When you hear the stories of highly successful entrepreneurs, it is remarkable how the common themes responsible for their successes weave through all of their stories.

What are some of these “secrets”?

I had the recent pleasure (although some would say it was insanity) of doing a round-trip, cross-country road-trip with my husband from California to Virginia and back.  Each way we took three days to travel 2,600 miles—so we didn’t spend time sight-seeing on this trip.  What we did do to pass the time during the trip, in addition to our lively conversations, was listen to podcast interviews.  Lots of interviews—41 to be exact, of successful entrepreneurs and their success stories.  I won’t list all their names, but people like John Mackey (the founder of Whole Foods), Seth Godin, Ali Webb, (the founder of the Drybar chain) Arianna Huffington, Marie Forleo, and so on.  All wildly successful entrepreneurs in their areas at some point in their journeys.

As we listened to one after the other, we noticed the themes and patterns emerging in all of the stories.  Different industries, backgrounds, and businesses or services, but remarkably similar traits and success secrets emerged.

They all definitely debunked the myth of the “overnight success” image most of tend to hold of entrepreneurs who achieve celebrity status success.  Most of them worked for many, many years until they achieved that imagined “overnight success” and stature others seem to attribute to them.

So what were these secret themes?

  1. A bias for action or a “Just Do It” mentality rather than perfectionism

Every interview we listened to in some way conveyed the message of taking action instead of over-preparing.  There was an assumption of competence, of course (granted you must be very good at what you are doing in the first place), but the act of getting more and more certifications and degrees to become more “perfect”, or to perfect your service wasn’t the focus.  The focus was on actually taking action and steps to get you to where you want to go. Starting and executing while you are figuring it all out rather than trying to figure it all out before you start.  Punchline:  you may never have it all figured out—sometimes trusting that things will emerge along the way is what you need to do more of.

  1. A strong tolerance for rejection and failure

Everyone had rejection.  Many had LOTS of it.  And failure was part of the journey and learning experience.  The key was to not let the rejection derail your pursuit.  The common denominator was the falling down, getting back up, and starting again.  The failure did not define them or their self-image, and the managing of what could potentially be paralyzing self-doubt was a critical factor for success.

  1. Lots of hard work

Many clients I speak to who want to start their own businesses have an idealized version of what that means.  They picture themselves leisurely working out all morning, working a few hours mid-day to early afternoon, running errands and being ready to pick up their kids at 3:00 in the afternoon while being wildly successful as an entrepreneur.  While that sounds like a great plan, that is more consistent with a hobby or side gig business than the reality of successful entrepreneurial endeavors.  They all talked about the enormity of the time they put into making the endeavor successful.  The hard work was driven by their commitment and passion for what they were doing—but the operative words were hard work.  The opportunities didn’t just fall into their laps while they were at a yoga class.

  1. Consistency and persistence

Another interesting theme was the theme of “staying in the game”.  Some spoke of how they kept at it, while others in the competing space would try a bit, get discouraged, and drop out.  Showing up consistently and persistently was a loud message.

  1. Understanding their customer and marketing

Another thing many wannabe entrepreneurs lament is how much they hate marketing.  I get it because I can relate to that sentiment.  Yet understanding and communicating the value they bring to their customers was the lifeblood for these successful people.  Being able to understand and reach people and contribute value by communicating what that value is was a key component.  Whether it was traditional marketing the way we think of it as sales or by creating tribes of raving fans, these successful entrepreneurs knew how to and weren’t afraid to get the word out.

Studying people who have achieved access in their area of expertise or entrepreneurial endeavors is always fascinating.  It gives us a glimpse into what seems elusive to many, yet is pretty simple when it is boiled down.  It reminds us that it is not talent and genius that ultimately contribute to one’s success.  Talent and genius without the five “secrets” mentioned above are probably wasted potential.  Potential has to be activated and applied in order for it to have impact in the world.

What about you?  What potential are you wasting?

What can you do today to maximize it?