What’s the difference between those people who build successful lives and those who often fail? What do those successful people have that’s different from everyone else? Is it luck? …Or is it something else? I have spent the last eight years of my life engaged in heavy research on the lives of those who excel at what they do and also those who fail miserably at life. This unique perspective was gained during my five-year tour of duty as a police officer, working the tough streets and engaging people who for the most part we don’t see because we choose not to see them. I used my street experience to compare and contrast those people who suffered through life versus those who excelled, and I came up with six simple ingredients that have repeatedly produced success in peoples’ lives.


Being a food lover and self-proclaimed amateur chef, I’ve had the experience of going to a barbeque cook-off contest when I was visiting Texas not so long ago. The rules were simple: meat + heat + seasoning. More than 150 contestants spent countless hours over the grill to produce that winning flavor, but only one was selected as the grand champion—a hearty-looking Texan and his twin brother who were gleaming when they were handed the trophy and a check for $5000.

As I sat there in the audience watching the winners get crowned as the BBQ Kings of that year, I got to thinking that this event was really a microcosm of life success. You see, at the beginning of this competition, each of the 150+ competitors had to cook a piece of meat that was preinspected to be nearly identical to all the other entries. Meat was the constant. All of the barbeque grills were also inspected to ensure that they were all on the same page. So the heating agent was all the same, too, for these 150+ competitors. The only thing that was left up to the chefs’ imaginations and creativity was the seasoning and basing methods that they used. Each one of these chefs guarded their secret seasoning recipes, but when you really look at it, most of the seasoning recipes consisted of mostly the same ingredients as well.

If all the raw materials used in the preparation of the main dish were the same, then how did only one become the main champion? From my culinary experience, I knew that it was not really the ingredients that made the champion, but rather the know-how and the skill of knowing those ingredients inside and out and how they interact with one another to create the most juicy and mouthwatering piece of barbeque that the judges ever sunk their teeth into. It came down to the chefs’ knowledge of how to trim the meat so that there were no chewy tendons, or how to keep the temperature just right so that the meat would not dry out during the grilling process. And of course, the winners knew that even the tastiest piece of meat would not be as tasty without proper plating and presentation. I thought about all these factors when I got back to my hotel room and began to apply these principles of cooking to life and how success is created. I thought to myself, “What a crazy and hilarious idea! What does a Texas barbeque have to do with my teachings on success and motivation?” But despite my internal editor telling me to put down the pen and go out for a cold beer with the guys, I picked up that hotel notepad and began brainstorming on the recipe for success.

Just as the BBQ competitors all started off with the same piece of meat to cook, I’ll make the claim that in life, most of us start off pretty much the same in terms of human potential. Yeah, there are those who are geniuses, or have the genes to play pro basketball, but in general, most of us are the same. All of us have our own strengths and weaknesses to deal with. Throughout my experiences with the successful and the not so successful, I’ve discovered that successful people are able to take their raw abilities, strengths, and weaknesses and through their own motivating force, transform their dreams into concrete reality.


I’m going to share with you a story about a really good friend and fishing buddy that I have. John is one of the most intelligent people I know. He graduated from UCLA medical school at the top of his class and became a prominent doctor in his hometown. Anyone would say confidently that John was a model of success for anyone to follow. I certainly thought so. Here was I, getting hit and spit at by criminals and risking my life for unappreciative victims, while John was raking in a mid six-figure income and looked up to by men, women, and children. Well, there was just one problem to that equation. John didn’t feel like he was very successful at all. He hated being stressed out at work, the long hours in the hospital, and although he was highly intelligent, his passion for medicine just wasn’t there to begin with. As it turned out, his jump into the medical profession was never his dream at all, but rather it was the pressure and expectation of his parents to become a doctor because they saw a doctor as being someone who made a lot of money and was someone to be respected.

