The Elusive Reason Why Success Is Elusive

You may hear people talk about various reasons why success in various areas is so elusive: lack of a clear goal, lack of the right attitude, lack of consistent action – all solid reasons in my view. Yet, at one point in time, whenever I would hear them, I would get a feeling of that’s-not-all-there-is.

I didn’t know what was missing at first, but I eventually found out: the hardest to grasp reason why success is elusive. The reason few people are aware of, so they can’t really address it and get the success they want. Here it is:

Success is in the subtle differences.

That’s it! If you look at two people, one with tremendous success in a certain area and one who is a huge failure in the same area, they are usually not that different in terms of thinking, feeling and behavior.

Sure, they may be some visible personality and behavior differences between them, but most of them are really subtle. Nevertheless, it is these small differences that determine the big difference in their levels of success.

Success Subtlety Explained

Let’s take an example in my familiar area of people skills: a person who seems cool, confident, charismatic and one who doesn’t.

You may easily discover some evident differences between them, like one is dressed in a very stylish way and the other like they’ve received their clothes for charity. And fixing these differences will get them closer in terms of the vibe they send.

However, a huge part of the difference in coolness between them will still be there. Because coolness, confidence and charisma are mostly projected by subtle things such as: a bit more eye contact than most people, a swift smile at just the right moment, choosing one way of phrasing an idea instead of another.

I find that most people are not able to pick up these subtle factors and understand them at a conscious level. This is why a lot of the advice on how to improve your people skills, how to get rich or how to advance in your job seems very general, superficial or simply ineffective. It’s based on a superficial understanding of those key differences between people who have success in these areas and people who don’t.

The Takeaway

The point of this article is not to discourage you. It is to get you to walk that extra mile if you want success, and understand the subtle factors that create it.

In my case, I have studied the area of people skills for more than a decade now, thinking about it obsessively, observing people, researching social dynamics or analyzing the same video material for dozens of times; and I know how much this compound effort helped me.

If you want to understand the subtle factors that create success, here are the action steps I believe will help you the most:

  1. Go beyond general advice and seek more specific and in depth information. General advice is a good start, but it usually does not do a lot by itself to help you grow.
  2. Learn from the specialists, not from the amateurs. Learn from people who dedicate themselves to one area and they grasp that area very well.
  3. Focus your learning. Don’t try to learn everything at once. Choose one personal development area which is important for you and stay on it until you see real improvements, then move on.

Remember: The subtle differences in thinking, feeling and behavior have ripple effects. They create big differences in your external reality. They differentiate people with excellent skills and results from your average Joe.

You may easily discover some evident differences between them, like one is dressed in a very stylish way and the other like they’ve received their clothes for charity. And fixing these differences will get them closer in terms of the vibe they send.


  1. Good point — all the little distinctions add up.

    I think one of the most effective ways to figure out the subtle differences is NLP’s “modeling” technique to figure out the strategies with precision and depth.
    .-= J.D. Meier´s last blog ..Why We Make Bad Decisions – Errors in Odds and Errors in Value =-.

    • I’m not a big fan of NLP as a whole, but modeling is one of the really valuable techniques I discovered in it. I use it all the time.

  2. I’ve had this on my mind for a few weeks and never really put words to the thought, but thanks 🙂 One way I was thinking about is is thinking that there is a silent third party in all interaction between people, I think Emerson said that. There is something subtle that colors interaction between people and for one person to be aware of it and to harness it will bring them great power. Cool article.
    .-= Mathieu´s last blog ..Take Responsibility For Your Success =-.

  3. Eddy –

    I like your observation about success being in the small details. I tend to think that success comes from being clear about who you are and what you stand for and sticking with that. When you display your authentic character, others respond to that and that is very attractive. I definitely agree with you on going in depth and getting help to keep developing our character – very good points.


    .-= Phil – Less Ordinary Living´s last blog ..Break free – Learn to beat procrastination for good =-.

    • Thanks Phil,

      Authenticity is a lot on my mind lately. I’ve spend the last two years or so working on understanding it exactly and teaching it.

  4. i totally agree!and thank you!that.s why so many people who are good looking are more succesfull than those who are working so much that they don.t have any more the time and force to do somthing in this way…

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