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The 25 Secrets of Meaningful Success

January 14th, 2009 by Bob Bly

The other day, Bill R., a subscriber, wrote me the following e-mail:

?What advice would you give somebody that is starting out that wants to be a success – as a copywriter or just in life in general? What advice would you give to a son or a nephew graduating high school or college as they go into the world?

?I guess I am looking for the one thing that you think is most important to being successful or most important in life in general…. or any words of wisdom that you have. What is the one thing about life that everybody should know to be happy??

It?s an intimidating request, because the older I get, the less I seem to know.

When Thomas Edison wrote that ?we don?t know one-millionth of one percent about anything,? you can certainly apply that to me and success.

My own accomplishments are fairly modest. I earn a nice living, but I am not in the Donald Trump or the Michael Masterson league ? or even close.

My family and I live a pretty ordinary life, in a pretty ordinary suburb.

I like to think I?m a good dad. But I am not sure my sons always agree. Other than that and work, I?m not much good at most things.

So I am not confident that Bill is asking the right person for advice on how to achieve success in business and in life.

And yet he is not the first to ask me. I get dozens of similar requests a year from my readers.

So to satisfy Bill ? and maybe you — here?s what little I know about prospering and enjoying life.

Please keep in mind that my advice may not be right for everybody. It is merely what has worked ? or not worked — for me:

1?Be yourself. Do not pretend to be someone or something you are not. Your uniqueness will appeal to a certain segment of the market — and may hold the greatest appeal to them.

2?Following your passion ? doing what you love ? does not guarantee financial success. But not doing what you love for a living guarantees a life of boredom and unhappiness at work.

3?The trick, then, is to find a niche where your passions and interests intersect with the needs of the market. As Aristotle said, ?Therein lies your vocation.?

4?Learn a financially valuable skill so you can command a high salary or (if you are self employed) a large fee.

5?Those workers and service providers who command top dollar either (a) perform a service that makes or saves their employer or client money or time, (b) have a skill where the demand for that skill exceeds the supply, or (c) specialize in a narrow niche with little competition.

6?If you can earn a salary or generate a net income as a self-employed service professional or independent contractor of $200,000 a year or more, you won?t get rich. But your life will be easier and you will be financially more secure than 95% of Americans.

7?Given the choice, have your children when you are young and possess the energy it takes to a family.

8?Spend as much time as you can with your children when they are young and still want you, even if you must make sacrifices in your professional achievements to do so. The time passes quickly and once it?s gone, it?s gone for good.

9?Strive to achieve a liquid net worth of at least $2 million by age 50. You won?t be rich, but again, you?ll have more financial security than about 95% of Americans.

10?The best piece of financial advice I ever got was from Florida freelance writer David Kohn, who told me: ?Live below your means.? Doing so further enhances your financial security.

11?With your wealth, avoid buying material possessions that are unnecessary ? especially luxuries that depreciate in value over time. Use your money to buy income-producing assets, assets that appreciate in value, or services that free up your time for other activities.

12?Avoid debt of any kind to the extent you are able. I have zero consumer debt except the mortgages on investment properties. Cars I buy for cash. If you have to get a loan or lease to drive a particular model car, you can?t afford it.

12?If you lend money to friends or family, do it with the expectation that the money is really a gift rather than a loan, and do not expect to ever get the money back. If you are repaid, even in part, consider it found money.

13?Every day you wake up and everyone in your family is in good health, and you have food to eat and a decent place to live, you are ahead of the game.

14?When writers, Internet marketers, and entrepreneurs brag to you about how much money they make, divide the figure they give by three. As my colleague Fred Gleeck is fond of pointing out, the only numbers you can trust are your own.

15?Always in your business, under-promise and over-deliver. Give your customers not their money?s worth, but more than they have a right to expect. Err on the side of being too generous rather than being too rigid or strict.

16?Before criticizing the work of a supplier or vendor, say something positive ? what you like about the work — first. The more insulted a vendor feels, the less motivated they become to do good work for you.

