Why The Most Successful People Work Hard Even After They’ve “Made It”

Isn’t the goal of financial success to be able to live the Caribbean life?

Then why do we see so many millionaires working like sled dogs?

The answer: Success has a unique taste (it’s similar to ice cream). It tastes so good that it makes you want to stuff yourself and try all the flavors.

Girls and Ice Cream

Women and ice cream - what more could you ask for? Sprinkles.

If logic had its way, you would work harder as you needed more money, right?  From what I see, the opposite is true. People rely on unemployment checks and medicaid to support them as they watch TV. Meanwhile, the rich are still working 12 hour days.  This is insanity!  Why are the people who already have money working harder than those who need it most?

The cop-out answer is “that’s why they’re successful.”  I’m not content to stop there. I want to know why some people work harder than others.

Note: I’m not talking about the success mindset here, but the traditional way that success is defined – accomplishments.

A Compelling Reason To Work

For every action or inaction, there is a motive.  When we think about the motive of a millionaire or billionaire to keep working hard, what are the broad possibilities?

  1. Make more money – Hmm…maybe millionaires might still want more, but billionaires? There must be something else.
  2. Gain more power/influence – this is a possibility.  I’m still not convinced though.  What could be the common factor?
  3. They enjoy it? Bingo.

“A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God” ~ Solomon in Ecclesiastes 2:24

If you’re not familiar with Ecclesiastes, throughout it, the author speaks of the vanity and pointlessness of “everything under the sun.” Our time on this sphere is so short that it is hard to argue with him.  We will all be forgotten.

If you have enough money to retire, move to paradise, and relax but you’re still working, you MUST love the work you do.  When you’re seeing a great deal of validation (i.e. success) coming from your work , work can be a true joy.  But is success itself enough to satisfy us?  I think not!

Passion Is Traction

Success is much easier to achieve if you enjoy the journey to reach it. Passion is a slow-burning fuel that can last a lifetime.  Greed and the desire to be rich is a quick-burning lust that fades as the burden of work saps your life force.

Productive business woman

Is she playing tic tac toe over the phone?

Do you know of anyone who “suffers” through jobs they hate on the path to wealth? I can’t say this for sure, but I believe many of them find themselves empty inside when they “reach the top.” They realize that they just made $100 million, but they wasted 30 miserable years of their life to get it.

“Don’t aim for success if you want it; just do what you love and believe in, and it will come naturally.”  ~ David Frost

Back To Success

In the beginning I talked about the taste of success.  I mentioned that success has such a wonderful taste that you want to try all of the flavors.  I say that because I’ve tasted it – just a tiny sample of it – and it is potently delicious!

I started this blog in mid-March. One night in my apartment in Charlottesville, I received an email from Problogger saying that my submitted guest post was accepted. I started running around the apartment (in circles) saying words that don’t exist yet (I am weird, but it makes life fun). Problogger is one of the biggest blogs in the world!

The more you taste success, the more you want it.  It’s like blood in the water for a shark, but not as dangerous for swimmers.

This was my first taste of success. It was my first taste of success doing something that I loved to do (career-wise). It gave me a bit of validation that I could write well – and when the post was very well received – I had validation that I could write content that people wanted to read. I can see how people become workaholics. The realization of tangible progress towards achieving your dreams is exhilarating.

This positive energy improves your creativity (I will write about this sometime), boosts your confidence, and gives you the drive to taste more success. Don’t believe me? You should, because I’ve been featured on Problogger four times now. If the first one didn’t happen, neither would the rest.

This “taste of success” has been very important to me in the times when I’m disappointed in my subscriber numbers or traffic (which are both decent for my young blog, but could be better).

You Can Taste Success In Four Difficult, Worthwhile Steps

  1. Set aside time for a deep thinking session.  In this session, you will determine what you are passionate about – look at how you spend free time, what excites you about life, and what abilities give you the greatest satisfaction in using.
  2. Figure out a way to get paid for your passion – consulting, blogging, working for a company, creating products, etc.
  3. Focus on ONE milestone that would mean a lot to you.  Is it guest posting on a huge blog? Is it getting a job for a certain type of company? Is it to finish creating a product? Is it getting your first client?  Don’t make the milestone big – make it small.  You’re just getting a sample of the success ice cream – not the large.
  4. Pour your soul into this mission.  Fail several times. Get up again and work 80 hours a week. Chase it. Tackle it.

I’ve tasted success a few times. Right now I’m looking forward to the satisfaction of completing an ebook I’m working on. It’s going to be free, by the way, to prove to you that I can write a book worth buying before trying to sell you anything.