John and I went out on our usual fishing trip to the Columbia River in the beautiful Pacific Northwest one weekend. I was always envious of John’s skills at fishing because he’d pull in the biggest steelhead that you’d swear was in the river. As jealous of his skills—I called it luck—as I was, I had to admit that I learned a great deal about how to catch fish from John because fishing was his primary passion in life, or at least I thought so because that’s all he would talk about most of the time.

When we got back to the cabin, John sat down on the wooden kitchen chair and sighed, “Tristan, I don’t know what I’m doing with my life anymore.”

“What do you mean?” I asked curiously. I knew John was going through some work-related stress lately, but I couldn’t fathom why he would be so unhappy. After all, he had a lot more material things than I had and he was always the popular one between us both.

“I don’t know what I am doing with my career. Each day I go into work, I end up hating it even more. I spent over 15 years building up my career, so why isn’t it working for me? Why am I not happy? I’m asking you because I know you are good with these kinds of things. What should I do?” John looked desperate for some kind of answer from me.

“Were you ever passionate about medicine, or being a physician?” I asked.

John sat there for a good five minutes in silence over that question. I could tell that he was having an internal battle over whether to tell me the cosmetic “ego answer” or the genuine answer from the heart. After what seemed like an eternity of silence, John broke down in tears. “No. I never liked being a doctor. It was a family thing—you know. Not my own.”

We talked for most of the night about his situation and I learned some things about John that I never knew before. His stress level was becoming so great that he was taking far too many painkillers than was good for him to deal with his constant migraines. In his search for a cure to get rid of his stress, John had even gotten into buying cheap sex from call girls and using street drugs. Needless to say, the path my friend was on was leading to a quick demise.

I remembered something that my dear mother had taught me and I gave John those same words of wisdom that were entrusted to me—that success is not found in a title, or riches, or in material possessions, but rather in reaching your own self-fulfillment and being true to yourself.

I told John that I never fully appreciated these words of wisdom until I took an adventure alone to Brazil. I met such wonderful people there, many of whom had far less income or material possessions than I had, yet they were full of passion for life and they welcomed me into their homes and their lives with open arms. It took a trip 8,000 miles away into a Third World country for me to discover that success cannot be found anywhere except within your own heart.

I was used to always listening to John and his vast library of knowledge that he held in his head, but that night, I gave John a lesson in something that he had never learned from either his parents or from his schools and that lesson was how to listen and speak to his own heart. I told him that passion can’t be forced into your life. It just doesn’t work that way. Passion must be sought out and acquired by doing the things that you love. If you love doing something so much that you would gladly trade the rest of your days doing it, then not only will you be good at what you do, but you will attract wealth and success along with that passion. I told him that his true adventure begins when he leaves this cabin and goes back home because he will begin his first quest to find his passion in life.

About a month later, John called me. He sounded like he had just won the lottery. He told me that he had just quit his job at the hospital and was going to pursue his real passion—that’s right—fly fishing. He was going to open up his own fly fishing shop in Montana, where he always dreamed of living. And you know what? To this day, John has never been more happy about life, and I have never known anyone else who has as much passion for what he does as a career. John found his passion in life, and it wasn’t being a doctor.

John’s story outlines one of the most important ingredients that all successful people have in common—a passion for life and a passion to pursue their interests. Their passion becomes their motivating force that eventually draws them to their own personal success. Therefore, in your quest to find your success, forget about finding your success. That is conceptually impossible to envision. Instead, find your passion in life. Find that which you love to do. If you find that and hold on to it tight, then that passion will pull you toward that success.


“No give up” was actually a motto of a Japanese martial arts Sensei of mine, pertaining to surviving an encounter with an opponent who outmatched you in every way possible. I would have long practices in the dojo lifting weights, practicing offense and defense, and sparring. Near the end of each workout, I would be so tired that I could barely stand, yet my Sensei would always throw me back into the ring for another sparring session with some new guy who had just walked into the gym. I was ready to just give up and collapse because my arms were so tired that I couldn’t even protect myself anymore. I mean, here I was in my fourth hour of intense training, having to fight some guy who was fresh and full of energy. Every time I was at the point of giving up, my Sensei would yell at me with his Japanese accent—“No give up.” As tired and bruised as I was, I followed his orders. I went for another round of intense abuse.

