The Three Surprisingly Simple Keys to Success

image of hand showing number three

Back when I was writing novels and working on getting them published, someone gave me a piece of advice.

“You need talent, luck, and persistence. Pick any two.”

It’s probably been twenty years since I heard those words, but I still think of them all the time. They don’t just apply to getting book deals, of course.

Whether you want to paint, write, play music, raise a happy kid, design beautiful houses, or run an online business that makes you happy and rich, you can reach your goals with just two of those three.

At first glance it might seem like two of them are out of your control. But let’s look at that more carefully.


What most people call talent is usually nothing more than passion.

If you love it, you’ll do it all the damned time. And the more you play, the more you write, the more houses you design or symphonies you compose, the better you get.

Yes, there are a few “effortless talents.” There are people to whom the words come so easily you just want to smack them in the head. There are people who play music as easily and naturally as I eat ice cream.

But more often, that sense of ease comes from passion and nonstop, almost obsessive practice.

If you have absolutely zero talent for your chosen field, you’re going to have a tricky time. But usually, it’s a matter of fanning a spark of innate talent until you start to become quite impressive.

The more you work, the more talented you get.


I’m quite a lucky person. I was born in an extraordinarily wealthy country, at a time when women could do pretty much what we like, and in an era of vaccination and modern medicine that kept me from being carried off by some infectious disease at the age of 3 or 4.

Those are all massive strokes of luck. They had nothing to do with anything I did — I just lucked into them.

But what most people call luck is very different. It’s “being in the right place at the right time.” Having things just fall into place. Coming up with opportunities just when you need them. Knowing the right people.

This kind of luck comes from a few different places.

You can improve your focus. Just like you suddenly see red convertibles everywhere once you buy a red convertible, once you start focusing on luck and opportunity, they pop up like dandelions after a spring rain.

Nothing magic makes that happen. Those opportunities were there all along – you were just looking at something else.

You can improve your frequency. If you want to roll a pair of sixes, you’ll have much more luck doing that with 10 dice than you will with 2.

Pitch a guest post to 10 A-list blogs and you’re a lot more likely to get a spot than if you pitch 2.

Talk to 1000 prospects, rather than 200.

Audition for 10 gigs, rather than 2.

You can improve your likeability. Who “wins” the customer, the juicy contract, the retweet, the great job?

Sometimes it’s the one who’s the most “talented” — the one who’s producing the best output.

More often, it’s the one who’s better liked.

Be nice to people. Make yourself helpful. Don’t throw tantrums (public ones, anyway). Don’t build yourself up at another person’s expense. Make generosity a habit.

That successful raging jackass we all know? He may build some temporary success for himself, but everyone’s rooting for him to lose. His karma is gaining on him, in the form of a whole lot of people who would rather distance themselves.

The more you work, the luckier you get.


This is the simple one.

Just don’t give up.

Keep writing. Keep making music. Keep blogging.

When something works well, do more of that. Learning from failure can work, but learning from success is even better. Big successes come from nurturing your little successes.

If there’s someone in your life making you feel dumb for your “pipe dream,” stop talking to that person about your goals. Possibly stop talking to that person at all.

Watch out for what’s sometimes called “inventor’s syndrome.” That’s what happens when you’ve invented some product or system or service that you think ought to change the world, but which, sadly, nobody wants.

Stay light on your feet. Find the story that you want to tell and that your audience wants to read. Find the intersection between passion and service.

Be too damned stubborn to quit, but not so stubborn that you won’t try new approaches.

And will you succeed?
Yes you will indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)
~Dr. Seuss

Make your own talent, make your own luck, and activate your stubborn streak, and there’s nothing that can stop you.

Know what goes great with talent, luck, and persistence? Some first-rate marketing information. You’ll find it in the Copyblogger newsletter, Internet Marketing for Smart People. Lots of practical advice you can put into place right away, to make yourself so talented and lucky that you can’t help but succeed.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is Senior Editor of Copyblogger and the founder of the Remarkable Marketing Blueprint.

