How to succeed in life: tips on how to succeed in life

How to Succeed in Life: The One Quality You Absolutely Must Have!

Are you wondering how to succeed in life? Most people are and the question is phrased in many different ways. So what is the secret to life? 

One movie that attempts to answer this question is City Slickers. And what if this movie right? What if the secret of life (the way to truly succeed) all comes down to one thing? If you don’t recall this well-known scene, here is a quick refresher. In the movie City Slickers, Billy Crystal’s character, Mitch, is alone with a rough-and-tumble cowboy named Curly. As the two ride through the wilderness, Curly gives Mitch some life advice. The slightly censored version of their conversation goes like this:

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
[holds up one finger]
Curly: This.
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean crap.
Mich: But, what is the “one thing?”
Curly: [smiles] That’s what *you* have to find out.

The big tease throughout the rest of the movie is that, “the one thing,” is never revealed. Since the movie’s release in 1991, there have been many discussions about what this, “one thing” is. I would like to suggest that City Slickers is right,there is only one thing that you and I need, in order to succeed in leadership, relationships, and life.

Although I realize this is a big claim to make, I’m also going to warn you that this “one thing” is not easy. After learning what this “one thing” is, life will not be all rainbows and unicorns. Even though the secret to succeeding in leadership, relationships, and life is simple enough that it can be boiled down to a single word, it is also so complex that it takes a lifetime to master.

So, how do you succeed in life?

How to Succeed in Life: The One Thing You Must Have!

What is this one mysterious thing? Here it is…

The secret that many have been looking for and that City Slicker fans have been waiting for. This one thing sounds anti-climactic at first, but stick with me and hear my reasoning. I fully expect that by the end of this post, you will agree with me. To succeed in life, the one thing you and I absolutely must-have is… l-o-v-e, love. Yes, that’s right, love is the secret to success in all areas of life.

I warned you the one thing sound anti-climatic. But stick with me because I have some valuable news to share. The scene from City Slickers, found at the beginning of this post, is not the original story. It’s a remake of an event that occurred nearly 2,000 years earlier.

Success and The Original City Slickers, Story

In the original scene, an expert in the Mosaic Law comes to Jesus and asks, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Biblical scholars report that there are a grand total of 613 commandments in the Old Testament law. That’s a lot to remember! And this wise scholar came to Jesus, looking for “the one thing.”

The scene differs from the scenario with Billy Crystal in that the conversation is between two experts–an Old Testament Ph.D. (or the equivalent thereof) and Jesus. Jesus’ answer to this esteemed scholar is found in Matthew 22:34 and goes like this:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment.And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus’ reply to “the one thing” question hinges on a single word–love. According to Jesus, the 613 Old Testament commands are summed up in this one thing.

Why The One Thing is More Difficult Than You Think

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. The one thing that you and I need to succeed in life is both anti-climatic and difficult. The big challenge comes in putting the one thing into action.

Love is far more complicated than most people realize. The best definition of love that I know is this: “Love is doing the next right thing, for _______.” To complete this definition, fill in the blank space with the name of the person that you are trying to love.

It is this empty space that makes love so challenging. You see, love is person-specific and situation-specific. When it comes to love, there is no single, overarching answer. Love is a complex, ongoing conversation.

Let me illustrate. If you and I discussed how to show love to a small child who had skinned her knee, our conversation would be simple. Doing the next right thing for someone who is hurt is relatively simple. In this case, love involves providing emotional comfort and treating the wound. However, if you and I discussed how to do the next right thing for someone struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction, the conversation would be more difficult. It would be even more complicated if the addicted person is one’s child or spouse.

Success in Life and The Complexity of Love.

Because love is complex, life must become an ongoing conversation. Discovering the next, right action to take, is exceedingly difficult in situations where there is:

  • An addiction.
  • Longstanding anger issues.
  • Mental health needs.
  • Financial responsibilities.
  • And a host of other nuances that life throws our way.

This means succeess in life is not easy. The factors that complicate love are endless, and it takes much wisdom to love well. The one thing applies to success in leadership too. Every day, leaders struggle with knowing how to do the next right thing, for:

  • The coworker who tries hard but continually does not meet productivity.
  • A worker who is productive but has a negative attitude that drags the rest of the team down.
  • An employee who brings his or her personal problems to work.
  • The employee struggles with addiction, anger issues, or longstanding mental-health needs.

