The Secret Anatomy Of The Successful Underachiever


Being associated with failure and inefficiency by your teachers, colleagues, peers and family can be crushing. Often our underachievement’s are situational, but for some, it may have felt at times like failure was cropping up a bit too much.

Anyone who has experienced prolonged periods of underachievement and failure will have sensed a great deal of emotional defeat. But the fantastic thing about underachievers is that they can actually end up being some of the most successful people on the planet. Incredibly influential and successful people such as Walt Disney, The Beatles, J.K. Rowling and Albert Einstein have all been labelled as underachievers in both their school and work lives. However, great people such as these ensured that they would use their underachievement to leverage them towards future successes.

Here are 7 ways that underachievers utilise their experience to become powerfully successful:

1)      They Find Meaning.

The biggest problem for many underachievers (especially in school) is that they’re never given the opportunity to discover a route to success in life which is meaningful to them. It might be that they’re under challenged intellectually, or that they are given piles of work which simply doesn’t stimulate their imaginations. An example of this might be that, as students, the underachiever is gifted piles of work which they already understand. On the other hand, they might be given lots of work which simply doesn’t stimulate their imaginations. Assignments such as research tasks for topics which are then never addressed in future classes, or pointless ink-carriage wasting mood board tasks can numb the minds of the many that choose to go against the grain.

This sort of time-wasting literally encourages students to underachieve, and this can translate into adult life. As the child grows into adulthood, they begin to expect mediocrity, and therefore never strive to achieve more. In short: they’re not taught to succeed.  You might well be one of these people, or indeed be the parent of one of these people. The solution is simple, but it is one which the school system still fails to address. You must find meaning in your life, or your children’s lives. It is through meaning that we find our purpose, and through that purpose we can find the version of success which is meaningful to the individual. Underachievers who have become successful simply found their niche and capitalised upon it, because they were passionate enough to stick at it.

2)      They Find A Mentor.

“The greatest good that you can do for another person is not just to share your riches, but to reveal to them their own.” Benjamin Disraeli.

Before I begin to illustrate the importance of good mentors, let me just first list a few famous examples which you may be familiar with:  

  •   The late and great former Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs served as a mentor to the Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The two developed a relationship in the early days of Facebook and often met to discuss business and management practices for the company. When Jobs passed away in the autumn of 2011, Zuckerberg posted on his Facebook page, “Steve, thank you for being a mentor and a friend. Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world. I will miss you.”
  • Victoria Rowell is an Emmy-nominated actress who spent the first 18 years of her life in foster care. The love, guidance and support of her foster-mother Agatha Armstead instilled in her nurtured the confidence and drive that she would grow to succeed. Armstead encouraged Rowell’s ambitions and was the gateway to what she would later call her “passion,” which was fine arts. “…Without her mentoring, without her guidance, without her courage, I could never have experienced such a rich opportunity,” Rowell said.
  • Actor and director Clint Eastwood was mentored by his grandmother, who encouraged the Dirty Harry star to always work hard and pursue his dreams. “I’ve had many mentors in my life…my grandmother…was always encouraging. She always thought I was going to be something, when nobody else, including myself, thought I was going to amount to anything,” Eastwood said.
  • Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is largely considered one of the most powerful women in business today. Like most other successful figures, she sought the guidance of mentors at various stages of her career. Specifically, Sandberg’s former college professor, Larry Summers played a pivotal role in her career as both mentor and sponsor. Sandberg worked for Summers at the World Bank and the Treasury Department, and has called him her first and certainly “most important” mentor in various interviews.

The problem that many underachievers face is that they have nothing and nobody to aspire towards. They feel consistently dejected because, even when they do achieve something of merit, it feels completely futile as it doesn’t appear to amount to anything significant. Everyone needs direction, some kind of vision to shoot towards, and I believe that this is at the core of many of the underachievers problems. Life can become about getting through each day. The successful underachiever learns  to see the bigger picture, and truly understand that life is a much longer game than the immediate successes and strife’s which you might currently face.

The key advantage to finding a mentor is that they will give you direction, you will see in them something of what you aspire to eventually see in yourself. Mentors will also help you learn that mistakes are a prerequisite part of success, yet another lesson which school evades from the syllabus. Mentors matter; if parents don’t fit the bill, find somebody else. Often it won’t be an individual anyway.

Find somebody who inspires you, soak up their words and get to work.

3)      The Underachievers Understand The Hustle.

Underachievers become overachievers by playing with a longer game in mind than their naturally super gifted or financially backed counterparts. They understand that there is more to life than getting from A to B as fast as possible. Because underachievers who are striving for success have to work extra hard to attain it, they shoot for both quality and quantity, perfection and speed. It’s not always possible to accomplish both, but they try super hard. This means that they always deliver fantastic results.

If you are an underachiever, if you haven’t been given it all on a plate by Mom and Dad, if you weren’t born with an IQ of 130, you’re going to have to work harder than your gifted counterparts. But, that’s fine, because your tolerance to hard-work will always be greater, moreover, your expectations of yourself will be greater. This is why so many overachievers go on to become lazy adults who undersell themselves in both their careers and personal lives. This isn’t to say that everyone who is gifted should feel a responsibility to serve the world with their talents for 80 hours per week. However, if you’re the sort of person who wants to change the world and make a difference, being an underachiever is just as good of a platform for that dream. You’re backed by experience, thick skin and grit.

4)      Determination.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas A. Edison

To illustrate both the definition of determination and the effects of it, I would like to thomsimply talk to you about Thomas Edison. We all know him now primarily for his invention of the lightbulb in 1879, but prior to that, he was known primarily for his many failures. Edison was even told by one of his teachers in his early life that he was “too stupid to learn anything.”

Even after his idea for the lightbulb was patented, he faced much failure. The primary one being his inability to find a practical way to mine iron ore. Throughout the late 1880s and early 1890s he worked hard to find a solution to the problem in order to supply the Pennsylvania steel mills with their demand for iron ore. In order to finance his work, he sold all of his stock in General Electric, but was never able to find a solution. In the end, he lost all of the money he had invested.

Despite this, Thomas Edison will always live in the minds of humanity as one of the greatest inventors of all time. It may have taken him 1,001 times to get his invention of the lightbulb right, but when he finally did, he singlehandedly changed the world. This is a prime example of how determination will out.

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Thomas A. Edison.

5)      Look To The Future.

“Live out of your imagination, not your history.” Steven Covey.

In the midst of underachievement it can feel like there’s no hope. This is where a vision of the future comes into play. Don’t get me wrong, there is always work and graft involved in making it to where you want to be, but we’ve talked about that, so this is the fun bit. Life is going to get tough, but if you have no end goal, it will feel like both a tough struggle and a pointless, futile experience. You can halve your problems by simply having a vision. Don’t let your current situation impact upon your future, it simply doesn’t need too. The world is changing every single day. If you feel like you aren’t good enough right now, don’t worry about it, just do something to change. It’s as simple as you make it. We live in a world where everything is 10X more accessible than ever before and it’s all at your fingertips, so use it. Don’t feel dejected because some teacher told you that you wouldn’t ever make it to University, or feel like packing it in because your colleague got a promotion you wanted and  you know deep down that he’s an a**hole.  Screw it. Just work harder, work smarter and don’t give up.

Whether you’re an underachiever or an overachiever makes little to no difference, we all have the same hours in a day; the winners use them, the losers lose them.





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