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Reader Comments (70)

  1. says

    Hey Sonia,

    I like how you put this together. All three are so important to achieve any level of success. But the one that really sticks out is being persistence. This is were most quit to soon. Folks don’t see any progress so they stop what they were doing. Therefore, really setting themselves up to fail.

    Have a great weekend…

  2. says

    Failure could easily be a 4th point. It was mentioned under persistence… but I’ve found that often time’s people don’t try certain things because they are scared to fail. It’s part of the game… if you don’t fail you’re going to have many missed opportunities.

    Good post.

  3. says

    Persistence is important, of course, but sometimes I stumble on that one. Like many self-starters, I have enough willpower to tough it out long past the time when it still makes sense. Now I make a conscious effort to expect luck and talent to come to my rescue, rather than rely on sheer clenched-teeth gr-r-r-h determination (that was a growl, hope it didn’t scare you too much). Always something from the heart from Sonia. Thanks for your post. Jack

  4. says

    Love it! Great advice. You bring up an interesting perspective about luck, and that is to create your own luck by changing what your looking at, or changing your behaviors.

    Sometimes it’s about being in the right place at the right time, but more often than not, opportunities arise for people who have set themselves up for it.

  5. says

    Sonia — this is the key takeaway for me, SO true:

    “You can improve your likeability. Who “wins” the customer, the juicy contract, the retweet, the great job?

    Sometimes it’s the one who’s the most “talented” — the one who’s producing the best output.

    More often, it’s the one who’s better liked.”

    – you my dear, continue to killing me with your apparently quite effortless brilliance…. cheers–

  6. says

    I never thought about improving luck… I guess the best way to do it is to stack the deck in your favor.

    I think talent relies on focus as well… when you really spend the time and focus on something you’ll be good at it eventually.

  7. Mike says

    Great advice for anyone wishing to write. I believe strongly in your three conditions for successful writing. Electronic media opens up a whole new field for writers as well. Thanks for your encouraging words. I have a writing group on facebook of over 1700 people… I will be sharing this with them. God bless.

  8. says

    Only Key we don’t have control of is LUCK i think. all the others were under the control of our brain.

  9. says

    H’ray! Finally, someone gets that luck is not a mysterious force of the universe, but a natural consequence of how we act, driven by now we think.

    There are five characteristics in which human personalities differ:

    O penness
    C onscientiousness
    E xtroversion
    A greeableness
    N euroticism

    and according to years and years of scientific research, changing these three will change your luck:

    O penness
    N euroticism
    E xtroversion

    I just love how the acronyms work out, so I created a whole business presentation on choosing to be luckier.

    It helps to know the useful definition of ‘talent’, too; that it’s not some magical thing only a few have. We all have talents, those things we just do. They can be improved and expanded, but they’re not magic.

    Huh; talent, luck, persistence—it’s not magic, it’s just hard work.

  10. says

    One of my all-time favorite song lyrics is “Time is all the luck you need” (from the song “Lucky” by Seven Mary Three). And I totally believe that. In fact, I believe people make their own luck based on their thoughts and their focus. But when you’re vibrating on a frequency that’s aligned with what you are wanting to achieve, you don’t need luck. All you need is belief. The rest will fall into place.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post, Sonia!

  11. says

    Surrounding yourself with the right people is the first thing in setting yourself up to succeed.

    I didn’t understand this until I joined Alex Jeffreys coaching course. When you have someone who has been there and done it they are the ones that point you in the right direction and being associated with them will give you a foot up the ladder


  12. says

    Sonia, thank you very much for this article. I found it very inspirational. I love to play and write music. It is one of my passions. After reading this post I’m going to pick up my guitar and play. As luck would have it I also just posted a video showing some spectacular human achievements that obviously incorporated Talent, Luck and Persistence.

  13. says

    Love the advice not to get bogged down on one thing that isn’t working, to keep at it, trying to intersect with what people want. It’s good advice.

    Thanks for a great post!

  14. says

    This is pretty much my mantra. Persistence, talent, followed by luck. I think it happens in that order. Without persistence, any talent or luck is useless. And without talent, luck and persistence is short-lived.

    This is how I landed a literary agent and got 5 guidebooks published in 2 years when I did not have the experience to do so. I chose persistence over the typical ‘ladder climbing’ route. I started at the top and worked my way down and lucked into a few fantastic situations.

