Why Success is Sequential

Why Success is Sequential

Quinn McDowell 5 min read

Warm Up

“It takes 20 years to make an overnight success.” Eddie Cantor, entertainer

In the simplest of terms, success can be defined as “moving from where you are to where you want to be.” When we work towards moving ourselves along this continuum we begin to make progress towards becoming more effective leaders.

The leaders that see the biggest results in their lives are the ones who realize that success is the result of directed, disciplined, and organized effort towards a common goal over an extended period of time.


The definition of success can be defined in several different ways. Some people will define success as working towards temporal goals —such as the accumulation of money, wins, or status.

The problem with using temporal goals as a definition for success is simply that reaching those goals is never guaranteed. Regardless of how hard you work (i.e. think about the football coach who works 90+ hours a week but whose team still has a losing record!), you might come up short in the end.

In contrast, when your definition of success is attached to outcomes that lie outside temporal results, you can lose on scoreboard but still win over the long-term. Put another way, when success is defined in the context of an overarching principle (i.e. developing leaders, reaching your team’s potential, getting better every day) and less as a short-term outcome, you will find (somewhat ironically) that success is no longer dependent on external results.

In other words, you can lose the game but still win as a leader.

That is why success should never be defined as having simply obtained “a thing” but rather as having moved from one place to another. This could mean quite different things for different people, but that is exactly the point. Each person has the ability to create a definition of success for their own lives that aligns with their purpose, calling, and passions in life.

It may seem strange, but we must also think about the “sequential” nature of success.

Success is sequential because it’s more about the journey than the destination, more about the process than the outcome. It is understanding that you will never realize your biggest dreams unless you are willing to tackle your smallest challenges—one at a time.

Success is sequential because you must work to create the necessary momentum—through your purpose, habits, and organization— by knocking down the smallest dominos first. The only way you can assure success as a leader is to focus on the things within your control and let go of constantly trying to control the outcome.

Here are three steps you can take to achieving success today:

Find a Purpose

The journey to finding a singular or specific calling for you life can be difficult. But in order to do our best work as leaders, we need to find a guiding principle(s) that help us locate our definition of success outside of our temporal goals.

We were all created for a purpose. We were all created to live a life that no one else on the planet is capable of living.

As the Psalmist said, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). As we begin to understand this reality, we should explore the gifts, abilities, passions, and experiences that characterize our own story—each of which will aid in revealing the broader purpose for which we were uniquely created.

Organize Your Energies

The reason it takes “20 years to make an overnight success” is simply because it takes a massive amount of energy to get where we want to go. When you organize and direct your energy towards a singular purpose, you start to knock down the individual dominos that will help you reach your biggest goals.

The largest dominoes in your life will never fall unless you first make the commitment to push the smallest ones over first. Organize your energies so that you attack the smallest challenges before you tackle the large ones. This helps you stay laser focused on controlling the things within your control and leaving the results to take care of themselves.

Craft Your Habits

Our habits and daily commitments are the engine that drive us towards extraordinary results. Our habits give us staying power, they drive us forward and allow us to continually move towards our destination.

Your habits are the foundation of your work. Your habits allow you to push through the inevitable plateaus that keep most people from reaching their full potential. They give you consistency and direction while creating the necessary momentum to help you achieve your purpose in life.


Extraordinary results require an uncommon commitment to the daily process of working towards a goal. When we make that commitment to take steps towards a unified vision of the future we will be surprised at how quickly we reach our destination.

Write down one purpose, one organizing principle, and one habit that align with both your current position/station in life and your vision of where you want to be.

Ex: Football Coach

Purpose - to develop young men into leaders that will make a difference in the world

Organizing Principle - we will select our football captains every season from the group of players who decide to participate in the team’s voluntary leadership academy

Habit - each day we have our position coaches send one unique quote about leadership to all our players.