114 years before America would feel the surge of change brought by the speech delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and seven decades before India would know freedom from British rule, a man living by Walden Pond would pen an essay that posterity would come to know as Civil Disobedience.

This essay would then inform the thinking of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi.

Henry David Thoreau, an American essayist and philosopher, removed himself from the wealthy suburbs of Boston to enjoy the misty mornings of Walden Pond. The woods surrounding this area and the four walls of his humble abode, a cabin he built with his own hands, were witnesses to Thoreau’s transcendental genius. He wrote: 

“Because our vision does not penetrate the surface of things. We think that that is which appears to be.”

What we see isn’t all there is. Often, there is more that hides below the surface of what we are able to perceive.

The Zero To Hero Myth 

Success is an iceberg, writes Thomas Oppong. What people see is very different from reality. Most people don’t count all the costs successful people have paid overtime (below the surface) to get to what they see (above the surface).

The thing about overnight success is that it rarely happens overnight. It’s the build-up of the day-to-day grind and hard work. What we see on the dais is the result of what happened behind the curtains.

As appealing as it sounds, we can’t just “skip to the good part.” We have to put up with the messy middle. And, often, when we do, it may just surprise us how beautiful the process can get.

Regardless of how you define success, here are five things you should remember:

1. Success comes from our ability to sacrifice the present for the future. Worthwhile things never come easy. It takes time and effort and is paid by the cost of missing out on other things. But building success is about striking a balance between pay and play. You can’t entirely sacrifice the present for the future and vice versa. Find your balance. 

2. To achieve a goal, you have to let it go without losing sight of it. The principle is simple: Don’t hyper-fixate on the destination. It’s important to know where you want to go, but you’ll be more effective if you focus on how you will get there. If you only think about what you want to achieve, you might neglect the process. By doing so, you lose the goal entirely. Make a plan.

“It’s important to know where you want to go, but you’ll be more effective if you focus on how you will get there.”

3. Celebrate small wins. According to Harvard Professor and author Teresa Amabile, the magic lies in the small, incremental wins. Every achievement activates the same reward circuitry wired in our brains. In other words, the small wins pave the way for the big wins.

4. Your only true competition is yourself. Constantly trying to beat someone else will burn you out. In Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata, he writes—“If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.” Instead of getting sucked into someone else’s game, play against the version of yourself from yesterday and do better today. 

City Babes by Olivia Malone

5. Thoughts = Actions = Character. What you think about informs what you do, and what you choose to do becomes who you are. At the end of the day, a person’s character is still their greatest asset. Remain humble, compassionate, and open.

“What you think about informs what you do, and what you choose to do becomes who you are.”