do with them at all.  Because many of the problems we think we have with them we subconsciously created in our own mind.  Maybe they did something in the past that touched on one of our fears or insecurities.  Or maybe they didn’t do something that we expected them to do.  In either case, problems like these are not about the other person, they’re about us.

And that’s okay.  It simply means these little predicaments will be easier to solve.   We are, after all, in charge of our own decisions.  We get to decide whether we want to keep our head cluttered with events from the past, or instead open our minds to the positive realities unfolding in front of us.

All we need is the willingness to look at things a little differently – letting go of ‘what was’ and ‘what should have been,’ and instead focusing our energy on ‘what is’ and ‘what could be possible.’

#9 – Emotional decisions are rarely good decisions.

Decisions driven by heavy emotion are typically misguided reactions rather than educated judgments.  These reactions are the byproduct of minimal amounts of conscious thought and primarily based on momentary ‘feelings’ instead of mindful awareness.

The best advice here is simple:  Don’t let your emotions trump your intelligence.  Slow down and think things through before you make any life-changing decisions.

#10 – You will never feel 100% ready when an opportunity arises.

The number one thing I persistently see holding smart people back is their own reluctance to accept an opportunity simply because they don’t think they’re ready.  In other words, they believe they require additional knowledge, skill, experience, etc. before they can aptly partake in the opportunity.  Sadly, this is the kind of thinking that stifles personal growth.

The truth is nobody ever feels 100% ready when an opportunity arises.  Because most great opportunities in life force us to grow emotionally and intellectually.  They force us to stretch ourselves and our comfort zones, which means we won’t feel totally comfortable at first.  And when we don’t feel comfortable, we don’t feel ready.

Just remember that significant moments of opportunity for personal growth and development will come and go throughout your lifetime.  If you are looking to make positive changes in your life you will need to embrace these moments of opportunity even though you will never feel 100% ready for them.

Photo by: Alemdag

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  • those are very wise rules marc
    i experienced number 9 , we should be very calm while making decisions, preferably wait until we absorb all info so that we make the right one
    thank u :)

  • All your articles touch our lives in one way or the other. Keep up the superb job. All the best :-)

  • #11 It’s better to do something then to do nothing.

  • Evidently. the above write-up is just excellent. But, what I like the most is this para:
    The truth is nobody ever feels 100% ready when an opportunity arises. Because most great opportunities in life force us to grow emotionally and intellectually. They force us to stretch ourselves and our comfort zones, which means we won’t feel totally comfortable at first. And when we don’t feel comfortable, we don’t feel ready.
    A million thanks to the author and of course a hearty Congratulations!!!!

  • It’s amazing how little common sense some people have, especially those that are considered intellectuals.

    Intellect and common sense are two different things, and it’s the latter that will serve us better when it comes to the problems of life.

    Without common sense, we won’t be able to live to our potential!

    Thanks for sharing Marc and Angel :-)

  • I love this! So incredibly true :)
    I am going to share this on my blog later today.
    It is about being the best you can… and reading. Nowhere near as amazing as this site though!

  • Great article. I will look up those books you mentioned also. I have read 4-Hour Workweek.

    I’ve been saying these things for years and felt like nobody agreed!! AHHH YES THANK YOU

  • Touche’ on the first rule. Without action we go no where. It’s only when we act , do we see the results we’ve been yearning for. Thanks for the great advice. great work…

  • In consideration for an 11th point:

    11). We are all smart, and we forget about that.

    Everyone is smart … about something. And nobody is smart about everything.

    The guy who works on our house is a brilliant carpenter and handyman - he can find a solution to the most complex problems and build anything. His carpentry IQ is off the chart and he has reached mastery in this area. But he can’t spell and his vocabulary is poor, so he doesn’t think he’s smart. In his particular area of expertise he’s an Einstein! I on the other hand am completely lost in his world and would be considered an idiot.

    He looks up to me and thinks I’m smart. Funny, I look up to him and think he’s smart.

    The moral of story: We are ALL smart about something … but none of us are smart about everything. Our biggest challenge … we are our own worst critics.

  • #7 really rings true for me. I have a very analytical and mathematically oriented mind, which makes me a great candidate for learning programming and scripting languages. However, sitting in front of the computer for hour staring at code drives me nuts. I’m great with numbers and logic, but I’m only happy when I have human interaction throughout my day.

    Finding the balance between what you’re good at and what you enjoy is key. I personally chose marketing, which draws heavily from quantitative analysis, but also involves lots of teamwork from different departments to execute projects, hence lots of human interaction.

    Just my 2 cents :)

  • So true, and not learned without experience…

    I think another good one is that you never know whether the opportunities you were striving for (and didn’t achieve) were ever good ones. They may have not chosen you for a reason, and you are probably better off.

  • Your first point about intelligence meaning nothing without action is very true.

    We wrote an article called, “Intelligence Doesn’t Guarantee Accomplishment, so What Does”

    Your reader’s may enjoy it as well.

