My One-Word Answer To: What Separates Those Who Succeed From Those Who Fail, Give Up, or Never Try?
In 2014, I found the BiggerPockets Podcast. The BiggerPockets Podcast involves two hosts very casually talking to successful real estate investors about how they got started. I immediately fell in love with it, which admittedly is not hard to do. It’s informative, thorough, transparent, and effective.
At the end of every episode, they ask this set of four questions to every guest:
- What is your favorite real estate book?
- What is your favorite business book?
- What are your hobbies?
- What do you think separates those who succeed from those who fail, give up, or never try at all?
I was hearing this set of questions very regularly, and it began to consume me. I was commuting to college three times a week, 45 minutes each way, and this real estate knowledge was beat into my head in a very fast way.
My Real Education Came During My Commute
I was cranking out an episode each way, six episodes or more per week. Within a few months, I bought my first foreclosure for $54.5K as an FHA owner-occupied. I put around $3K down, and 18 months later, that house appraised for $115K. I cashed out and instantly had more money in the bank than I ever had in my life. I had always been terrible with money and decision-making, but this worked! I could hardly believe it. At that moment, I knew my interest in this podcast and real estate had a direct return on investment. That's when my interest became an obsession.
The final famous four question really intrigued me, and over time, I found myself thinking about it more and more. It seems obvious to me why you would want to know the answer to this question: If I could answer it, I could apply it. So, I did what I think a lot of BiggerPockets listeners do—I started practicing my answer for my inevitable podcast appearance.
At the time, it was highly unlikely I would ever have a chance to be on this podcast. I had bought just one house-hack; I honestly had no business day dreaming about this. That said, it turned my little thought experiment into a long-term productive project, and that was plenty.
How to answer the famous four has been swirling in my head for a few years now while I’ve been talking about it, writing about it, and learning what it takes to succeed. I really wanted to extract the key metric needed to succeed, but the more honest and egotistical answer was: If I was ever going to be on the podcast, what would I answer? After over four years of dwelling on this question, I feel confident to share it.
The 5 Most Common Answers Podcast Guests Provide
The first step I took was research. I have spent a lot of time listening through old podcasts and tracking the answers given by all the guests before me. Most of these guests have seen considerable success (and I’m fairly certain all of them are smarter than me), so I went to the existing framework to build my answer.
Related: Why It’s (Almost) Impossible to Succeed in Real Estate Investing by Simply Dabbling in It
I went through the entire catalog of podcasts (the fourth time I’ve listened through them all by the way), and I started writing down all the answers in a spreadsheet. The following are the five most common answers—and by a LARGE margin as well.
- Taking action
- Setting goals
- Being determine
- Being fearless
- Having tenacity
If all you had was this list, I think you would still be in good shape. These are all good answers. Unfortunately, I found that none of them are well-rounded enough to satisfy my goal. What I really wanted was a unique answer that brings a new perspective to this question and something that was very high concept.
This is the most common answer, but it leaves a bit too much gap for my liking. Take action on what specifically? What if I take action on the wrong thing? What if I put taking action above education, and I buy a lousy deal? Great answer, but too much wiggle room for it to be my final answer.
Goals are incredibly important, and I don’t think anyone who has seen even moderate levels of success would disagree. Being able to set difficult but attainable goals is an extremely valuable talent—and one that requires practice! Can it be used as a standalone answer to what talent most strongly correlates to success? Maybe, but it’s not my favorite. I think goal-setting is a piece of the strategy puzzle, not the solution.
This one is really close and it sounds great, but I feel it leaves a bit to be desired. In my experience, it seems success requires a continued effort towards a goal over a long period of time, even in the face of struggles. I love this answer, and I don’t want to dismiss it, but I do want to build on it. What answer includes the meaning of determination but is more broadly applicable?
Humans are genetically programmed to fear the unknown—this is how we have survived for so long. Our brains have been conditioned for millennia to evaluate risk quickly and allow us to survive. The problem is survival isn’t that much of a problem anymore, and these systems are making decisions for economics, where nothing is really on the line. So, when you think there might be a threat ahead, your brain says, “Why take the risk?”
The problem is that no house purchase is ever going to kill you, and that really distorts our decision-making. This happens to everyone, and getting over that is a huge benefit. Fearlessness is a great answer because the fact is that nothing in this business can kill you, yet so many people are terrified of making moves simply out of emotional fear. This is evolution doing you a disservice. This answer is such a great one, but unfortunately it’s too limited—being too fearless can push you into making overly risky mistakes just as much as it can help you. I’m glad to include it on this list, but it’s not our answer. Next!
This is my favorite of the popularly recorded answers. It’s very similar to determination—maybe even an efficient replacement. In fact, the definition of tenacity says it’s a high level of determination, so as far as I’m concerned, that means it’s surely an upgrade.
If I had to choose one answer from this set, then tenacity would certainly be it. By the time I got to making this list, however, I had been spouting off my personally developed “answers to success” for years. Part of this project was to reconcile what I had already learned on my own with the information gained from the previous podcast answers. Lets try and fit this into what I had already learned.
Networking, Education, and Capital
I came up with this combination a few years back, and it was my favorite answer for a long time. I still talk about it regularly. My pitch is: If you want to get ahead, you need to get educated and you need people to help you do it. (By “education,” I mean subject matter expertise, not formal education.) You need to be immersed in the material, have a deep understanding of how processes work, and be constantly upping your knowledge.
Networking is a necessity as well since this is a people business. Consider this: If you want to fix and rent a house, how many people does the transaction take? You, at least one contractor, a property manager, a real estate agent, a closing attorney, a lender, and an insurance agent—to name a few! This means you need six to seven people or more just to do one small deal. These vendors can't just be casual help. If you want to succeed, you need people around who know their stuff.