  15. says


    Always great posts…Success is really simple, like most things in life, we just think that successful people are just smarter, more talented or have more luck. When it is “simply” a case of persistence or developing their hidden talent.

    Thanks for reminding all of us.

    Have a great weekend!


    PS Love your pink hair!

  16. says

    “Those opportunities were there all along – you were just looking at something else.”

    Awesome point, worth reiterating. Great read Sonia, thanks – and I think any quote of the always appropriate Teddy Geisel is an excellent choice. Here’s another:

    Go make the Oobleck tumble down
    On every street, in every town!

    I think work that might be considered Oobleck is a plus.

  17. says

    This was a great post! I’ve heard those words before too! I think people get confused as to what talent is or could be. You don’t have to be Whitney Houston to sing, you just gotta LOVE singing. Guaranteed someone else will love it too.

    Thanks for this post!

  18. says


    Success is something you attract by the person you become. I love this quote… and your three tips.

    p.s. For the next product launch you and Brian do, as sweetners to the offer, would it be possible for you to include your 4 romance novels as bonus material? 😉

  19. says

    Whoa…this “luck” thing sound like “work.” :-)

    I appreciate you mentioning likability, because it is not often discussed and a huge factor in success.
    Maybe the next product is “How to work hard and be likable.”

  20. says

    How ‘lucky’ was this!

    I’d written about the importance of persistence today on my blog and then… there you were!

    All new bloggers out there will know how it feels when you wonder whether to keep on keeping on, but having read this post …I will ‘be too stuborn to quit!’

    I hope I have sufficient talent to succeed and I’ll be looking in the right places for the ‘luck’!

  21. says

    Good stuff Simone…

    Resourcefulness, or your ability to make things happen when on the surface it seems (key word: seems) there are no options to make something happen…is also important.

    A typical example…

    “I don’t have any time/money/resources/people to do ______ . ”

    Those that really want success bad enough are resourceful to a fault, and make ________ happen regardless.

  22. says

    GREAT article on creating success! Does my chance for success go up if I can utilize all 3 tools vs. just the 2 the author says we need?

  23. says

    Well, Kate, of course you’re better off with all 3. The great thing is, doing all three ain’t so much harder than doing your favorite two.

    Okay, I lied, but do all 3 anyway, just as a personal favor to me.

  24. says

    I think I’d choose talent and persistence. I love how you mentioned talent as being no more than your passion for something. If I learn a new skill and my passion level for it is high and I’m persistent; in other words I don’t allow anything to discourage me, then will I be successful.

    Great food for thought, thanks for sharing!!

  25. says

    persistence and talent is my pick. To me even if you are talented, but not persistent you wouldn’t get anywhere.

  26. says

    Excellent advice.

    I’ve read that good luck is the intersection of hard work and opportunity. I think you’ve taken this saying and broken it down into actionable steps for us (practice, practice, practice, look for opportunities, keep at it). Thanks for the pointers.

  27. says

    Thank you for such an encouraging post! Your tips on luck are especially enlightening! Most of the time you just hear that people are lucky or not. Your advice on how to increase luck is awesome!

    I especially like the focus part. So true that we often find the things we are looking for, whether good or bad.

  28. says

    @Brian, it may not surprise you that I kept that post pinned to my corkboard at the corporate gig. Alongside a photo of Beatrix Kiddo, of course.

  29. says

    Another gem, thanks Sonia.

    It’s comforting to learn that passion means talent; I try to create my own luck, and if it weren’t for persistence (or pig-headedness), I wouldn’t still be around.

    BTW, looking at the photo, I’m relieved it’s not The Two (or One) Surprisingly Simple Keys to Success.

    That might have been misinterpreted here in Australia.


  30. says

    That is great advice. I love your unique perspective on luck. It never would have occurred to me that I could increase my sense of luck like that. Thanks for making my day better!

  31. says

    Hi Sonia,
    Great post. I would take all 3, but not being too lucky i will have to make do with a small amount of talent and lots of persistence.
    My Motto, “Don’t get it right – just get it going” you can re-design later.


