20 unpopular opinions on success that are actually true

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Success means a lot of things to a lot of people. It’s something most people strive for. After all, who doesn’t enjoy the feeling of victory when they succeed in what they set out to do? It can be intoxicating.  

But success isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, and these unpopular truths explain why:

1. Success can be isolating.

You may find people change when you reach the top. That’s not limited to your immediate peers but may include family members too.

Some people will want what you have. They will envy your success and deem you undeserving. You may even find yourself alone because you don’t know who you can trust.

2. Success is often who you know, not what you know.

People who are better connected and more sociable will often have better opportunities even if their competitors have better skills.


Because they know the right people, and they’re likely to get the answer they want because they’re well-liked and well-thought-of. It’s a sad fact that most people are more likely to do favors for those who come across as friendly and outgoing.

3. There’s no such thing as self-made.

The self-made man is a common myth. There’s no such thing once you start asking some questions.

Entrepreneurs are the guiltiest of this because they only focus on their work, not all the assistance they’ve had, like loans, paying someone to mass produce their product, the tech they’re using, or the personnel who work for them.

At its most basic, if you went to school, you’re not self-made.

4. Success often needs luck.

When it comes to success, it’s often that you find yourself in the right place at the right time.

There are plenty of other people out there who tried to do what you’re doing and failed. You can do everything right and your efforts just fail. That’s just how it is sometimes.

So if you succeed where others have failed, it may not mean you’re special. It may just mean you’re lucky.

5. Hard work isn’t always rewarded.

If hard work was rewarded, there would be no sweatshops. Every person who breaks their back doing mundane labor would be comfortably well off.

Hard work can improve your chances for success because someone might see your efforts and reward you for that. However, there’s no guarantee and it shouldn’t be expected.

The lazy, however, can rest assured that no one is going to bend over backward to provide them with opportunities.

6. Success often comes from privilege.

It’s a simple truth. People with access to more resources are more likely to succeed.

It’s much easier to get a business off the ground if you can borrow money from a family member. The same goes for a good education to get into and complete college. Or even pay for that college for that matter.

7. Success requires sacrifice that no one acknowledges.

People tend to focus on the outcome rather than the effort it took to get there.

It’s easy to look at the gold medal winner standing on the podium and envy their success. It’s easy to think that person didn’t have a hard time getting there. But success often includes sleepless nights and thousands of hours of work that can destroy our relationships and health.

People don’t look at that, though. They only see the end result and not the grind it took to get there.

8. Success doesn’t guarantee respect.

It doesn’t matter what you do, there will always be someone that doesn’t respect you because they just don’t like you.

No amount of proving yourself will change their mind, because it’s not success they’re judging you on. It’s like that old saying goes, “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach on the tree; but some people just don’t like peaches.”

9. Success isn’t always replicable.

There are a billion people out there selling success. They offer a several-step process or systems on how to be successful like they were.

But just because it worked for them doesn’t mean it’ll work for everyone else. Especially when you account for things like who they know, what luck they experienced, their timing, or even whether their strategy would apply to the current situation.

Things move on. Quickly. What worked a year ago may not work at all now.

10. Failure can be more beneficial than success.

Failure teaches you a lot. It teaches you what doesn’t work. Knowing what doesn’t work can save you much grief, effort, and resources later on, should you run into a similar issue again.

People who don’t experience much adversity on their way to the top often have a more difficult time when it eventually pops up. Navigating failure teaches valuable problem-solving skills that you can’t acquire any other way.

11. Success creates unrealistic standards.

It’s not unreasonable to want to stay at the top when you reach it. However, by definition, when you reach that peak, the only other direction is down.

That 15 minutes in the limelight isn’t going to last. There are plenty of other people making the climb behind you so it’s unrealistic to expect yours to be a permanent spot. But that doesn’t stop people from driving themselves into anxiety, depression, and burnout trying to maintain it.

12. Success can be a trap.

Sometimes success can be a punishment. Take the expression ‘golden handcuffs’ which is used to describe the necessity of holding onto a high-earning career you hate to maintain the lifestyle you’ve become accustomed to.

A successful law career is one example. Many attorneys turn to substance abuse to deal with the stress and long, long hours of the job because they feel they can’t quit without losing the lifestyle they love.  

13. Success is no indication of character.

Plenty of people attain success by stepping on others to get there. They sabotage competitors, take advantage of the vulnerable, or avoid responsibility for the negative things they do.

Some industries (you know the ones) almost require you to be a snake to get ahead or at least require other people to do it for you.

14. Success doesn’t often include fame and glamour.

It’s easy to think that success equals fame because we look at famous people and see success. However, not everyone can be famous and successful. Most successful people aren’t.

Success may be small and mundane. It may be having a job you like, family and friends that love you, finishing a half-marathon or losing a couple of pounds. Most of us aren’t destined for the Hall of Fame, and that’s a good thing.  

15. Success can breed entitlement.

Some people who experience success mistakenly believe they deserve special treatment, or think they’re above others.

It goes along with the idea of ‘suffering from success’. The personality of a good, reasonable person changes when they experience success and everything that comes with it.

16. Success can worsen health.

High-profile success can cause a lot of stress, anxiety, or depression. Successful people often feel the pressure to maintain their level of expertise and reputation. They could also be expected by peers, their employer, or family to maintain or grow that level of success.

It’s a lot of stress to handle, which can translate to physical and mental health issues. The stress response is meant to be temporary. We aren’t built to live under constant stress.

17. Success can breed complacency.

There’s nothing wrong with reaching your measure of success and then stopping. However, some people achieve success and then stop pushing for more when they really should.

If you reach the top of your field, you can’t expect to stay there unless you put the effort in. Things are going to change – new methods of doing things, regulations, or knowledge may come to the fore.

If you don’t keep up, you fall behind. You become ‘stuck in the past’ and render yourself obsolete.

18. Success doesn’t mean mastery.

Mastery is a bit of a misnomer. No one can know everything or understand every facet of their given discipline. As the saying goes, “The more you know, the more you don’t know.” The more you learn and the better you understand, the more holes you find and questions you want to ask.

You can be successful without being a master. In fact, it’s more likely than not.

19. Success can be addictive.

Success provides an endorphin rush like any other positive accomplishment and some people respond to these stimuli more than others.

Some people want more and more and more of it, so they strive harder to accomplish more to get that rush of being at the peak. It’s an intoxicating feeling that some people just can’t enjoy and let go.

20. Success can make you a target.

There are always people who want what you have. If you’re successful, you’re in a place where more people can see you, which may attract negative attention. You may find yourself more heavily scrutinized and questioned.

It could also be that enemies come out of the woodwork to take advantage of or sabotage you.

In contrast, you may find everyone’s your ‘friend’ when you’re successful. You’re now a potential path for their success if they can just smile and BS their way into your good graces. This can make it hard to trust the people around you, particularly those who benefit from your success.

About The Author

Jack Nollan is a mental health writer of 10 years who pairs lived experience with evidence-based information to provide perspectives from the side of the mental health consumer. Jack has lived with Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar-depression for almost 30 years. With hands-on experience as the facilitator of a mental health support group, Jack has a firm grasp of the wide range of struggles people face when their mind is not in the healthiest of places. Jack is an activist who is passionate about helping disadvantaged people find a better path.