Several years later while on patrol, I encountered a subject who was high on PCP. Now this guy was about 6’1” and over 250 lbs. I was 5’5” and barely 165 lbs. Now those of you who don’t know, PCP, or phencyclidine, has the effect of making the person not only paranoid but extremely violent and it also impairs their ability to feel pain while also increasing their strength tremendously. Well, I was in the fight of my life with this person and he was tossing me into cars and banging my head into the concrete. I was semi-conscious and ready to quit, but then I heard those familiar words of my Sensei, “No Give Up!!” These words motivated me to go another round with this lunatic and not just hand over my life to be taken by this guy…After all, if he got my gun after he finished me off, then who knows who else would be next? I couldn’t give in. I could feel the blood dripping into my eyes, and I was sure it was mine. With the last bit of strength that I had, I performed a shoulder throw on the guy and got him into a rear leg lock and I just held him to the ground with all my strength. It seemed like hours, but then my cop buddies arrived and saved me.

So looking back on that moment, I realize that I could have died that night. I could have handed my life over to that idiot and I would not be here today to share this story with you. What I did was not give up so easily in the face of incredible odds; and because I chose to go that extra round against impossible odds, I am here alive and healthy and successful today. I truly believe that while not all of us will ever be in a life-or-death fight like my own (and I pray that you never have to), I also believe that each one of us encounters at least one seemingly impossible challenge in life, whether it be financial, relationship, personal growth, or anything else that impedes our way toward our dreams.

It’s the successful people out there who hear something similar to the words of my Sensei, shouting at them to “No give up!” Successful people are willing to go that extra round against an impossible opponent and to hold on till the end. From my interviews with unsuccessful people, I have learned that all too often, the opportunity was there for them to become successful and in some cases, there were quite a few good opportunities for them to achieve their dreams, but then their life opponent, whether it be external or internal, stepped in their way and instead of fighting for their dream, they ran the other way, farther from it.

When you set yourself upon a goal that you have in life, also make sure that you promise yourself to stick with that goal through thick or thin, no matter what challenges or failures step in the way. That’s the difference between the success and failure—the ability to maintain focus on the dream when those inevitable challenges arise.


Notice that ingredient number three for success does not say that all successful people have an education. A surprising fact that I once read in a business magazine somewhere said that the wealthiest people on this planet are also the ones who were academic failures in life. Bill Gates has a net worth of around 44 billion dollars and he was a Harvard dropout. The inspirational nature photographer Ansel Adams never made it through high school. Historically famous American author Samuel L. Clemens (better known as Mark Twain) dropped out of elementary school.

Even though these successful people didn’t have the traditional formal education that many people find so valuable these days, what they lacked, they made up for with seeking out knowledge and never stopping their thirst for more information.

I graduated with a B.A. degree in legal studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara and if you were to ask me to recite the Bill of Rights, I doubt I could get half of them right. College taught me how to drink, party, and pick up girls. It did not, however, educate me on how to be successful in life.

The common mistake these days for many people and parents is that getting a college degree will guarantee your success. I’ll contest this fact and instead give you some words of wisdom that were given to me by a friend of mine. “College trains you to be a good employee. It doesn’t train you to be wealthy.”

Successful entrepreneurs and business leaders, regardless of formal education, all have something in common—the willingness to continue learning and enhancing their core competencies. Knowledge is the most valuable investment that you own, and we’re not talking about some university lecture. Knowledge can come from any variety of sources. I hated going to boring lectures in college, and I passed all my courses just by reading the materials. Books were and still are my passion, and I devour them like crazy. This is the same way with many successful people out there. They find ways of learning that suit their learning style.