17–Do not allow yourself to be belittled, insulted, or demeaned verbally or in writing by others. When someone makes a snide or degrading comment, your reply should be: ?What was your purpose in making that comment to me?? It will stop them in their tracks, and embarrass them so they never do it again to you.

18?Don’t give unsolicited advice.

19?To paraphrase Dan Kennedy, guard your time like the gold in Fort Knox. You can always make more money, but time lost or wasted is gone forever.

20?As long as a business or life decision does not involve risking the mortgage money, make it quickly. Successful people are able to make swift decisions and carry them out with speed.

21?The #1difference between successful people and those less successful is that successful people act on their ideas. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Without action, ideas are worthless.

22?Do not think you must reinvent the wheel on every new product or business project. Most things have already been done before. All you need to do is add a twist or put your own spin on a product or service to create demand and make it profitable.

23?If you are successful, you can be arrogant and boastful. But why do it? Your bragging makes others who are less successful feel badly about themselves. What?s the point of doing that? Be modest and humble. Don’t push your achievements in other people’s faces.

24?Don?t refer to yourself as a genius or superstar in your marketing copy. If you were a genius, you wouldn?t have to say it ? instead others would be saying it and you could quote them.

25?Focus on your work ? on creating valuable products, giving great service, going the extra mile for your customers ? rather than how much money you want to make.

Can you think of any other items to add to the list?


This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 14th, 2009 at 5:59 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

84 responses about “The 25 Secrets of Meaningful Success”

  1. Joel Heffner said:

    Always be honest.

  2. Bob Bly said:

    Joel, I agree in business: always tell the client the truth, whether it is what they want to hear or not.

    My father often repeated the homily “honesty is the best policy,” but I am not sure that is always the case outside of business.

    Example: a friend has just spent $20,000 remodeling her kitchen. You hate it. What is the point in telling her your opinion? It would hurt her feelings, and at this point, she can’t do anything about it.

    If she had shown you the design BEFORE starting the construction, that would have been a different story.

  3. Alison Harrison said:

    A great list!
    I think I would add something about dealing with fear. Try to treat fear not as a reason to stop or a weakness, but as a sign that your subconscious is taking care of you. If you can think of fear as a friend who is concerned that you will be hurt rather than a bully who just wants to attack your weak points,you can chat to it as you would a friend – Thank you for caring, Fear, but I think I’m up to this challenge and I’d like to give it a try.

    Sounds peculiar, I know but I’ve found that if I acknowledge a fear rather than try to fight it, it’s easier to get past.

  4. Joel Heffner said:

    Bob…my wife’s line is very useful. She will say that something is “interesting” when she really means it’s “terrible.” I also think that there is a difference between “fibbing” and not being honest.

  5. Bob Bly said:

    Joel: I agree. It is the difference between the ordinary lie (deception) and the white lie (preventing hurt feelings).

  6. Steve said:

    Bob –

    I found a terrific answer to that question –

    * based on 500+ interviews
    * so engaging that kids want to share it
    * only 3 minutes long

    Here it is –

    Enjoy, and thanks for all the quality content.


  7. Steve said:


    Bob –

    I found a terrific answer to that question –

    * based on 500+ interviews
    * so engaging that kids want to share it
    * only 3 minutes long

    Here it is –

    Enjoy, and thanks for all the quality content.


  8. Bob Bly said:

    Steve: I love the video, especially what Richard St. John says about not being stopped in your quest for success by crap: Criticism … Rejection … Assholes … Pressure!

  9. dianacacy said:

    One thing I tell others (and myself constantly) is don’t listen to the negative what if’s.

    “What if it fails?”
    “What if my advertising falls flat and I lose all my investment?”
    “What if the market suddenly turns against the product?”
    and so many more!

    A lot of what if’s come from lack of self-confidence, even when they know they have the desire and ability to be successful. I tell those people to learn how to become more self-confident, and visualize what will happen if the positive what if’s come true and they’re very successful.

