Daniel Tenner, who muses on startups and entrepreneurship at swombat.com, has a great post reflecting on what makes successful people successful:
If you want to get wealthy, you have two approaches: count on a lottery ticket type of event (e.g. winning the lottery, or winning the startup lottery…), or set out building, growing and maintaining a base of wealth. Ignoring those who choose the first path (because they are clearly irrational), if you look at the behaviours of people who tend to go from little wealth to a lot more wealth, you can observe that they tend to make decisions that optimise how much money they make (this sounds obvious, but is actually quite an insight).
They’ll work in jobs that pay more, or start businesses that make money. In my experience, those who have a fair bit of money are not profligate – they spend sensibly, agonise over larger expenses, are conscious of having to maintain and grow their savings, and so on. Whereas the average person will optimise for today’s enjoyment (and that may well be the right choice for many), those who are money-minded tend to optimise for accumulating more money and spending less money. All these decisions add up over the decades, and they also compound over each other. When you have £100k in the bank, you can make wealth-preserving decisions (e.g. buying some Apple stock a few years ago!) that will provide a much larger return than what you could do when you have just £10k or even £0.
Because of all this, the difference between someone who consistently makes decisions that preserve and augment weatlh, and those who don’t, can easily get to be very large.
With non-financial success, this process is much harder to observe, but I think it’s still a big factor. Decades of making successful decisions that add to whatever it is you want to do will pile up and compound and get you there. Waiting for that one big hit to get you to the stars, on the other hand, will not. Smaller successes build up your “success wealth”, in the form of experience, connections, wisdom, knowledge, skill, and so on.