Success Is Not Mystery

A young man is walking through his village, contemplating the elusive secret of success. He looks up and is surprised to see the wise and respected philosopher, Socrates.

Without hesitation, the young man approaches Socrates and asks, “Socrates, surely a man of your wisdom knows the secret to success. Will you share it with me?”

The sagacious guru simply nods and tells the young man to meet him down at the bank of the river early the next morning.

When the young man arrives at the river the next morning, he sees Socrates, already waist-deep in the flowing water. Socrates waves at him, gesturing to the young man that he come out and join him in the water.

As the young man treads out into the river, Socrates slowly backs up until he is chest-deep in the current. When the young man comes within arm’s reach, the old sage grabs him and aggressively pushes him underwater.

The young man immediately begins flailing, trying to push his head above water. But the harder he thrashes about, the more firmly Socrates holds him under.

After about a minute, the young man finally breaks free and surfaces, coughing, choking, and gasping for air. Furious, he screams at Socrates, “What are you trying to do, kill me?!”

The old guru replies calmly, “No, I am trying to teach you.”

He continues, “What is the thing you wanted most when I was holding you underwater?”

“Air!” the man shouted angrily.

“Exactly,” said Socrates. “And that is the true secret to success. To achieve it, you must want it as intensely as you need oxygen when you are drowning.”


I heard that story many years ago and believe its lesson is valid. At least for me, success did not come easy. It has required long weekday and weekend hours away from family, friends, and fun. But I have not wanted my life to be a compromise. I may not have needed success as much as air, but it was pretty darn close.

But in my experience, the lesson from Socrates, craving success as much as a drowning person craves air, is not a complete answer. Even with great desire, success can appear like a mysterious quest. To help me get there, I developed five personal guideposts over the years.

Direction: The Foundation

Decide what you want and what you need to do to achieve it.

My dad once told me, “Greg, never make a call, never go to a meeting, don’t start the day, week, month, or year without knowing what you want and what you’ll need to do to make it happen.”

Creativity: The Accelerator

Creativity in finding a faster path while traveling in your direction can hugely accelerate success. That’s why I developed a creative thought process I dubbed “Seven Dimensional Thinking.”

For example, in business we typically deal with products or processes, so I try to think about them in seven different ways:

What if I made it Bigger?

What if I made it Smaller?

What if I made it Faster?

What if I made it Slower?

What if I made it the Opposite (i.e., reversed the process)?

What if I made it Different (color/shape/style)?

What if I made it disappear (Gone) and recreated it from scratch?

This creative thought process has helped me devise different ways to approach the real estate business and definitely contributed to accelerating my success.

Skill: The Separator

In sports, the difference between winning and losing often comes down to the skill of the players. How good are they at running the plays?

In business, skill is often the most common separator between winners and losers. Skill at selling, marketing, product development, and customer care can make or break a business. You may have a business playbook, but how skillful are your players at running those plays?.

Did you ever read the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell? In it, he introduces the “10,000-hour rule”. It basically means if you want to achieve expertise in any area, you must invest at least 10,000 hours of focused practice.

Work: The Engine

Work is the engine that drives success. I live by a simple lesson: “What I lack in smarts, I make up for in effort.” I’ll hire a voracious worker over a talented clock watcher any day.

Remember the words of Tim Notke, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

Avoid the work and you’ll wallow in hope.

Courage: The Barrier Breaker

Fear of failure, embarrassment, and rejection can be barriers to success. We don’t act because we’re afraid something bad will happen.

Recognize that fear is not danger, it’s your imagination seeing a future uncertainty go badly. It can be hard to achieve great success without plowing through uncertainty!

“Fear is not real. It is the product of thoughts you create. Danger may be real, but fear is a choice.” -Will Smith


We all know there is no magic formula to success. Sometimes it comes easy, sometimes it comes hard, sometimes no matter how hard we try, it doesn’t come at all. 

To me, it’s about probability increasers, doing the things each day that increase my odds of success. Those five steps have been my daily guideposts in that regard. They keep me focused on the fact that…


Life may not be fair, but success is not mystery.