The Habits of Successful People: They Start Before They Feel Ready

5.8K Flares Filament.io Made with Flare More Info'> 5.8K Flares ×

startIn 1966, a dyslexic sixteen-year-old boy dropped out of school. With the help of a friend, he started a magazine for students and made money by selling advertisements to local businesses. With only a little bit of money to get started, he ran the operation out of the crypt inside a local church.

Four years later, he was looking for ways to grow his small magazine and started selling mail order records to the students who bought the magazine. The records sold well enough that he built his first record store the next year. After two years of selling records, he decided to open his own record label and recording studio.

He rented the recording studio out to local artists, including one named Mike Oldfield. In that small recording studio, Oldfield created his hit song, Tubular Bells, which became the record label’s first release. The song went on to sell over 5 million copies.

Over the next decade, the young boy grew his record label by adding bands like the Sex Pistols, Culture Club, and the Rolling Stones. Along the way, he continued starting companies: an airline business, then trains, then mobile phones, and on and on. Almost 50 years later, there were over 400 companies under his direction.

Today, that young boy who dropped out of school and kept starting things despite his inexperience and lack of knowledge is a billionaire. His name is Sir Richard Branson.

How I Met Sir Richard Branson

Two weeks ago, I walked into a conference room in Moscow, Russia and sat down ten feet from Branson. There were 100 other people around us, but it felt like we were having a conversation in my living room. He was smiling and laughing. His answers seemed unrehearsed and genuine.

At one point, he told the story of how he started Virgin Airlines, a tale that seems to capture his entire approach to business and life. Here’s the version he told us, as best I can remember it:

I was in my late twenties, so I had a business, but nobody knew who I was at the time. I was headed to the Virgin Islands and I had a very pretty girl waiting for me, so I was, umm, determined to get there on time.

At the airport, my final flight to the Virgin Islands was cancelled because of maintenance or something. It was the last flight out that night. I thought this was ridiculous, so I went and chartered a private airplane to take me to the Virgin Islands, which I did not have the money to do.

Then, I picked up a small blackboard, wrote “Virgin Airlines. $29.” on it, and went over to the group of people who had been on the flight that was cancelled. I sold tickets for the rest of the seats on the plane, used their money to pay for the chartered plane, and we all went to the Virgin Islands that night.

I took this photo right after he told that story. A few moments later I stood shoulder–to–shoulder with him (he’s about six feet tall) and thanked him for sharing some time with us.

habits of successful peopleSir Richard Branson in Moscow, Russia. Photo by James Clear.

The Habits of Successful People: What Makes the Difference?

After speaking with our group, Branson sat on a panel with industry experts to talk about the future of business. As everyone around him was filling the air with business buzzwords and talking about complex ideas for mapping out our future, Branson was saying things like: “Screw it, just get on and do it.” Which was closely followed by: “Why can’t we mine asteroids?”

As I looked up at that panel, I realized that the person who sounded the most simplistic was also the only one who was a billionaire. Which prompted me to wonder, “What’s the difference between Branson and everyone else in the room?”

Here’s what I think makes all the difference:

Branson doesn’t merely say things like, “Screw it, just get on and do it.” He actually lives his life that way. He drops out of school and starts a business. He signs the Sex Pistols to his record label when everyone else says they are too controversial. He charters a plane when he doesn’t have the money.

When everyone else balks or comes up with a good reason for why the time isn’t right, Branson gets started.

Start Now

Branson is an extreme example, but we could all learn something from his approach.

If you want to summarize the habits of successful people into one phrase, it’s this: successful people start before they feel ready.

If there was ever someone who embodied the idea of starting before they felt ready to do so, it’s Branson. The very name of his business empire, Virgin, was chosen because when Branson and his partners started they were “virgins” when it came to business.

Branson has started so many businesses, ventures, charities, and expeditions that it’s simply not possible for him to have felt prepared, qualified, and ready to start all of them. In fact, it’s unlikely that he was qualified or prepared to start any of them. He had never flown a plane and didn’t know anything about the engineering of planes, but he started an airline company anyway.

If you’re working on something important, then you’ll never feel ready. A side effect of doing challenging work is that you’re pulled by excitement and pushed by confusion at the same time.

You’re bound to feel uncertain, unprepared, and unqualified. But let me assure you of this: what you have right now is enough. You can plan, delay, and revise all you want, but trust me, what you have now is enough to start.

