Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

8 Realities Successful People Face Head On

Ask any successful person how they got to the top, and they’ll tell you they had to face plenty of harsh truths and realities to get there.

This isn’t meant to be intimidating—it’s empowering! Plenty of ultra-successful people have had to face tough obstacles in the moment, but luckily you have the luxury of time and preparation.

Learning these lessons now will allow you to greatly improve and continue on your journey to the top.

1. Negative Thoughts Bring Negative Outcomes

Seriously, enough with the negativity. Positive thinking really can change not only our outlook on life but our outcomes in life. When our brains are focused on fear or anger, our emotions take over and we lose our ability to think or act on other things.

The negativity takes over our brain and limits the many choices and options that we have to react to the situation. In contrast, according to Barbara Fredrickson’s theory of “broaden and build,” positive thinking leads our brain to broader thoughts of possibility and problem solving.

The bottom line: get rid of the negativity—it’s better for you and for those around you. Speaking of those around you...

2. You’re Only as Good as the People You Surround Yourself With

You parents probably told you this at some point. Even though you probably rolled your eyes at the time, they were right.

Science says that negative attitudes are contagious. So don’t wait until a toxic person in your life has brought you so far down that you forget how to get back up. You need to surround yourself with people who inspire you, encourage you, and help you realize your potential.

Life is simply too short to be friends with toxic individuals—and plus, there’s a lot of great people out there.

3. Success Isn’t Easy, and It’s Often Painful

Estee Lauder once said, “I never dreamed about success. I worked for it.”

If you want to accomplish something, as Nike says, “Just do it.” The more important it is, the more intimidating and overwhelming the first step is going to be—and that’s a good thing.

Channel this anxiety and stress into productivity and the results will be nothing short of rewarding. The individuals that dive headfirst into that vicious first step are not necessarily tougher or smarter than any of us, they have just realized that it produces positive outcomes. They have learned that the agony of starting something is unavoidable and procrastinating only lengthens their apprehension.

4. You Determine Your Own Self-Worth

Define success on your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.

Anne Sweeney, Co-chair of Disney

Your self-worth needs to come from within; we can’t depend on others to do this for us, and we should certainly not be comparing ourselves to others.

What makes you happy? What makes you feel accomplished? If running a 5K is the longest distance you’ve ever run, be proud—don’t compare yourself to your colleague that just ran a marathon.

According to Dr. Kristin Neff, by comparing ourselves to others, we are setting ourselves up for self-worth failure—someone will always be wealthier, thinner, or stronger, and someone will always be able to run that one extra mile. She even notes, “Studies now show that basing one’s self-worth on external factors is actually harmful to one’s mental health.”

5. There’s No Such Thing as Perfect

No one thing and no one person is perfect. Even Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, can attest to that.

The sooner you realize and accept this, the more successful you’ll be, not only in your job but in your personal life as well. If your goal is perfection, you’re setting yourself up to feel disappointment, because it simply doesn’t exist. Is there room for improvement, and should you always deliver your best and final work? Definitely, but trying your hardest and aiming to never fail are two very different things.

6. Third (or Thousandth) Time’s a Charm

If you’re really lucky, you will succeed on your first try. However, most real successes take a few rounds. Think about Henry Ford, who had two failed car companies before successfully launching Ford at the age of 45.

As Joan Rivers put it, “My whole career has been one rejection after another and then going back and back and pushing against everything and everybody. Getting ahead by small, ugly steps.”

If you feel passionate about something that failed, try taking another route. What will really define your success is your ability to be persistent: Will you give up after a few setbacks, or will you shake it off and keep going? The attitude you choose in these situations can be even more important than the actions you react with.

7. You Need to Be Your Own Best Cheerleader

Those that matter don’t mind, and those that mind don’t matter.

Dr. Seuss

Not everyone you know is going to support you—in fact, fewer of your family and friends than you think will actively cheer you on in your endeavors. I hate to break it to you, but people around you have their own lives to worry about, and some toxic people may even discourage you with jealousy and negativity.

Remember this: You don’t need them! You need to own your journey and create your own path to success. If you’re lucky enough to have supportive people in your life, excellent—but be careful about how much you’re depending on them to reach your goals: You can do this on your own.

8. You Need to Be Fearless

As Oprah Winfrey once said, “Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.”

At the end of the day, most of your regret will lie in the things that you were too afraid to try. Fear is one of the biggest deterrents of success—if you never get the courage to try, you’ll always fail.

If you’re feeling fearful about going after something you really want, ask yourself what you’re really afraid of. I would put my biggest bet that the answer is failure. Personally, I would rather look back and say I tried, then wonder for the rest of my life what could have been. Remember, everything in life seems impossible, until it isn’t.

More From Inc.

Photo of person thinking courtesy of Portra/Getty Images.