What Makes the Great Ones So Successful?

May 15, 2020

Michael Jordan is one of the greatest basketball players of all-time. Steve Jobs was one of the greatest businessmen and inventors in American history. Walt Disney was another brilliantly successful man. Although they come from different walks of life and pursued different professions, there are common elements of success that Michael Jordan, Steve Jobs, and Walt Disney all share. What makes successful people so successful, and how can their success be replicated? Or would you even want to replicate it?

Desire for greatness

The great ones are always a little bit egotistical, it seems. To reach a level of success beyond what anyone else in your field has achieved, you’ve got to have a desire for greatness that motivates you to go above and beyond what anyone else is willing to do. Greatness comes at a great price; to be great at anything, you must pour an enormous amount of time and energy into it. To be greater than everyone else at something, you must be willing to work harder than anyone else for it. Not everyone is willing to do that, obviously.


Michael Jordan spent five hours a day in the offseason working on basketball, in addition to his other business ventures and time spent with his family. In the ‘80s, Steve Jobs bragged about his team working 90-hour weeks. Elon Musk said in 2018 that he works 120 hours per week. That means Musk works, on average, just over 17 hours per day. That leaves less than 7 hours every day for Elon to sleep, eat, relax, and spend time with his family.

The time commitment required for that level of greatness is enough to turn most people off to the idea. You’re required to give up so many things, and dedicate your time almost solely to one objective. Other aspects of your life will become neglected. You won’t be sleeping enough or spending enough time with your family. Your health could suffer from overwork and a lack of sleep. To be better than anyone else at something, you may have to give up everything else in your life and dedicate yourself entirely to that one thing. Very few people are willing to do that.

Doing what others aren’t willing to do

Greatness may not seem like a competition, but it always is. We naturally want to compare the greats to determine who is the greatest. In basketball, Michael Jordan is constantly compared to other greats like Kobe Bryant or Lebron James. Steve Jobs is compared to Bill Gates, and Musk draws comparisons to other titans of industry such as Henry Ford or Nikola Tesla.

You don’t have to give up all of your time to be great. You can be great at something and still have time for your family, hobbies, and enough time to sleep eight hours a night. You can’t be the greatest without being willing to give up more than everyone else. 


We often hear stories of successful people rising from poverty to become great. If you’ve watched some of our Money Guy Show content about millionaires, you may already know that 80% of millionaires are first-generation wealthy. Poverty, or not coming from money, can be a great motivator for success. Parents naturally want their children to have a better life than they did, and often instill a sense of hard work and determination that helps their children become more successful than they were.

On the other hand, if money isn’t seen as a scarce resource growing up, you may not have the motivation required for financial success once you’re older. If you don’t have to work hard for something, why would you? Those who grow up in wealthy households could experience a lack of motivation if everything was handed to them on a silver platter.

A vision of success

For certain goals to be accomplished, there usually needs to be concrete steps taken to reach that goal. If you have a goal to write a book one day but never spend any time writing, that goal probably won’t ever be accomplished. Books don’t just grow on trees. If you want to write a book one day and spend time coming up with ideas for your book, writing drafts, and sending your book to publishers or planning to self-publish, though, you probably have a good chance at writing a book.

Michael Jordan didn’t want to just become great at something. He wanted to be the best basketball player of all-time, and he knew what he needed to do to make that happen. He sacrificed his time and energy to turn his goal into a reality. 

If you want to become great at something, you need to know what’s waiting for you at the peak. There is no joy in being famous or wealthy just for the sake of being famous or wealthy. Becoming successful in order to give your family a better life is a great reason to strive for greatness. Being great at something just to increase your personal wealth or fame probably won’t lead to long-lasting happiness.

Our latest show is about financial lessons that can be learned from the recent ESPN documentary, “The Last Dance.” The documentary covers Michael Jordan with a great level of detail, and we think there are financial lessons that can be gleaned from Jordan and company. Watch our show, “11 Financial Lessons Learned from The Last Dance,” on YouTube below.


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