3 Keys to Success: Show Up, Be Present, and Hope for Serendipity

No one has the secret to success. There is no simple answer. In the publishing world, you see headline after headline trying to sell you on the secret, when really there is not a single path. Not “writing the best book possible” (a lot of great books die a lonely death), not some “killer marketing tactics” (luck plays a big part – what works for someone else may not work for you), and even getting signed by a big publisher with a big advance doesn’t guarantee success. Just talk to the many jaded yet published authors walking the earth.

As the book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy satires, the meaning of life may as well be “42” – an arbitrary number. Because really, we need to better define the question first.

How do you define success?

With the writers I work with, it’s about two things: having an IMPACT and building a LEGACY.

So today I want to talk about three things I find to be essential to success, at least success as I define it. Success that builds a legacy beyond quarterly revenue numbers, beyond being the flavor of the moment at the expense of having a meaningful impact on the world. If this is what you aspire to as well, then please read on…

Serendipity and Success
I exist because my dad decided to skip going to an annual stamp convention in 1965 and went to a dance instead. It was there that he met my mother. At the dance, there was a group of guys with thick accents that kept asking her to dance, but who she didn’t like. When my dad approached her to dance, she at first said no, because she thought he was from that group. Instead of giving up, he asked her again a bit later on. She said yes. Because of those simple choices on a random evening, I exist. That moment was 46 years ago last week. They began talking, they began dating, they got married. Serendipity, for me at least!

Our lives are littered with moments like this. Think about all of the teensy tiny things that had to happen in order for my parents to meet. Not just the big things, but the millions of moments/decisions that lead up to that evening. How missing one bus by 10 seconds can profoundly effect the rest of your life. By not asking someone to dance for the second time…

Success is the same way, often based on serendipitous meetings and connections. Tweeting at one moment means someone important sees it – a few moments later, they don’t. Being at the right place at the right time – as opposed to where most of us are: at the right place, but at the wrong time. Best practices only get you so far. Great work only gets you so far. Serendipity matters.

This author writes novels in 45 days & earns an estimated $60 million a year. Here’s how she got her start:

“It wasn’t until she was trapped in the house for a week during a snowstorm with two toddlers that she picked up a writing pad and wrote her first novel: a way, she says, of preserving her sanity. She sent it to the romance publishers Silhouette, which turned it down, but a year later she wrote her second, Irish Thoroughbred, which was accepted.”

Now she is Nora Roberts, uber-successful author. It takes more than talent and hard work. It takes luck. What if it didn’t snow that week. What if there was a great mini-series on TV? Maybe she never would have put pen to paper, or maybe a single decision to submit her work would have been different, resulting in her never publishing.

The Value of Showing Up
Woody Allen has the famous quote: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” It’s true. Again and again, I can think of people who are a major part of my life – who have helped my business grow – who inspire me – who I met because I or they showed up at some meetup, some event.

Several of my clients and I met this way. A small, chance meeting at an event, that slowly blossomed into long-term working relationships, and dare I say, friendships. Some of these meeting started with a single Tweet.

This is why I have always been in the habit of turning Twitter conversations into in-person conversations over coffee. To help us each show up to form a deeper connection, and open the door for serendipity.

There is risk in showing up. It’s easier to stay home. But if you need a proven return on investment in order to take action, then you are missing out on opportunities that will propel others forward, as you stand on the sidelines kicking the sand wondering why success isn’t happening to you.

Be Present
It’s not enough to simply show up, you have to be present. Many publishers in the magazine and newspaper world didn’t properly show up to the web 15 years ago. Yes, they were there, but they weren’t “present.” they didn’t understand the web, what it meant, and how it could help their businesses and mission. So they used it at its most basic functions – always too late innovative ideas – often when they were forced to by others. Rarely innovating. Rarely understanding. Often merely following.

Create meaning when you show up. Work to truly connect with others, not pitch them on your big idea. I’ve used this quote by Scott Johnson again and again, and will continue to do so: “Caring is a powerful business advantage.”

It’s easy to not care. That’s why it’s hard to succeed.

As many of us celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I am considering those who mean so much to me. Those present in my life who I am incredibly thankful for. Those who have made the effort to show up, to care. Those who push, who expand what is possible. Those who make me a better person simply by being present in my life.

Thank you for being here.