It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to start a business, lose weight, write a book, or achieve any number of goals… who you are, what you have, and what you know right now is good enough to get going.

We all start in the same place: no money, no resources, no contacts, no experience. The difference is that some people — the winners — choose to start anyway.

If you’re having trouble getting started, then read this article: How to Stop Procrastinating.

No matter where you are in the world and regardless of what you’re working on, I hope you’ll start before you feel ready.

This post originally appeared on JamesClear.com

PS: We’ve recently launched the new Buffer for Business for a better way to handle your social media in 2014, I hope it might be useful for you, you can get started for free!

  • http://selfstairway.com/about/ Vincent Nguyen

    Thanks for sharing your experience and Branson’s story. I noticed something at an event I attended last Saturday. The room was covered in suit and tie MBAs and alumni, with a few sprinkles of entrepreneurs. They had “ideas,” complex terminologies, and the education to match.

    However, you can almost tell that there was a lack of that “Okay, now we make it happen.” It was almost like they had all the blueprints and the eloquent words to make it sound like something awesome was going to happen, but be around people like that long enough then you realize things rarely get done. That’s not always the case of course, but it’s certainly common.

    Hitting start even when your body and mind are both still trembling is better than never starting at all.

    • http://www.jeffrutherford.com Jeff Rutherford

      I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment Vincent. I’ve seen that many times. They’d rather discuss business theory then go out and get a paying customer.

      • http://selfstairway.com/about/ Vincent Nguyen

        Exactly! Jump in, people! Your idea may sound brilliant, but keep bsing around and talking about it. You’re going to lose credibility when you have nothing to show for all that talk.

    • http://www.mikejwilliams.com/ Mike Williams

      So True. I can’t count how many meetings I have been in at work where we discuss many ideas to get better. And then nothing happens. Same old stuff because the “educated businessmen” in the executive suite won’t approve the ideas.

      • http://www.guddina.com/ Tim Stiffler-Dean

        This is disappointing. I thought that was just a Midwest thing (and is probably my #1 reason for wanting to move). Never really saw that happen much on the coasts. That’s one of my largest frustrations – listening to people talk about what to do and then doing nothing. :(

        • Violetta L Wong

          A lot of people in this world get vision but lack courage to start. They might be afraid of uncertainties in the future.

          • http://www.vongehrconsulting.com/ Erroin Martin

            Fear is a powerful motivator to either do something or do nothing. Most fall into the later. Once you identify what the fear is and how it is part of your core belief structure, you can change and be one of the many that face their fear.

          • Cristian Tudor Tudor Lale

            yes me too I’m having ….and I observ it in the mass of people

        • http://blog.momekh.com/ Momekh

          Dude, I’m from Lahore, Pakistan and you can see people who talk the talk but are not walking the walk! The grass may seem greener on the other side, but it’s still grass, subject to seasons, the weather and the number of people that walk on it every day! :)
          “Screw it and just do it man!”

    • http://twitter.com/balexandros Bryann Alexandros

      Yikes, let’s all have some coffee over this one day :-). I believe this is why many in the startup community advocate for some of the principles behind Lean Startup et al, regardless if one is technically a startup or not. It’s not uncommon to hear a story about a new company that couldn’t move fast enough to outfox their competition, or to hear about another that spent months building something that nobody really wanted.

  • http://behance.net/erickmy Erick Mazer Yamashita

    Really nice article!

  • Jessica Riddell

    This was a great post for me to read – I’m an underpants gnome, (South Park) as in I plan the heck out of everything but never know when to stop planning and so I don’t actually do it.

    This gives me some motivation.

  • Peter B. Williams

    Great post as usual James. Similar messages are promoted by other prolific entrepreneurs Seth Godin (start shipping your product) and Derek Sivers (start with version 0.1). In hindsight it all looks planned, but the best startup stories evolve in real time.

  • Jen McGahan

    This is great, James! So true. As a writer, I’m not much on public speaking, but this past year I’ve decided to just stand up and start. I’m sort of miserably dragging myself through. Just last night, I wasn’t exactly prepared to make some comments before the city council, but decided to go ahead. The funny thing about it (in hindsight only) was instead of speaking to the crowd in the room, I discovered as I approached the mic that you have to face the council with the audience behind you! Ugh. The council’s apparently not allowed to react, neither with facial expressions nor nodding, so the experience, I can tell you, was unpleasant.