  • Really inspiring! Thanks =)

  • I am quite surprised at what I have learned here Marc. I will remember what you have shared here especially about failure and the nature of opportunity. :-)

  • This is great advice!

  • This is great advice, guys… I will be following it. Thanks.

  • Wow…you have some really awesome advice here. #3 and #8 just ooze awesomeness. Way to go!

  • So true, I like especially #6, many people are afraid of success

  • #10 resonated with me the most. Good points all around.

  • Regarding #7, I’ve often heard it stated as “don’t get too good at scrubbing toilets”.

  • About number 8. I also think that liking something is just a matter of perspective. You can make yourself like many jobs. I even think that oftentimes it’s the other way around - people like something because they’re good at it.

  • Love #7 - Just because we’re great at something doesn’t mean it’s right for us. Successful and unhappy. ouch. Need to step out and see what undiscovered talent makes us happy.

  • A wonderful book on #4 (Having too many choices interferes with decision making.) is The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

  • Number 7 - Very true. I used to love being a newspaper editor, but over the last decade or so what passes for journalism has caused me to really loathe the work at which I excel. Currently I’m looking for a happy medium between my interests — mostly in tech — and how my editing skills can be put to good use in that field.

  • As always, thanks so much for the insightful remarks and feedback, everyone. I’m glad so many of you liked the article and found it’s content useful.

    I hope you all have a productive week.

  • Thanks. I really needed to read this!

  • As a (self-professed) super-genius, I have to say I forget a bunch of these things all the time. Thanks for the reminder!

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

  • Great words… :)

  • Right now, #6 really resonates with me. I am in the process of learning Spanish. When I first started I was so self-conscious of speaking - I always thought I didn’t sound right and that I made so many mistakes. I’ve slowly come to the understanding that these mistakes are an essential part of the learning process.

    Thank you for the wonderful advice and inspiration.

  • Number 4… good but still a challenge when YOU are the ‘product’. I myself have TOO many options… (What a luxury, to be stumped by too many directions to choose!) I am grateful, but it doesn’t help me commit or focus on one or two, when I have 5 or 8 different directions I could take my life. It get’s clouded with could, should, would… and all the ‘worst case scenarios’. Wonder what questions to ask to help decide, commit and move forward with it? Lovely post as always though. :)

  • Number 1 is taken from Bruce Lee’s words:

    Knowing is not enough; we must apply.
    Willing is not enough; we must do.

  • These are all so true but #10 describes me exactly! I shouldn’t be afraid to jump into things because I’ll never be ready enough anyway.
    Thanks so much for sharing!

  • I’m going to print this list out and post it on my wall as a daily reminder. These are topics that can easily be forgotten in our daily hustle and bustle lifestyle.

    I practically live by #6. I’ll admit, I make a lot of mistakes, but I always take them in stride and learn from them. Without a continuous education (even if it’s just from your own mistakes) then we can’t evolve and better ourselves.

    Fantastic blog! Thanks for this!

  • Thank you, this is one of my favorite posts EVER. Simple and yes all easy to forget/overlook. I particularly like #10 which is so true yet so easy to miss. I’m as guilty as anyone on that one.

  • This is the best article I have ever read.

  • Thank you for sharing.
    It is always a delight to feel what I believe – that
    information is inspiration.

  • Thanks for the post..really an interesting read!! Loved #10 the Most!!! Reminds me of this famous quote ~ “Opportunity is often difficult to recognize; we usually expect it to beckon us with beepers and billboards” ~William Arthur Ward.

  • #7 – People can be great at doing things they don’t like to do.

    This is just so terribly sad. I feel sorry for your friend the accountant. One of these days he’s going to wake up and realize he hates his job, doesn’t like his life, and has nowhere to turn.

    Many many years ago, a (very bad) manager I had said “Why _can’t_ you be a DBA? You’re so good at what you do, why can’t you be good at that?” and I said “Because I don’t want to. I wouldn’t enjoy it. If I don’t enjoy it, I guarantee I will not be good at it.”

    No, you don;’t have to love what you do in order to be “great” at it. But I believe you have to at least _like_ what you do in order to be _happy_ at it. And happy in your work is a lot better than “great” with no satisfaction to show for it.

  • I love it, I’m gonna translate to Spanish and link to some of your posts on my blog.

  • Awesome read…..Loved each word.., Thoughtful….

  • This is a really great list. I love them all but I think I’d have to go with #10 as my favorite: “You will never feel 100% ready when an opportunity arises.”

    That is so incredibly true, life is all about taking advantage of every opportunity.

    Thanks for the great post!

  • I just discovered your blog recently and was doing some back-post reading. You have a lot of great blog posts, but this happens to be one of my favorites.