    Love the list! All so useful and true.

  10. Curtis said:


    That was an excellent post. Thanks for putting it together.

  11. How to Achieve Success: 21 Tips to Live By said:

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  12. Michael A Stelzner said:

    Great list Bob!

    I would add:

    Do good for others without expecting anything in return

    I also blogged about this here:


  13. Note Taking Nerd #2 said:

    I saw “learn” on the list and I would add…

    Never stop learning.

    Like the legendary UCLA Basketball coach said…
    “When I am through learning, I am through.”

    With a belief like that, no wonder he’s a hall of famer as a player and a coach.

    The second one I would recommend is to find a way to rid yourself of any toxic shame you may have.

    I heard a great acronym the other day for shame.

    Social Humiliation And Manipulative Embarrassment.

    Caring too much about what others think leads you to taking their opinions seriously. Even if they’re dead wrong.

    The opinions with the most impact have come from our parents, professors and politicians.

    Most of us are operating our impressive brains with software programmed into us when we were kids.

    We need to toss this out of date software and upload accurate and current beliefs to drive us where we want to go.

    Two amazing resources I’ve come across for doing so are “The New Psycho Cybernetics” Audio program done by Dan Kennedy for Nightingale Connant and “Conversational Magic” by a man named Robert Dilts.

    These programs can help you delete the negative conversations you have with yourself that lead to unnecessary fear,embarrassment and reluctance.

    And once we get out of our own way, our beautiful inner light can shine on the world.

    Note Taking Nerd #2

  14. Kim Murray said:

    Hi Bob,

    I would add to the list:

    “You don’t get what you don’t ask for”

    When I was still working, I negotiated job salaries, promotions and other extras with that very simple concept in mind. I have a blog post about it here:

    As for #8 on your list, I quit work to stay home with my kids and it’s the best decision I have ever made. I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment; spend as much time as you can with your children when they are young and still want you. I will work again eventually when they are older and in school, but for now we are having the time of our lives.

    Thanks for reminding us of the important things.


  15. You Have the Power » Blog Archive » The 25 Secrets of Meaningful Success - Bly.Com Blog - Bly.Com … said:

    […] 16—Before criticizing the work of a supplier or vendor, say something positive – what you like about the work — first. The more insulted a vendor feels, the less motivated they become to do good work for you. …[Continue Reading] […]

  16. Dianna Huff said:

    The secret to financial success? Save 10% or more of every dollar you earn.

    Every single “success” and financial guru I’ve read or listened to repeats this piece of advice.

    David Bach, the author of the Finish Rich series, said it best: It doesn’t matter how much you earn. It’s how much you save that counts.

  17. T said:

    Any book suggestions to help with this one?

    “The trick, then, is to find a niche where your passions and interests intersect with the needs of the market.”

  18. Bob Bly said:

    T: take a look at:

  19. dana biscotti myskowski said:

    Love the advice here and will share the link with my students at the University of New Hampshire. Thanks for posting it!

    My late father had a few tidbits of wisdom that he liked to repeat as often as we kids would listen, one of which he had made into a plaque that now hangs in my brother’s office:

    “To the pessimist every opportunity is an obstacle; to the optimist every obstacle is an opportunity.” (Not sure who Dad was quoting here.)

    He also repeatedly told me that it doesn’t matter what choices I make–as long as at the end of the day I can look myself in the mirror. That’s something that will keep you striving to always be honest!


  20. Bob Bly said:

    Dana: on ther other hand, if you are a pessimist, you will never be disappointed. If you are an optimist, you often will….

  21. Wendy Marx said:

    Great list, Bob, and just posted to Twitter.

  22. frances said:

    I loved this article. Sometimes when I read other stuff (including M. Masterson), I feel like I need to be a machine. You make success real for the masses. Thanks for the great article and advice.

  23. Juri Saragih said:

    Nice posting blog.

    Thank you Mr. Bly,


    Juri Saragih

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