  32. says

    You’re post triggered something for me. While it is true that the more you do something the better you get, I speculate that the more you do something, with a purpose in mind (i.e. wanting to be as powerful a writer as you can be) the more progress you’ll see at a rapid pace.

  33. says

    Wow, what an awesome article. But when you stop and think about it all those things you mentioned can be improved to boost your overall chance of success. Thanks for sharing.

  34. says

    I think talent and persistence is more important and luck comes automatically! Post actually made me think twice about the choices made. Thanks!

  35. says

    Hey Sonia, really great article!

    Lots of really great mindsets and beliefs that I think we ALL would benefit from using.

    This quote here really made lightbulbs go off in my head, “What most people call talent is usually nothing more than passion.”

    You’re absolutely right! It’s so easy for people to look at someone who is great at something and say I wish I was that talented. But they don’t realize how much work was put into to BECOMING talented.


    Darren L Carter

  36. says

    Great article! As a musician and educator this really does apply. A lot of people see successful people as lucky, but it seems that when you start doing the right things, luck comes around more often.

    Persistence is also key. I learned some BB King licks yesterday and can tell you I played them over and over again for hours.

    Like Thomas Edison once said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

  37. says

    What a briliant article. Very thought provoking. I read it through 3 times in one sitting. The 3 keys you talk about are just so absolutely true, and you explained it so well.

    I reallly resonated with the part about:

    “If there’s someone in your life making you feel dumb for your “pipe dream,” stop talking to that person about your goals. Possibly stop talking to that person at all. ”

    I have found this to be a problem over the years. The more I want to achieve, the more others want me to fail. But so far I’ve managed to prove them all wrong.

    Nay-sayers are a real dream killer (especially the persisitent ones who go on and on at every opportunity). And that’s why I think that staying away from them, even if it means ending a long friendship or close relationship, is the best thing if you want to achieve your goals and dreams and follow passion.

    I hope everyone enjoyed this article as much as I did, and got as much from it. I loved it.

  38. says

    Well I have been persistent and I think I have a level of talent. So for the moment I probably just need to be more persistent and a little smarter about where I put the effort in.

  39. says

    Hi guys,

    I love this blog. But I have to say that I need to really work on improving the keys to success. Because I have not really reach my personal Goals yet. Thanks for sharing.

    Kind regards,


  40. says

    Sonia, Thanks for a really great article.I had never thought of things that way but how true they are. I am not lucky so I will have to depend on talent and persistent. Maybe someday I will be lucky but for now it’s hard work for me.

  41. says

    @Gail, I know it seems silly or far-fetched, but if you start believing you are lucky, you will become lucky. Give it a try! You can always go back if you don’t like it. :)

    Start noticing the good luck that you receive today (even little things like finding a penny, and any health that you and people you love enjoy), and you’ll be shocked at the luck that starts flooding your way.

  42. says

    Sonia, I will do this and you are right. I wish for big things and forget to appreciate the little things that I am lucky at.
    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Thanks for sharing such great advice with me.

  43. says

    Dear Sonia,
    As you already know, this piece speaks to the heart of all who do creative work. I found it to be informative, enlightening, humorous and inspiring. It would be my honor, with your kind permission, to reprint as a post on my Art Print Issues blog, which is edited to help visual artists succeed in business.

  44. says

    This is a great pep-talk article, one in which I should read at least once a month to help keep me focused on work. I will be tweeting about this article today. Thanks for the dose of common sense that I would otherwise forgot about.

  45. says

    “You need talent, luck, and persistence. Pick any two.”

    That fits with my world view…

    …of course the world has more nuance, it’s an AWESOME approximation.

  46. says

    Looks like if you say ‘Luck’ will be very difficult to accept a lot of people. Not all people have the ‘Luck’ is the same and sometimes they do not choose whether the option is really ‘Luck’

  47. says

    What a great post. There’s more to luck than chance. Studies support it: “A belief in good luck can affect performance” with more persistence, better memory and more accuracy” (WSJ: From The Luck Factor: “lucky people create, notice and act upon chance opportunities, use intuition, expect the best and transform bad luck.” It makes so much sense and nice to see it supported.


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