I’ll be taking my own advice with the ebook. I’m going to work on it until I get carpel tunnel syndrome.  Then I’ll have to wear one of those fashionable wrist braces.

Once you taste it – you should dwell on your success.  Reward yourself. Failure is to be learned from. We all know that. But success is to be celebrated and recycled. Success has a way of replicating itself if you know how to leverage your first taste of it.

The challenge is in the beginning. Deep down, we all know we’re capable of doing great things – but we still have to prove it to ourselves. I knew I could write fairly well and that I had some good ideas – but I couldn’t really believe it until I saw myself doing it.

Get started today.  Chip away at that intimidating project by focusing on the first success milestone. Once you get it – and you WILL – you’ll see that nothing can stop you if you’re focused, persistent, and passionate about what you’re doing.

Do you have an example of tasting success that created more success for you? I’d love to hear about it.

About the Author

I'm lazy, but you can call me Stephen. When you're as lazy as I am, you need superior strategies to live well. My strategies are so effective that I'm productive every single day. As the world tries to figure out how to always stay motivated, I create strategies that don't require it.

Hugo Martins

I believe one thing that most successful people have is the profound desire to be constantly challenging themselves and evolving, and that keeps them fuelled with energy.

I don’t believe I have any interesting example of tasting success so I’ll keep quiet about that.

Great post as always.


I’m sure you’ve tasted success with your guitar, right? Maybe when you conquered a song that seemed impossible at first.

You’re absolutely correct about successful people loving challenge and evolving. Most of my success has been outside of career up to this point, but I’ve found that one of the greatest pleasures of success is overcoming challenges. Thanks for being involved here, Hugo.

I noticed you have knkted.com up. Good-looking site. When did you start that?

(fueled has only one “L”)

Hugo Martins

I started like 20 days ago, I’m still trying to get the hang of it and exploring.

I believe at this phase I can consider the mindset change I had (stopped being a procrastinator to being an active, functional guy) like a small success.

(One day I’ll be able to write without the slightest grammatical error)


It is absolutely incredible how much there is to learn about blogging. I’ve breathed it over the past three months and I still know nothing!

Yes, that is a profound success! I had the same change earlier this year.

(I’m sure you will. You’re already above average. For your first sentence, I prefer the dash over the comma because it’s good for connecting follow-up thoughts – like I did right here.)

A. Irvin

Hey Stephen 🙂

I think what you’re talking about here is also related to the concept of Optimal Challenge (Flow Theory). I won’t go into it here (don’t want to bore anyone with psychology stuff), but if you do some research on it, I am sure you will find it interesting (Hint: It is roughly equivalent to the runner’s high).

The only personal examples I can think of regarding success creating more success is how completing one degree led to me pursuing another (aiming for a doctorate now), and how meeting milestones when riding my bike always leads to the pursuit of an even more challenging milestone (increasing from 20 to 30 miles). I guess I’m one of those people who needs to feel “optimally challenged.” I don’t ever see myself sitting back with the feeling of, “Okay, now I’m done.”

Great post (I wish there was a “thumbs up” emoticon)

Chris Barba

Hey Stephen,

Success is not in the destination it’s in the journey. I feel happiness lies in enjoy the act of doing and not just the prestige of accomplishing. If we work with the soul motivator of success, living by the outdated mantra that the ends justify the means, then most likely we are going to be living in unhappy lives.

The biggest parallel I can think of currently is with exercise. At first it was a chore. Something I thought I should do and results I thought I should have. Now exercise has been integrated into my life. It is not something I have to do, it is just something I do. And I find with this mentality, this enjoyment, I work harder and better.

It’s pretty simple: success is a building block for itself. Never underestimate the power of those tiny wins occurring in your life!


Danny @ Firepole Marketing

Hey Stephen, congrats on the new header, it looks good!

I think enjoying it is part of the reason why the successful keep on working, but also think that another side is that their attitude of continuing to work is what has made them successful.

When you’ve had a great success, or a great failure, the tendency for most people is to take a break; if it’s a success, you’ve earned a celebration and a vacation, and if it’s a failure, then you need to regroup to recharge.

Real entrepreneurs see both of those situations as times when they need to redouble their efforts, because new opportunities will be there to be found. It’s an almost intuitive understanding – you just keep on going.

Does that make sense?


Greetings Angela!

I don’t get how some people can find psychology boring – is it a science of curiosity. How does my mind work? Anyways, I like it. Flow theory sounds pretty cool. Runner’s high is great!