If work was only about getting the job done, then leadership would be easy. But real-life, leadership involves influencing complex, messy people.

I started this blog is because love is complex. While wanting to love others is easy putting love into action is not. Discerning how to do the next right thing in the midst of life’s nuances can feel overwhelming. In most instances, there are multitudes of helpful and unhelpful actions that can be taken. Learning how to love others is a process that requires ongoing conversation. This site is all about enjoying the ongoing process of becoming a loving leader at home, work, and everywhere that we go.

The One Thing Needed to Succeed in Leadership and Life

Continue the Conversation

Dive deeper into how to succeed in life with these questions for reflection and discussion. Or, keep the conversation going in the comments below.

  • What do you think about “the one thing?” Do you agree that love is how to succeed in life?
  • Do you struggle with knowing how to put love into action in the midst of life’s complexities?  
  • Are there strategies you use to make practicing love easier?
  • How do you know what love looks like in complex situations?
  • What are your tips on how to succeed in life?

We look forward to hearing what you have to say!

Jed Jurchenko

Jed Jurchenko is the husband to an incredible wife, daddy to four amazing girls, and a foster dad to one more. He's served as a children's pastor, marriage and family therapist, psychology professor, award-winning writing coach, and life coach. Jed is the author of 23 books on relationships, parenting, writing, and doing life well. In his free time, you'll find Jed reading, preparing for an upcoming marathon, barbecuing, paddle boarding, and enjoying life with his incredible family. Find out more about Jed's books, coaching, and courses at

5 thoughts on “How to Succeed in Life: The One Quality You Absolutely Must Have!”

  1. Jed,

    I agree. Without love we die.

    My challenge in loving is that perfect love is selfless and self-sacrificing. I was born to be self-centered and self-preserving.

    I wrote about how to improve our ability to love in this post:

    Of the 7 habits in my post, the most important one for me is to choose love by receiving God’s love. We all need a source of love to draw from to be able to give love to others. Starting there, I’m geared up to work on developing the 6 other habits.

    I like this post, Jed. Good stuff!

    1. Such great points. A Linked-In friend commented that the post reminded him of a well-known, Beatles song. His remark made me smile. It also reminded me that love is fun to talk about, sing about, and dream of. However, in reality, it’s more challenging and less glamours than often portrayed.

      I agree, love isn’t easy for people with a self-centered, and self-preserving bent. The seven habits you write about are awesome, and the perfect place to start!

  2. I like the phrasing of “the next right thing [for ________].” Of course, my central theme in my book and blog is “You always have a choice.” Extended, I say that, while you may not choose everything that happens in life, the next choice is always yours to make. This fits right in here. We don’t, for instance, choose to be in a relationship with an addict or someone who is mentally ill; but we do continually have a “next choice” to make with regard to these people.

    I think the problem most people will have with this “all you need is love” concept is the fluffy, hippie kind of vibe the words have taken on. But love in action is most often far from fluffy. It’s hard work. It takes discipline. It takes sacrifice. It’s not for the faint of heart. I also think that some will think it sounds unprofessional for business contexts as opposed to, say, home contexts. But call it what you will, doing the right thing for the other person (while not losing yourself in the process) is a tool for success in all areas of life, from kids to customers, neighbors to strangers. When my first thought is for “me,” without regard for others, I may succeed in the short term in getting what I want; but I will have failed in the long run as a person.

    1. Such great insights Erik. I especially like that you mention how real love is hard work. I think part of the challenge is that the Greek language–used in the original manuscripts–has four different words that our English Bibles translate, “love.” Thus, the meaning sometimes gets lost in the translation.

      I’d agree, a fluffy, hippie, kind of love, would not be appropriate for work–or many situations at home, for that matter. But, this tenacious, hardworking, disciplined love, that you describe, may be exactly what is needed. And, to make things easier, it might be better to use the language of, “making positive choices, that are in the other person’s best interest,” as opposed to the word “love.” Certainly, this has a more professional tone to it.

      Whether we are calling our actions, “love” or “positive choices,” the idea is the same. Great strategies for carrying the concept of love into the work setting. This is good stuff!

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