    When you do something uncomfortable, you ALWAYS learn more than you bargained for! Gotta just roll with it.

    • Hazza Jay

      Inspiring to hear that you jumped right into public speaking. Good on you! I wouldn’t be able to do that. But, because of you…maybe I might. What have you learnt about public speaking that you didn’t know before?

      • Jen McGahan

        Hazza Jay, thank you. Off the top of my head: Don’t plan to say specific words, but just to focus on getting the main message out. Be loose and a little vulnerable and pray for a surprise moment between you and audience (one you didn’t plan because then you will be connected with them)…and…Exhaling is waaay better than breathing in! :)

  • Nancie

    Thanks James…I needed the encouragement! Great post!

    • THE BLONDY

      .
      I AM VERY GENTLEMAN WITH ITALY

  • Shelley Hood

    Great post. It’s all about a focus on the goal. Don’t plan the journey just start walking towards it!

  • Sylvain Gauchet

    Thanks for sharing, great post. I disagree with “We all start in the same place: no money, no resources, no contacts, no experience.”, though. This is just not true, but I do get the point you were trying to make.

  • Sarah Jocson

    This can give an individual a sense of where he/she presently is in their life to pursue their goals.

  • http://www.mikejwilliams.com/ Mike Williams

    Thank you for this encouraging post. I wonder how many opportunities I have missed because I was trying to get ready?

  • http://www.businessbanter.com/ Shameer Shah

    Love this post James. Inspires one. I bumped into Sir Branson once in London, quite literally as we went through the entrance of a restaurant. Exchanged a few friendly sentences with a handshake and off we went. Felt like he empowered me just by that little meeting and you sat next to him ;) Nice.

  • Tim Ludy

    Wow, the story of Branson creating his airlines is amazing, thanks for sharing James!
    I’ve noticed even after starting a business many owners are hesitant to try new things or change something. They can take the same advice for jumping into a new social network or trying out a new software.

  • http://www.johnrmeese.com/p/about-me.html John Meese

    Fantastic post! Just fyi this post came through via Feedly as being by @LeoWid:disqus, even though it looks like it was written by James Clear.

  • http://codingtraveler.com/ Gustaf Byström

    I really enjoyed reading this article, very inspiring. Cheers! You have a lot to win by take a risk once and a while!

  • http://www.adaptdnation.com/ Cody Stevenson

    Awesome insight on Branson. He has always been someone that I have been interested in and want to know more about. I appreciate you sharing and giving a good description of the “legend”.

    I also think your thoughts are pretty spot on, more of us “want to be entrepreneurs” should just take a leap of faith or “screw it, and get it on with it”.

    Don’t talk about it, be about it. Right?

  • Devvon Hinds

    This was AWESOME and just what I needed to read! Thank you!!!!
    http://www.renovationkitchenblog.com

  • Dave’s Dealer

    Branson is an excellent storyteller.
    Yes, somehow he always forgets to mention how his business was helped by his approach to managing tax…. or his criminal record.

    “Virgin Music – started amid a sophisticated purchase-tax fraud that Branson admitted in 1971 – was sold in 1992 for a record £560m. That money sustained Virgin Atlantic, the airline started in 1984 with a single, old Boeing 747.”
    http://www.theguardian.com/media/2005/dec/12/digitalmedia.broadcasting

    • FB

      So what, he was smart enough to evade the law long enough that he probably now pays 100 times the tax amount he evaded. It is all about escaping being aother sheep of society.

  • TheShef

    The strongest battle that anyone faces is between their ears. Great article on reminding us of the power of getting out of our own way so we can succeed!

    • Elise

      100% correct.

  • Khuram Malik

    …and the great thing is, when you do it once, you get used to the idea of embracing uncertainty more and more (which Branson clearly got used to very early).

    Great article. Thanks!

  • Rob Merrett

    Surely that’s the definition of entrepreneur – refusing to accept no as an answer and tackling problems sometimes from more than one angle

  • http://sms4joy.com/ Bilal Malik

    Your article has given me some really inspirational stuff. I’m not 16 but my age is 18 and I’ve wasted a lot of time on blogging and website but couldn’t get anything :( Your example are awesome. I would like to add the example of Thomas Edision the inverntor of bulb. His teachers used to say him when i was child that he is able to learn but he proved himself that what he is .. :) I know this example doesn’t make any sense with your examples but I felt like sharing it :)

    Thanks for it ..

    you can also take a look on my website : http://sms4joy.com/

  • pravil

    Wow! Such an inspirational story. Thanks for sharing Branson’s story. You are right, people have to Start that Up! Why wait? Do it!