So the last is capital, which I don’t really think is as important anymore. I thought this was so crucial for the same reason everyone who starts in real estate thinks it’s important. I thought I needed lots of money to buy real estate. I was wrong! Having capital from somewhere is important, but it definitely doesn’t need to be your own. If you’re new and don’t know how to do a real estate deal, then money always seems like the biggest obstacle. However, if someone dropped $100K in your lap right now, you wouldn’t necessarily be any closer to a deal. Education and networking is what you need to get deals done—the capital can be found far easier than people assume. Instead, learn this business intimately, develop great relationships, and the capital will come.
As I continued to learn more, it didn’t take long for my self-education to start producing great returns. Without a doubt in my mind, I know that this is at the pinnacle of importance when it comes to success. So somewhere along the way I moved from education to curiosity. Brandon Turner talks all the time about the advantage he gets just be being able to ask questions of people who are successful. As Jim Rohn famously (and correctly) said: “You are the average of the five people you surround yourself with.”
Related: Sorry, But Real Estate Investing is NOT Easy. Still, You Can Succeed if…
How many success stories does that podcast host get to surround himself with? His curiosity got him in this very enviable position, and it affords him unfathomable amounts of inside knowledge. What I don’t like about this answer is that curiosity is an inward feeling only. It doesn’t really have a tangible outlet on its own. No one says Jeff Bezos is successful because he’s curious; his success is because of his actions. Curiosity must be combined with some method of external force. I struggled with this for a while too because I’m convinced my answer can be reduced to one adjective, perhaps an abstract one—but still something all-encompassing.
What People DIDN’T Answer
Before proceeding, I want to address the disconnect between what people on the podcast have said is the key to success and what the average person would say. I did this based on very rudimentary research, but essentially, I just found a few common factors society may tell us are important, but were not mentioned at all on the podcast.
College was the most entertaining answer to find absent in my search. It’s tragic how much we spend as a nation on formal education, only to see not a single person of 300 successful investors make even a slight mention of it. Learning was certainly talked about frequently and should not be misconstrued with going to college. A big thanks to the internet to provide education cheaply and easily by anyone with a smartphone.
When I started listening to the BiggerPockets Podcast, I was surprised that so few people had started with money. Mine and many other people’s excuse for not investing had always been, “I have no money to invest.” Hearing all these real estate investors find success without large sums of capital is what made me feel confident that I could do this.
I’m extremely surprised that no one bothered to mention sacrifice. If you want to change your life dramatically, you’ll need to change your life dramatically. If you want to get more income, you’ll have to give up some free time at the very least, and if you want to save more, then you obviously have to make sacrifice. I think getting ahead in real estate is easy for those willing to do whatever it takes, while those who are unwilling to make sacrifices, large and small, will find their journey to be far more difficult. Sacrifice isn’t a key metric for success, but I was disappointed that it wasn’t mentioned in the least.
Reducing the Concept to One Word
Breaking down the overarching concept into one word has been a requirement for me from the start. There isn’t any real necessity for this, but this is the goal that science tries to achieve for many of its endeavors as well: to reduce complex constructs into elegant and simple formulas.
The theory of relativity is a tiny function but it can be used to describe the most complex phenomenon in our whole universe. The time value of money formula is the backbone of modern finance, and it’s so simple we use it every day without notice.
If simplifying the underlying construct of a complex system can be done for finance, biology, and astrophysics, then we can certainly do something similar for business, right? This isn’t to say that these ideas can be fully explained by the formula itself, nor can all of business success be understood in one word. The goal was to reduce the complexity of many ideas into one word to be used as an umbrella description of the overall principle.
I Got Here Through Obsession
“A man is what he thinks about all day long.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
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By the time I got to this point, it had been a few years of thinking about this problem and constantly working at it. I wasn’t burned out, but I was gaining perspective: Does all this work have an end? I’ve listened to podcasts for days, read countless books on success, had an embarrassingly large amount of conversations with myself in the shower about this, and yet I’m still writing.
Around the time of writing this, I realize that maybe the answer isn’t what’s most valuable about this project. I’ve been knocking this question around in my head for four years, and I finally believe what’s actually more important than the answer to success is the act of obsession that it required from me to pursue it.
The definition of obsession is an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind.
I love this answer. Obsession not only includes all of the things I had been describing so far, but it builds upon them beautifully. It takes into account tenacity and determination, because no one obsessed over a goal has a shortage of tenacity. If you’re obsessed with something, you can’t help but to have tenacity.
Being obsessed isn’t a fleeting impulse; we call that infatuation. Instead, obsession suggests the act of being consumed by something completely, maybe permanently.
Obsession also accounts for education and networking. Can you obsess over real estate for four years and not learn anything? Doubtful! Since I've been truly obsessing over my financial freedom, I've done a ton of real estate deals, I got a degree in finance, and I transitioned my entire career to commercial bank underwriting. My life has been crammed full of audiobooks and podcasts for the last five years to gain knowledge. On the commute to work, I listen to educational audio content. I also listen while I'm at work, in the shower, and at the gym. I'm not a career learner by any means, and I hadn't read a single book in 10 years before I picked this habit up. As my obsession grew, I become consumed with getting better, with immersing myself in the process to get better.
Networking while obsessed is even easier, because an obsessed person will talk about their goals all day long to everyone they come across. If you talk to everyone about real estate—or anything for that matter—it’s inevitable you’ll find someone with aligned incentives.
Obsession is my perfect answer, because it is universally applicable to the question: What separates those who succeed from those who fail, give up, or never try at all? A person who thinks, breathes, and lives their obsession will have guaranteed success. So if you’re coming up short in your goals: obsess harder.
What’s the ONE word you would use to answer this question: What separates those who succeed from those who fail, give up, or never try at all?
Leave your answer below!