    I found recently that I’ve been struggling to overcome my ignorance about the “blogosphere,” and wanted to learn more but was intimidated since there were a lot of skills I had to master. I almost shut down, but instead of getting caught up in the many, many little things I didn’t understand, I just attempted to move forward and not let my own fear stand in my way….like you wrote, you’re never 100% ready for new opportunities. You just have to prepare the best you can and expect to make some flubs (and learn to forgive yourself!)

    I have bookmarked this particular post because I just absolutely love it! :)

  • #10 is something everyone can relate to. Every day we see people passing up opportunities or not moving forward because of what they believe about themselves. We literally are what we believe, and until we change that, we just stay stuck where we are.

  • I ’stumbled’ upon something else from your site and I saw the link to this entry just before I moved on.
    It is exactly what I needed to read at this point in time. Thanks.

  • Why is the surfer dude in #2 not a success? He is living the life!
    He gave up on corporate America to surf. What did you give up to write your blog? How often do you surf? Would you like to surf more?

  • Great list!!

    …and I would say that #8 should read,

    – The problems we have with others are ALWAYS about us.

    Once we get a grip on that truth our lives will be so much calmer and easier to navigate. No kidding.

  • This was a really great article. Thanks for the nice insights.

  • I just turned eighteen, in my senior year
    of high school,with two more
    months till graduation, I havent
    been to school in days because of depression,
    I love school and love to learn
    I am usually the one giving helpful advise.
    Now I’m not saying that I’m smart but
    its nice to hear it come from someone else….
    I’m going to school tommorrow.

  • Yeah, this list is so cool and yet so practicable. A very nice article… thanks for sharing.

  • Excellent blog post!…very insightful..
    Thank you!

  • Where’s the “like” button?

  • All of thses are true, true, true!!! i have been a people pleaser all my life. im now over 40 & have had major drama from,, sadly enough, Family, dad n mom both alcholics, 2sisters hooked on scripts…..been married 2 times. cueerntly 25years, he is my world. we agreed when we married, neither would take a job n be unhappy!!! also, agreed if we ever got tired of each other, we would have the common curitsy to tell the other, so many people get married to CHANGE the other person!!!! I believe anything is possible through God!!!!!

  • This is probably the best post on personal development I have ever read. Thank you!

  • Marc..great article…sometimes is the the simple things in life that are so easily overlooked.

  • Love this post! Thank you :)

  • All your points are right on. However, I think a lot of smart people do know these truths, and a lot of not-so-smart people don’t! There’s some overlap obviously. But valuable thoughts for all.

  • I just read one of your posts from a friend’s facebook wall and I can’t stop reading them…they are just so intelligently written, words are flowing so beautifully and the sense of inspiration is so vivid. Thank you and keep on blogging…

  • Superb! This was a great read!

  • Your blogs are always the best! Thank you!

  • I really enjoyed this article. Especially #8 struck home! Very insightful stuff.

  • I was feeling un-inspired. As usual, when I read what you write my mind and feelings change. Thank you for another great write-up.

  • Awesome Post! I really like it.

  • #12 - Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow.

  • #11 - Nothing is something worth doing.

  • This is my new favorite website. I use it for my daily inspiration! Thank you!

  • Thanks to my awesome friend Bill Butler who referred this link to me.

    This is such an exuberant post with some incredible truth of life. I loved especially the 10th point that says, “You will never feel 100% ready when an opportunity arises.”
    Thank you very much for such a powerful article!

  • wow, stumbling upon your blog was the most pleasant serendipitous and enlightening blunder ever ;)). love!!! would love to see a post about quotes or mantras you use to stay on course.

  • Truly nice article!!!
    Keep up compiling such articles in future ..
    I love reading such nice thoughts which we usually forget :)

  • “Life is like wrestling a tiger. Either you win, or you get whipped. Either way you’re only going to do it once.”

  • “Having too many choices interferes with decision making”..
    There is so much truth in here. Options cause headaches, but isn’t it also true that when there are no other option we look for one.

  • This post is too good Man… Simply amazing and profound in each and every point you mention.

  • Nice suggestions overall!

    But be wary of the 4-Hour Work Week book recommendation. It’s a bit of a fluffy read.

  • Great points overall, but #6 and #10 hit the nail on the head for me!

  • Similar to #7, another common myth that needs to be busted is: “Nothing is impossible.”

    Too many people have wasted too much time trying to do things that were actually impossible, only because it’s been drilled into their minds that “nothing is impossible.”

    For example, if I’m 5′11″ tall and weigh 190 lbs, it is physically and humanly IMPOSSIBLE for me to become a professional jockey.

    It’s critical to do a reality check and impartially assess whether or not you it is humanly possible to achieve your goal in a reasonable time frame.

  • Great advice… we all can understand and also believe in every point, but we must take action too.

  • tearstrickenface
    January 4th, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    Hello, I was actually feeling lost earlier and I tried checking out your website. I tried seeing what I have that I may have been missing out lately. I finally ended up making a conclusion that you’re actually correct. Life is what we make it. We are the pilots of our own ship. Thanks for bringing back my smile and reinvigorating my spirit.

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