  • rory

    Enjoyed your post and Totally agree with regard to starting a business or a venture but not sure if it applies to the next steps …making sales. I haven’t done a lot of sales [but hope to start] …does the theory apply to …making sales without product being ready or without having your sales presentation ready or your responses ready for questions on your sales presentation/or pitch.

    I’m open to being convinced it does apply if examples can be given.

    • CJ

      Bill Gates sold DOS before it was ready; I think he sold it before he even owned it. Not sure if that fits the example you’re looking for, but it’s what came to mind.

      • Sam Stroup

        That’s one of the best scenes in the movie, ‘The Pirates of Silicon Valley’ – Steve Ballmer said, ‘not only did we not own DOS, we didn’t even know where we could get it!’.

  • Tamarray Cain

    I love this. It motivated me…I appreciate you sharing!

  • webclickusa

    Great inspirational article. Thank you.

  • Earl Brown

    My motto: “Ready, fire, aim”

  • Elise

    I was stuck in that mode too. Guilty as charged. It went like this….”I’ll start as soon as I get (insert excuse)”. “As soon as the (economy, health, bank account, weather, etc) get’s a little better, then we’ll kick it off”. “We need to have (insert guru that YOU put on a pedestal) because he has the experience and contacts”. “We need to get the (business plan, goals, financing, personnel, lease, etc) first before anything happens.”
    Winners live life. Wanna-be winners keep preparing, as life passes them by.

  • Marc Itzler

    Highly recommend reading RB’s bio, “Screw it, let’s do it.” He has been my mentor for 30 years, and not just because of his financial success but also because of his ethics and values.

  • Roman Solomatin

    Why don’t you have print-view?

  • Aljoscha Laschgari

    I love Branson’s story! It’s very inspiring!

  • Uzowulu Isaac

    Good start Sir Richard Branson!
    This article is really interesting and it will better for people who are still waiting for every thing to completed before they start something to read carefully the articles.
    You have just drop something into me now, i think i also have hope to develop my ideas irrespective of what is available or not.
    Thanks.

  • Ronald Jean-Toussaint

    Very interesting, the best experience come from feedback and testing yourself what can YOU DO!
    I have also noticed every successfull entrepreneur have a very simplistic term to explain how they do what they do, yet their simplicity is the hardest thing in the world to reach ! :)

  • nouri

    Thanks a lot for sharing

  • Violetta L Wong

    This is the article I need now to get courage from. Thanks. Let’s see what and how I will do this year, then I will come back to you how “Every moment is the right time to start” will influence me. I am always overthink, which makes me procrastinate a lot because I am a perfectionist. Not only Mr Branson, a lot of successful figures made the same advice: you don’t need to be perfect to start with. The most important thing is to ACTUALLY .START

  • http://spiritnewsdaily.com/ Donovan Moore

    And Virgin Airlines still doesn’t ‘make a profit.

  • http://utibeetim.com Utibe Etim

    I love this vital point ‘We all start in the same place: no money, no resources, no contacts, no
    experience. The difference is that some people — the winners — choose to
    start anyway.’

    Fear of failure has always being my problem. I DON’T WANT TO FAIL! THAT IS STUPID!!!

  • Lori

    Nice. Thank you. Lol and for the first time I can actually relate to something abou Richard . I can relate to the “just get on with it” approach. Never mind the planning and analyzing and scrutinizing, just get eh done. We will deal with the what ifs and maybe’s should they possibly come along. Thank you for the article, it was funny.

  • Elmarie Porthouse

    This is really the right article at the right time for me. I have been working on a project that will take my business to a whole new level but suddenly started doubting myself. After reading what you wrote, I know I have to get back to it. Thanks for the motivation!

  • @edgarabanil

    This is something against our usual paradigm: start when ready. Truly enlightening.

  • http://www.designbusinessengineering.com Lindy Asimus

    Let’s not forget Branson also makes sure someone who is good at the ‘finishing’ element is around to take care of the details. He doesn’t attempt to do it all himself.

  • بازی