I think your college experience is a quality example of tasting success and going for more. Life can get a bit stale without challenge. And why would anyone say “Okay, now I’m done” if they love what they’re doing?

I wish there was a thumbs up emoticon too. I like getting those – it’s like tasting success ;-).


Hi Chris,

I agree with your thoughts on success. A supporting article I wrote in that vein was I Am Successful – Are You?. It was just about how success isn’t a destination as much as it is a mindset – that we can believe we’re successful people and let the results flow naturally from our quality work.

That’s funny you mentioned that exercise example. The SAME thing happened with me. I started out doing it as a chore until I truly realized how great a thing it is and how enjoyable it is overall.

You’re right – those tiny wins are massive steps forward.

Cheers to you!


Salutations Danny,

I appreciate the feedback on the header (I’ve changed my header 325 hundred thousand times). 🙂

Wow, those are very keen insights Danny. The mind of an entrepreneur is definitely like you described. I can’t help but think that is because of the passion they have for their chosen path. Unlike working for someone else, entrepreneurs pick and choose exactly what they do on a daily basis.

Yes, that made perfect sense. I’m still recovering from a lifelong non-preneur mindset – so I have the bad habit of sitting back and admiring my creation instead of working on the next task. That said, I’m always improving in this area and your comment helped me to clarify what mindset I’m going for. Thanks Danny.

Riley Harrison

To me success is maximizing one’s happiness (and I have a very broad multi-faceted definition of happiness). And because we change and circumstances change, we are constantly shooting at a moving target. What made one happy yesterday may not provide the same pleasure in the future. I also think that the use of empowering questions is a necessary tool for personal growth and the pursuit of happiness. I’m always asking myself what do I REALLY want to do and try to summon the courage to follow the appropriate path.


That is a good broad definition of success. I certainly don’t limit it to financial measures – though that is what I discussed in this article.

I like the way you fleshed out how happiness is a moving target and our desires change. That’s easy to miss – unless you’re a deep thinker. 🙂 Sometimes I wonder if I’m really doing exactly what I want to do. When you have several strong passions, it can get tricky. Thanks Riley!


Man I am so glad I subscribed to your blog! It really love your posts! I feel like we share much common ground on subjects such as business and blogging.

You make some really great points in this post Stephen. True success is similar if not the same to true fulfilment. There is not a monetary figure we can put on it. As the old saying goes “The journey is more important than the destination”, and a regretful and resentful journey does not mean that a person will be happy when they find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

It’s so true, most people who make a heap of money don’t stop working. This is because they are passionate about what they do. As you mentioned, it’s clearly about much more than just the money to them.

I think it’s important to remember that success is relative. For different people it means completely different things.

It is so true that when we taste a little it feels amazing, and really encourages us to continue, and work harder to achieve our next goal. “Success is to be celebrated and recycled.” I love that. Two main things to take away from this post: Have small goals and celebrate the small victories.

Speak soon buddy.


Hey Robert – brilliant bloggers blog alike, right? 🙂

It really is more about the money. Why else would Steve Jobs still be working at Apple – with his health problems and BILLIONS of dollars?? He could be doing anything he wants and he chooses to work at Apple.

I absolutely agree that success is relative. I was focusing on financial success in this article (and I could have made that more clear). Thanks for your great thoughts Robert – I enjoyed reading them very much.


No worries, really was another awesome post! We certainly have a few things in common!

Yeah exactly, or Steve Jobs could NOT be working at all, but as you said, he clearly loves what he does.

Oh yeah I know you understand that there is far more to success than money, I just think that more people need to realise it! 🙂

Speak soon

Justin | Mazzastick

Hi Stephen,
I often think of the guys from the TV shoe Shark Tank. All of them are successful by anyones standards yet they still are all about finding ways to invest and increase their wealth.

So it can’t be all about money, but rather passion as you stated in your post. I will always do some kind of work no matter my age. I couldn’t imagine being retired and doing nothing.


Hey Justin,

I remember reading an interesting article on your blog about reptiles, lol. I haven’t seen Shark Tank, but it sounds interesting.

I used to think that I would want to retire, but I’ve really taken a liking to blogging. If I can make a living this way, I want Deep Existence to be around for 70 more years (I’d be 95 then).

Chris Kahler @ Bloggeritus

I do like the book Ecclesiastes, but more than that I like Proverbs. Both are by Solomon, and both open for wise interpretations.