One of the problems of traditional schooling is that people often do what it takes to get the degree, as I did, but they don’t invest the time towards actually getting the education. After the degree is received, people get relaxed and think that their learning is finally over. They go out into the world and find that they spent four years of their life learning nothing that can be applied to the real world. Heed my words, to be successful in life requires a commitment towards life-long learning. The people who are successful realize that their learning will never stop. They find the way that they enjoy learning and pursue it passionately, always looking for opportunities to enhance their knowledge and invest in their own personal growth.

Successful people do more than just absorb knowledge, though. They also apply that knowledge to the real world. I might sequester along with my books and tapes from the rest of the world for days on end and absorb that knowledge; but after I’m done, I apply that knowledge either to my seminars or my writings or with my private consultations. And the knowledge that I acquire through my life helps me be a better teacher, a better consultant, and a better friend, and it promotes my own self-growth and enhances all of my personal relationships as well.

Follow your passions by developing and enhancing your core competencies—the things that you are great at doing. Figure out what kind of learning method suits you best and then immerse yourself in that learning environment. Learning is much like working out at the gym: You have to practice it regularly and make it a rule of health to do it consistently. If you are following your passion, then learning will also be a passion for you.


Successful people are not afraid to take calculated risks in life. This does not mean that successful people are reckless with their futures and do things out of mere impulse, but simply that when the opportunity comes around for them to take one step toward their dream, they are not afraid to take that step.

In 2000, my good friend and Mentor lost his good job with an engineering firm when they went bankrupt. Most people I know would have panicked and jumped right into another nine-to-five job, but not my friend. He had a vision of owning his own company and he was willing to risk being financially unstable for several years before he could make his dream come true. You see, my friend had a product that he invented—a technology he developed for the home theatre enthusiast that translated audio sound into stereo movement directly into the couch. He sent his product to all the big trade magazines and he got rejection after rejection. After all, no one wanted to take his homemade gizmo seriously. I know that many other people would have taken those rejection letters personally and just give up, but my friend persisted. He didn’t see it as another rejection for himself or his product, but rather a rejection on the publisher for missing out on the latest and greatest thing to hit the home theatre world. I watched him pinch the pennies and cut out all the vacations and extraneous things from his life, but his persistence towards his dream never failed. Five years later, Crowson Technologies is one of the biggest producers of high-end audio equipment for home theatre enthusiasts, with distributors located world-wide. My friend was willing to risk it all for those five years and the payout for him was huge.

We are all faced with similar opportunities on a regular basis. It’s our fear of change, our fear of the unexpected, that prevents us from taking those steps toward our dreams. When the possibility for a better future comes along, don’t be afraid to take on the burden of uncertainty, for life itself is an uncertain thing. It’s only our minds that seek solidarity and consistency. Break this mold and you will be one step closer to personal success. Don’t be afraid to take risks in life.


I don’t mean that all successful people practice yoga. What is meant here is that life is dynamic—meaning that it always changes and it’s unpredictable. Successful people realize that even the best plans can fall through the cracks because of unexpected things that might occur. Successful people have the ability to be flexible with their plans and to adapt and overcome challenges and obstacles that come their way.

You know that saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”? That’s a saying that I learned when I was in the fourth grade, and it’s a lesson that I still learn from and teach many years later. The hard reality is this: Life is not meant to be easy. If it was, then everyone would be successful. Life is difficult at times and it’s Nature’s way of separating the chaff from the wheat of those who have the desire and the determination to excel and those who don’t. Life tests each one of us in many different ways, and as individuals, we must accept this fact and be flexible in our plans and goals to roll with all the punches that life gives us.

My life-long hero, Bruce Lee, the father of Jeet Kun Do and mixed martial art competition, said that the most powerful element on this earth is water. Water can trickle gently or it can crash with tremendous force. Water is shapeless by nature, yet it can conform to the shape of any container it sits in. You cannot hurt water if you try to strike it. Water is power, so you must be like the nature of water when you are fighting. This has been the driving force of my philosophy, not only with my personal life, but with the Synergy Institute and my teachings as well. When you go through life, be like the nature of water and be flexible enough to conform to any situation that comes your way. Be impervious to attacks. Be able to handle situations with gentle care and other situations with tremendous force. Be like the nature of water.


