This Simple Exercise is the Secret to Long-Term Success

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

The Secret to Our Success

As long as humans have been humans, we've been trying to figure out how to maximize success and minimize failure. However we define these two binary forces in our lives, the bottom line is that we want to succeed more and fail less.

But as it turns out, you can't have one without the other.

A recent study at Northwestern University mined data from across multiple disciplines to create a mathematical model of success, and what they found is that failure is actually a prerequisite for success.

That's right: everyone who ultimately succeeds starts out as a failure. Everyone.

But not everyone who fails will eventually succeed. So what are the factors that separate those who go on to succeed from those who continue to fail?

The answer, in a nutshell, is: learning and adjusting.

That's it. Those who are successful in their chosen field aren't necessarily smarter or more hard-working or more persistent than anyone else. They simply pay attention to the lessons of their failures and make appropriate adjustments.

The operative word here is "appropriate." It isn't that those who continue to fail aren't making changes. In fact, they often make the most sweeping changes after a failure. But in doing so they are throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater and losing the kernel of inspiration that would have eventually grown into a success, had it been properly pruned and nurtured.

That's why the year-end review is so essential. It's your opportunity to look back over the year, take note of what worked and what didn't, and make those adjustments for the coming year.

After all, what was the point of living those lessons if you're not going to learn from them?

How to do a Year-End Review

Grab a notebook and a pen. No, not that crappy pen that's almost out of ink! Grab the best pen you've got, one that's easy to write with and a color you find pleasing, plus a notebook you enjoy writing in.

These details matter, as you will need to be in a positive frame of mind to access and assimilate all the necessary information for this exercise.

Go someplace you find inspiring and enjoyable. That could be your bedroom, a coffee shop, a scenic overlook, or literally anyplace you feel comfortable and aligned.

Take a few deep breaths and think back over your entire year, month by month. Remind yourself of all the stories that played themselves out in your life this year. The heroes, the villains, the surprising twists of fate. Then, start writing.

Simply write out the story of your year. You can write it as a narrative, as if you were writing yourself a holiday letter like your Great Aunt Marge used to send out every year to keep the family updated on her trials, tribulations, and triumphs. Or you can write it as bullet points on a timeline. Whatever works best for you.

As you write, the lessons and themes of the year will soon become clear.

For example, as I look back over this past year, 2019, here are some of the events that pop up in my narrative:

  • January: Lost my job as an Executive Assistant after 5 years in the field

  • February: Made the very scary decision not to pursue another EA position

  • March: Started a blog (adriemac) and began freelancing as a content writer

  • April-May: After a slow start, narrowed my focus to helping entrepreneurs and solopreneurs clarify their brand voice via content and copy; realized how much I love and excel at that work, and vowed never to go back to doing stuff I suck at, no matter how well it pays

  • June: Started recording my writings in my own voice and posting those recordings on my website; landed an amazing client who helped me further clarify my gifts and the value of my work

  • July: Realized I needed to integrate my writing, brand voice work, and voice recording into a single brand (That's Aloud)

  • August: Launched the That's Aloud podcast with zero budget

  • September: Realized my equipment was not up to snuff and, after upgrading, did a lot of re-recording; had to start a fundraising campaign to pay for podcast hosting; panicked and took on some new clients to try and get ahead financially

  • October: Figured out that I needed to show, rather than tell, what I do; started recording story discernment sessions with some of my favorite clients and collaborators; had to fire a couple of those new clients who were not a good fit and were taking up way too much of my time and attention for the amount they were paying me, another ghosted me without paying his $500 tab

  • November: Launched season 2 of That's Aloud; came up with the idea for another podcast, Won to Watch, during the first recorded session, with Courtney A. Walsh; got so broke that my insurance lapsed and they turned off my phone, but didn't care because my life is so much better in so many ways

  • December: Launched Won to Watch

Already, you can see some common themes:

  • Being brave and patient, listening to my intuition, and focusing on creating real value brought positive changes.

  • Acting out of fear and haste and putting focus on making money only caused further delays and brought new problems.

Now that you've written the story of your year, make a list of things that went well this year, and why.

Then follow it up with the most important list of all: what didn't go well, and what you will do differently next year.

For example:

Went well - collaboration. Reaching out to my network and making new connections has brought me some of my best clients and inspired some of my best work this year.

Next year I'll be even more proactive, reaching out to podcasters I don't yet know to see if they're up for a collaboration.

Went wrong - panic. Every single time I have allowed myself to slip into a fear mindset and take action to try and "fix" things, they've gotten worse.

Next year, whenever I feel panic start to set in, I will hold off on taking any action or making any decisions until I am in a better frame of mind.

Continue this process until you have milked every last drop of precious learning and growth from your year.

Finally, sum it all up in a tidy list of DOs and DON'Ts for the coming year.

For example:


  • Trust yourself

  • Show rather than tell

  • Your due diligence; measure twice, cut once

  • Create value even when no one is asking for it

  • Get out of your comfort zone

  • Whenever something scares you, do it

  • Put yourself out there, over and over

  • Work smarter, not harder


  • Trust others automatically

  • Take on clients who don't see your unique value

  • Take on work that doesn't feel good in your soul

  • Spend money you don't have

  • Do work on spec

  • Let your family suffer because of choices you made

  • Sit around and wait for people to find you

I can't wait to see your lists! Please post them in the comments, or on my Facebook page:

Happy learning!

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