One thing I’ve noticed about successful people is the fact that their success is not looked at as an achievement, but rather an overall process of creation.

The process of creating and being creative and enjoying that process will push a person towards fulfillment and satisfaction in their life. I honestly believe that’s one of the main aspects of living – to be a happy creator of the things you like.


Ecclesiastes is my favorite, but I also like Proverbs…so we’re reverse on that.

Creating is definitely one of the most fulfilling things about life.


Yeah, I meant that he works at Apple instead of not working – but I guess he could get a job at McDonald’s if he really wanted to. 😛


Glad I finally got to read this article. As I have come to expect from you, you make some great points. As I always tell my kids, you’d better learn to enjoy work because if you don’t you will have a miserable life. The key to success is enjoying what you do.

Now I’d like to challenge you to follow up this article with your thoughts on these issues: How should people who have certain financial obligations achieve the type of success you speak of while still meeting those obligations? Being successful at something you have a passion for does not always equate to financial success. How can they keep the fires of passion burning while their other obligations are raining on their parade?


Hey James,

I appreciate that challenge and I’m honored that you find my posts worthwhile. As for the challenge, it is a question that needs to be asked. After all, that is reality for many people. I’m in that situation myself. I’m living my passion with this blog, but it isn’t making me any money yet.

My personal solution to this is to try to find (I’m doing B right now):

A) Secondary passions that can make more money (Finance job for me) while I continue to build the blog and supporting content.
B) Flexible work that allows me to “scrape by” financially (marketing contract jobs) as I continue to pour the majority of time into my passion.

This plan comes with the intention and expectation of making some money with my primary passion. I believe that almost every passion can be utilized in a way to make a living, but if that isn’t possible for some reason – what can you do other than settle for second best? My least favorite option – the most commonly chosen path – is to “suck it up” and work at a job you hate just for the money. Maybe it is financially responsible, but I’d rather be poor and happy.

Disclaimer: For those with families to provide for, it is a different story. You have to make more sacrifices if you have a wife and kids, and it is no different here. Personally, I would never have children if I wasn’t already living my dream and making decent money with it. But for those in that situation, that’s the path they chose and they must deal with the consequences (which are definitely NOT all negative!).

What do you think about that?

Martyn Chamberlin

The thing that I like about this blog is how it’s constantly changing. We don’t know from one day to the next what kind of cool header you’re going to come up with. 🙂

But seriously, you’ve made some good points here. I like to think of Clay Collins getting up at 10:00 am each morning and running his six figure business. Now that’s how it’s done. Not too much work, but lots of money.

hahaha 🙂


30ish headers later, everyone who visits is required to like the current one because I don’t want to change it again. The sad thing is a graphic designer with superior software could do better in 30 minutes. But mine was free!

Yeah, he must be doing something right. How long does he work? From 10-11 AM with a 30 minute lunch break?

Wim @ Sales Sells

Hi Stephen, you touch on an important issue here. It’s what annoys me about all those online get-rich-quick schemes. The products are aimed exactly at those people who usually don’t have the mindset and persistence to succeed. Don’t get me wrong, the products might work! If you are willing to put in the work, that is. Most people ordering these products or courses, however, are looking for an easy way, a shortcut. Wake up, there is no easy way. Whether you’re doing it online or offline, it’s a business, and it takes effort to keep it running.

Thanks for your insight,

Archan Mehta


It’s the eye of the tiger and it’s the thrill of the fight, just like the Rocky song.

Driven people get cheap thrills out of working hard. It is in their DNA. And work is a great way to beat boredom. The alternative is to become a couch potato and watch the idiot box.

Driven people also cheat on their wives with the chambermaid like Arnold S., body-builder, governor of California and really, really bad actor with a pronounced Austrian accent.

Every time I listen to Arnold S. speak English, I feel like joining the French Foreign Legion–and I’m not even French–at least not yet; but I’m planning to migrate.

I will request the French to provide me with asylum in order to escape from religious persecution or having to read your blog and guest posts. That should keep me alive.

Why do people work hard? They are losers, that’s why. Rich people don’t know how to use time. Bill Gates once said: I have retired as Chairman of Microsoft. Now, I don’t know what to do with my time. I am so used to working ten hourse per day, every day.

If you have billions of dollars, why work for a living, douche bag? I am dirt poor and practice meditation for hours and hours daily. That escape means I don’t have to go to work and it helps to keep me sane. And the peace pipe I smoke helps as well. Cheerio.