I save this one for the last because it could be the most important part of the recipe for success. Now we all have dreams and goals for ourselves, but how many of them have you turned into reality? In life, there are dreamers and there are doers, and then there are dreamers who do. In order to be successful, you have to find your passion in your life to spur up new dreams and goals for your life, but you also need to be able and willing to do what is necessary to make those dreams become real by taking action. Action brings success. It also carries the possibility of bringing failure; but if you have the ability of learning from your failures, you will eventually reach success.

Why is it so difficult for people to take action on their goals in life? If I said anyone could make a million dollars if they took action, how many would take me seriously? It really is that simple, though: Take action today and you can become a millionaire down the road. The problem lies not with the action itself, but with the person’s goals. If I wanted to become a millionaire in 10 years, of course I would want to take action to make that dream a reality, but the problem is that how do I take action on such a vague goal? How do I take action on wanting to be a millionaire? That’s too difficult to comprehend, and most people will give up because they won’t know where to start. Successful people know that in order to act upon their dreams to make them a reality, their dreams themselves must be specific, measurable, and clear to them. For the financially successful person, their goal is not to become a millionaire; their goal is to become a millionaire in the book publishing business by selling millions of copies of books, or to become a millionaire in the real estate industry by becoming the number one salesperson and then launching their own real estate company.

I teach my students that the most valuable thing around is time because we can never replace the time that we have here. Unfortunately, too many of us waste that time by not taking action. Action delivers results. I was talking to a buddy of mine several years ago about a system of conflict resolution that I had developed. My friend was impressed and said I should write a book on it. I kind of chuckled and told him, “Sure, sure.” At that point, I didn’t even believe that I had what it takes to write a book. Then several years later, I decided to take my work seriously and commit myself to writing that book, even if I didn’t know how. I decided to take action and I admit, there were mistakes and hang-ups along the way, but all of those things were valuable learning lessons for me for my own personal growth. And now I have a book that I have written myself that sells quite nicely to the business leaders I targeted it to. Did the book exist in me before I started writing it? Yes, the book was always there in my head, but I manifested it into the real world by taking action—by picking up that pen and paper and transferring my thoughts into writing. I took action to make it something real.

Best-selling author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series Jack Canfield said in one of his seminars I attended, “Ready, Fire, Aim.” What he meant was that if you took the traditional approach of “Ready, Aim, Fire,” most people spend far too long aiming and never firing. Successful people on the other hand, will fire first, check how far off they are from their target and reposition their rifle a second or even a third time till they hit the bulls-eye. Aiming is like dreaming. Most of us spend far too long dreaming and never taking action. Successful people take action, even though their action might be in the wrong direction, but nevertheless, they are able to learn from their error and fine-tune their aiming for success.


I sat down and began this article after coming back to my hotel room from a Texas barbeque cookoff. The ability to make a winning recipe at that cookoff is very much the same way we create success in our lives. We have to select the appropriate ingredients and then use our creativity to transform them into something of great value for other people. If we follow that rule, any one of us has the potential to create a winning recipe for life. I hope that you gained some powerful tools and motivation from this article. These are my views and experiences on what has helped shape and influence my own life, and I encourage you to read all the other writings out there by other authors in your exploration for knowledge in personal development. While you are acquiring your knowledge, always remember that the best lessons in life are told from your own heart and it will speak to you and teach you if you are willing to remain still and listen to what it has to offer.

© Copyright 2006 by Tristan Loo. All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Tristan Loo is a life management consultant, trainer and author. He is the founder of the Synergy Institute, a personal development company based out of San Diego, California. Tristan is the author of Street Negotiation: How to Resolve Any Conflict Anytime and writes for numerous magazines and publications. Visit Tristan's website at http://www.synergyinstituteonline.com