“What is the secret to success?”

I get asked this, in one form or another, every time I speak at an event.  It’s a great question, and it’s something that I’ve thought about often over the years.  The audience is usually surprised when I give them my two-word response:

“Get started.”

I’m sure people think to themselves, “That’s it? There must be more to it than that, right?”

True.  Success involves more than getting started.  But I’ll tell you what—getting started puts you in a rarified air.  Why?  Because most people never do.  Nat King Cole once told me, “there are two kinds of people in the world: Ninety-eight percent sit on the porch and watch the fox hunt. And whoever catches the fox, they applaud. Two percent chase the fox. He said, I always chase the fox.” So, by Nat’s logic, you improve your chances by fifty-times, just by joining the hunt.

Most people are still planning their entrance.  They’re always talking about what they’re “gonna do.” “Wait till next year Lar, I’m gonna finish my book—then my career is gonna really begin.”  “I’m gonna open a restaurant, Lar.  It’s gonna be beautiful.  Can’t wait to show ya!”  I’m gonna, I’m gonna, I’m gonna.  It never stops.  And when you see them a year later, they’ll tell you that a few things got in their way this year, but pretty soon, they’re gonna…

And the next year the say something similar.

And the year after that, too.

The sad thing is, so many people could be successful if they followed Nat’s advice.  “Get off the porch.”  That’s a common characteristic of successful people and successful leaders.  They’re doers.  Few people exemplify this trait more than Bill Gates.   I had the opportunity to interview Bill and his father in 2010.  When I asked his father if Bill ever disappointed him, he told me that it was the saddest day of his life when Bill dropped out of Harvard to work on computers.

Things turned out ok.

What’s most remarkable about Bill’s decision to pursue computers is what led up to it.  He was a third-year student at Harvard when his longtime friend, Paul Allen, showed him a magazine article about the “Altair 8800,” the world’s first micro-computer (today, we would just call it a computer, but the computers of that time were much bigger than what we’re used to today—hence the name “micro-computer”).  Recognizing the opportunity, Gates and Allen called the manufacturer and said that they had created a version of the popular computer language BASIC for the Altair.  As a result of the call, they were invited to Albuquerque to demonstrate their work.  There was only one problem.  THEY HADN’T YET CREATED THE PROGRAM!  Before their trip to Albuquerque, Gates and Allen had to build it from scratch.  The first time they had an opportunity to it out was in Albuquerque, during their demonstration!  Amazing.

How many people would’ve done something like that? Even if they had the computer programming skills of Gates and Allen, few would’ve seen an article in a magazine and gone through the effort of calling the company and building a program from scratch.  Even fewer would’ve had the guts to fly to Albuquerque to test it out during a live demonstration.  But that’s what separated these Gates and Allen.  Their decision to “get off the porch” was a defining moment for them—a 110-billion-dollar defining moment.

I hit a similar cross-road when I was 23 years old, working to support my mom as a UPS driver in New York.  Even though I had a day job, I desperately wanted to be on the radio.  One day, I randomly bumped into the head of announcers for CBS on the street.  Naturally, I asked him for some advice (I say “naturally,” even though I actually think many people are reluctant to ask for help).  He told me that there was a lot of opportunity for young radio announcers in Miami.  I had an uncle that lived in Miami, so I decided to move pack my bags and move south.  I moved my entire life based on a chance conversation in the street.

I left with eleven dollars in my pocket.

Things didn’t work out immediately.  I had to put in my time—working at the station, doing grunt work until I could get on the air.  Even when I finally got on, it was decades before I became a nationally recognized name.  But none of it would have been possible if I didn’t make a wild-eyed decision to move to Miami to pursue my dream of being a broadcaster.

The decision to leave seemed like common sense to me.  I had a clear goal I jumped on the first chance I had to make that goal a reality.

I got off the porch.

Most people concede defeat before they even try. They never get in the game.  If you have a goal that’s important to you that you’ve been putting off, stop waiting around.  Take this opportunity right now—in this moment—and get in the game.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by starting.  With that one decision, you’ll leave ninety-eight percent of people in the dust.  Once you’ve gotten in the game, you’ll learn lessons that you couldn’t have learned while you were sitting on the fence.  I’ll leave you with words often attributed to the German writer and poet, Goethe:

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

 This is wonderful advice. Goethe doesn’t tell us to accomplish our dream.  That would be too far a stretch for most.  He merely tells us to begin.  And once we do, we set the stage for other events in our life to unfold that can take us places we never dreamed possible.  That’s how it worked for me.  That’s how it’s worked for all the successful people and leaders I’ve ever met.  And, If you begin today, it may very well be how it works for you, too.



Sign up for my weekly newsletter

Every week I share what's on my mind – from world events, to communication tips, to my recent interviews, and sometimes personal musings. You'll love it.

You have Successfully Subscribed!