Thanks and you added a great insight yourself! Your comment triggered some thoughts that led me to write an article draft about the “get rich quick” concept. What you said makes sense because those who are willing to work hard to earn their money aren’t as interested in get rich quick schemes.

I am so extremely skeptical of anything that claims to make money or help make money that I need to hear good things from several credible sources before I pull the trigger!


Hey Archan, let me know when you live in France – I’ll visit you and hand deliver my blog posts so that you can never escape them (I’m a budding world-traveler anyways).

People that work hard are losers? Blanket statement alert! If you really enjoy working, then what’s wrong with that? Personally, I think I’d rather travel all the time even over blogging for a living, but you can find “work” that is more like “play.”

I think it’s great that you’re poor and meditate. It sounds like a very relaxing lifestyle (one that is certainly not common in the US of A!). I’m poor and do yoga, which is the closest I get to meditating (yoga is amazing, have you done it?).

Personally, I don’t like to smoke anything. I’ve wanted to smoke a pipe just because CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien did when they talked about literature. I’m a health nut though, so I’m too aware of the health consequences to smoke long term.

Your comments are the most unique in the blogosphere, Archan.

Eddie Gear

For me not just about winning a new customer but retaining and making that customer come back to you for more business.


Hi Eddie,

Nice to see you here! That does sound great. Repeat business is very validating and a sign that your work is valued.

~ Stephen


Hi Stephen,

A billion dollars just doesn’t seem to go as far as it used to…..

I spent ten years working for a group of private special education schools. We accepted the most difficult-to-educate students, most of whom exhibited at least one of a wide array of mental and physical disabilities. Our instructional model was based on “competence and confidence,” which required that instruction for each student be individually designed based on that particular student’s achievement level and learning style (or below, and yes, I do mean below). The idea was to engage the student in a cycle of success by enabling him or her to achieve small successes, which trigger feelings of competence and confidence, leading to the next small success….and so on.

This cycle was so important that, regardless of where the student was “supposed to be” academically, if he or she was unable to achieve that first small success, the instructional materials were replaced with curricula from a lower academic level. The emphasis was always on enabling that first small success in order to start the cycle I described.

While I am by no means an educator, I was convinced of the model’s effectiveness the first time I witnessed the proverbial “light bulb” go on when a student came to the right answer, igniting a sense of enthusiasm I can only liken to the look on a child’s face when he or she wakes up on Christmas morning to find a pony under the tree.

This brief example will most likely resonate with those who understand the journey, the passion, and the taste for success for its own sake. Those who don’t subscribe to these notions, even the miserable billionaire you describe, may find it difficult to understand why those special ed kids are happier than themselves.

One related footnote: During the course of my 25 years in the business world, I have encountered hundreds, perhaps thousands of individuals, who have achieved “success” beyond even their wildest dreams, at least as defined by conventional standards – wealth, position, power, etc. Yet, as you point out, they are indeed miserable. While greed and the insatiable need for more may be the forces driving them to work even harder, in my humble opinion, these forces are often symptoms of a deeper issue: self esteem. I have found that many of the most “successful” people I have known quite often lack self-esteem. Due to the lack of recognition that self-esteem is essentially derived from within, they continually attempt to fill this void externally, without success. In most cases, work and all it provides, becomes the vehicle to achieve that affirmation, but despite best efforts, that void is never quite filled. The result, more often than not, is the person you describe, who, after 30 years, despite all of his or her monumental successes and achievements, wakes up one day with that gnawing sense of emptiness caused by feeling unfulfilled.

Stephen Guise

Hi Jeff,

It is great to see you here – mainly because your comment was fascinating, well-written, and much appreciated!

I think that trillion is the new billion. 😛

I love the strategy you used for those children. It makes me think of a book I’ve been reading – Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

He found that the oldest kids in their class/hockey team/etc were more successful. This was knowable by birthday cut-offs and explains why most pro hockey players have birthdays in the first 3 months of the year. It’s because their natural advantage (of age) lead them to receive more attention, advancement, and encouragement. It snowballed.

It’s interesting to hear your observations of businessmen. Could we say that wealth-building is a twisted form of soul-searching? If you have low self-esteem and don’t try to fix it internally – wealth and power are what society defines as valuable, so of course they’ll pursue those.

Thanks so much for that thoughtful comment, Jeff.

Prime State of Mind

I understand you very well dude. I’m a writer, and to be published on a big blog is an amazing feel. Just to even have one of YOUR words, or a picture of YOU is a big gratification that will never fade… It’s an amazing feeling to consume!

I’m so glad I’m subscribed to your blog dude!!

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