Smart and Still Failing? Here’s Why.

Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not one has better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on one’s ideas, to take a calculated risk – and to act.

–Andre Malraux

I just read this list entitled ‘Why Intelligent People Fail’ on Mr. Matt Mullenweg’s blog over at and found it to be incredibly on point, but that it really needed some expansion.  So, being the inspirational stands-on-his-soapbox-a-little-too-often type guy that I am, I thought I would go through it and explain the points in a little more detail.

So without further ado, the list:

1. Lack of motivation

It’s no wonder that this is first on the list.  If you have great ideas and are an intelligent individual but you lack any form of motivation to succeed and achieve your goals, you’re not going to get very far when you start to pursue them.

On the surface, you’d think motivating yourself would be a simple task; after all, you have your dreams for a reason!  Most of the time whatever people desire is huge, and a big change from their current circumstances.  So why do they have such trouble motivating themselves to work towards what they want?

Two reasons, really.  The first is that it’s hard work.  Most people hate hard work unless they’re doing something they’re passionate about and they enjoy, and thus when they start pursuing things they think they want they struggle because the reality is that they don’t really want those things.  They’re not willing to take the steps to achieve them.

The second reason is that usually these goals are simply enormous, as I just mentioned, and the truth is that it’s scary to tackle all that change at once.  If you’re currently in debt, working a dead-end job with no education and your dream is to be sipping mojitos on the porch of your beach home when your spouse calls you over for a trip out on your new yacht, getting from point A to point B is going to be way too much to tackle all at once.

And yet most would try to tackle it all at once anyway, then get frightened by the amount of change and work in front of them, tell themselves they can’t do it and affect no change at all by the day’s end.

Staying motivated involves taking small, measurable steps towards your goal even when those steps seem to be insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  Taking those small steps lets you avoid the fear that automatically ignites when you start to get motivated to achieve your dreams and thus you’re able to make progress and succeed where you would have normally failed.

2. Lack of impulse control

While it’s true that acting impulsively without thinking first can get you into a load of trouble when you’re working on a big project or trying to achieve those bigger items on your list of to-do’s, sometimes impulses can also lead you to unexpected solutions.

And while I do believe that everything should be thought through quite thoroughly when you’re making big decisions, I also believe that somewhere in your head your brain is toiling away and already knows what the best option for you is.  You know when you’re stuck between two tough choices and your brain is telling you to do one thing, but your gut is telling you to do something else?  I’m a firm believer that you should always go with your gut in those situations.

But that’s not what is being referred to as ‘impulse’ here, so don’t get the two confused.  Impulsive decisions are spur of the moment decisions that your brain is telling you might be a good idea (Sometimes it will even tell you that they’re great ideas!) while your gut is either telling yo to go for it or telling you that something just isn’t quite right about what you’re about to do.

Always trust your gut.  It will serve you well in this and many other situations in a way that traditional conscious thought simply can’t yet.  After all, you only use around 30% of your brain at any one time.

3. Lack of perseverance and perseveration

I wrote an entire article on this topic two weeks ago over here, which covers perseverance much more aptly than I could in this small space.

4. Using the wrong abilities

I think ‘using the wrong abilities’ is more a case of having the wrong goals than it is using the incorrect tools for those goals, though it can certainly be a factor.  More often is it the case that you are pursuing something that is not for you and that you do not truly want.  (I talk about that in the Taking Yourself Seriously article on this site as well as the article I wrote about setting goals, which I already linked to above but have done so again in case you don’t feel like scrolling up.)

There’s not much more to say on this one.  If you’re using the wrong abilities for the job, it’s usually because you either made a mistake and didn’t realize what you would need to get the job done, or because you’re doing something you don’t really want to be doing, and thus should focus on something you really want instead.  I find that in my experience it is almost 90% the latter and only 10% the former, but that may be different for you.

5. The inability to translate thoughts into action

This is very similar to the motivation one above, with one key difference.  The inability to translate thoughts into action may not be because you’re not motivated to do so, but because you do so poorly.

Often people will come up with a grand scheme as to how they will become successful and rich, such as opening up a shop in a competitive but lucrative market and completely fail to look at the logistics of how they will get the shop running, how they’ll get clients and why people will choose them over other well-established shops.

Their plans often look like the following:

  • Start shop that sells highly sought after product
  • Secure already well-known producers of highly sought after product to sell in your store
  • Hold conferences and shows on the product that will bring industry-leaders from around the world and increase sales

It shouldn’t take an outside observer very long to realize that there are some serious flaws with this plan.  Things such as securing designers, where the shop is going to be, how the business owner is going to secure the highly sought after product, etc.  The list would be enormous if I were to go through everything, but you get the picture.

The problem is that many people have big dreams like that.  Big dreams in and of themselves are not a problem; in fact, having those dreams is good. Dream big!  The problem is that many people then try to dive right in after making a list like I just did without doing any proper research.  They think their plan is great and that it will net them a load of money and by the end of the week they’ve encountered numerous roadblocks to their success (As they would have encountered voluntarily by doing some research.) and they quit because it’s getting too hard.

Why do people do this?  Fear. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but people are ashamed of it.  The truth is that it is extremely frightening when you first start to pursue your goals because you’re going to be faced with a whole slew of challenges you’ve never had to face before, and they’re going to be huge.  If you already had experience with all these challenges you’d already be enjoying your success, right?  Right.

Don’t let that discourage you though.  If you’re just starting a shop like that, you wouldn’t know how to do those things because you’ve never had to do them before– you have no experience to draw from.  Nonetheless they must still be considered and you can find out how to do them simply by doing some research.

As I’ve said before, it’s important to consider all the things that need to be done when you’re setting a goal.  You have to look at your goal realistically and that means knowing all the things that need to be completed in order for you to realistically complete your goal.

This one is easy to surmount, so long as you possess the will to do so and you realize the common pitfalls people fall into.  Just do your research and keep your head about you when planning things.  Realize you’re going to have to work hard and face a lot of unknowns while trying to find your own solutions for them.  You’ll be fine, don’t worry!

That’s all of this list I’m going to cover for now so that this article doesn’t become absolutely enormous.  I’m going to spread out the rest of it over a few posts so that people who aren’t interested in the list have other things to read as well, but I will go through it all.  The next post on the list will be on Monday, so look out for it!

The the second part and the conclusion to this list have already been posted:You can find the second part here and the conclusion here.

2 Responses to “Smart and Still Failing? Here’s Why.”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Thomas James, Thomas James. Thomas James said: Smart and Still Failing? Here's why: [...]

  2. This is really cool!

    You know, I have to tell you, I really enjoy this blog. I find it to be refreshing and very informative. I wish there were more blogs like it. Anyway, great site!


  3. [...] not entirely true.  As the list of the top 20 reasons smart people fail that I just posted said, there are many barriers towards success, and while lack of discipline is certainly a big one, [...]

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