Inspire Me: 3 Secrets to Success by Eric Thomas

The Inspire Me series of posts consist of other people’s works I have found extremely valuable and insightful. I will quote extensively from these works while adding my own comments as to why these works are worth reading and re-reading (in this case: watching and re-watching). I share these posts in the hope that they, too, can inspire you as much as they have me.

Eric Thomas was a nobody. He lived in one of the poorest cities in America, dropped out of high-school, and became homeless. Today, he’s got a PhD in Education, super-rich, and one of the greatest teachers on how to become and stay successful. His recorded speech to a classroom of students is literally what inspired me to start this blog a few years back. These are the videos of that speech.

He shares 3 principles he learned throughout the years that were directly responsible for his success.

1.) When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, you will be successful.

Of course, the context of this first principle is you have to first imagine yourself drowning. It should thus be reworded to: When you want to succeed as bad as a drowning person wants to breathe: then you will be successful. I think the main idea here is really really really desiring success. You got to be absolutely beyond thirsty.

A corollary idea, and one that is not talked about in the video, is having a clear picture in your head of what that success actually looks like. Having a clear, concrete goal in mind must be a precondition to wanting to achieve it. If you don’t know where you’re going, how would know how to get there, and also, how would you know when you have arrived? The drowning person knows exactly what he wants (to breathe) but most of us either has no idea what success looks like or only a vague sense of what it may entail (for example: an unreasonable amount of money). For Eric himself, his idea of success was finishing his education, being in a successful marriage, and making money by making a difference in people’s lives. He knew exactly what he wanted. I think it important to remember that one’s success may not look like another person’s success. You got to clearly define what success means to you.

Eric further expands on this principle as wanting success more than wanting anything else (partying, sleeping etc). Basically to be able to forgo short-term pleasures in order to obtain long-term goals. This brings us to the next principle.

2.) To be able, at any moment, to sacrifice what you are for what you will become.

This principle reminds me of the psychology study where they tested children’s ability to delay gratification. They were put in a room with a marshmallow (or another similar treat like a cookie), and told they could eat it. But they were also told that if they wait until the researcher came back in 15 minutes, then they can have the treat and an additional extra one! Some children ate the treat right away but some children were able to wait until they can get the extra treat. Years later, a follow-up study showed that the children who were able to wait for the extra treat grew up to be more academically successful.

The idea here is that to obtain success, we have to able to sacrifice the distractions to that success. It means we have to take a hard-look at our life and drop the very things that are preventing our success. If you want to be healthy, it means you have to give up smoking. If you want to save money, you got to give up mindless spending. If we want to achieve something significant, sometimes we just have to give up something else in order to get it. This is something I personally struggle with constantly. I love sleeping. And I spend an absurd amount of time browsing reddit and facebook even though most of it are what are affectionately termed “shit posts”. What blogger and procrastination expert Tim Urban calls “spending a lot of time in the Dark Playground“.

At one point in the video, Eric talks about giving up sleep. Obviously no one is giving up sleep entirely, like I’m positive that is physiologically impossible… Yeah, I get it, you should spend time working hard towards your success. But you also have to work smart. I think that includes taking reasonable breaks and making sure your psychological and physical needs are met. In Japan, where people work harder than probably anywhere else in the world, there is a term called Karōshi. It is a well-documented phenomenon where an employee dies mid-work due to continuously working under high-stress conditions. Make sacrifices for your success, but don’t sacrifice your basic needs, please! Moving on…

3.) Pain is temporary: it may last a minute, an hour, a day, or even a year. But eventually, it will subside and something else will take its place. If you quit however, it will last forever.

I strongly agree with Eric when he says we are a “soft generation” and we all “spoiled”. We don’t fundamentally understand the value of hard-work and enduring pain. At least, I didn’t. I never really worked hard for anything in my life other than chasing girls. And I sucked at that. School was easy for me, I liked to read and my marks hovered between an A and a B. I had both parents and lived in a comfy suburban neighborhood in a town called Richmond Hill. Looking back, however, I think there were definitely painful moments of my life. Like moving to a new school mid-semester in another country, betrayal of close friends, a car accident etc. Pain never seemed like a good thing to me.

But the pain Eric talks about is the pain you must endure in order for your dreams to come true. The pain that accompanies hard-work, frustration, and failure. All the great artists and thinkers I truly admire, every single one of them worked their asses off to get themselves to be where they are now. Greatness cannot be obtained without hard-work, period. It’s hard to grasp this because hard-work is something we do not directly see in the final product. When we encounter something utterly incredible in our lives, we see something polished, elegant, and sometimes even looks effortless. But I can assure you that amazing piece of work has gone through several major revisions prior to its current form. How “effortless” something looks is in direct proportion to how much time was spent practicing and perfecting. The fruit of labor is always bright and sweet, but the roots will always be hidden and bitter. One major obstacle we all have to get past is the fear of failure. Just remember, no one is super good at something in the beginning. Adventure Time cartoon character Jake said it best: “Sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something”.

I hope Eric has moved you somewhat closer to your success. The following is a bonus video of him visiting his home town several years later.

Eric Thomas is now the author of many books and continues to inspire people across the world. For more information on Eric Thomas and his material, you can visit his official website [] and his youtube channel.


About eleganthinker

A philosopher in practice, but a poet at heart.
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One Response to Inspire Me: 3 Secrets to Success by Eric Thomas

  1. Tiffany says:

    What I think (and that I’m also guilty of doing) is that other people appear to be more successful in comparison to yourself–but what you don’t hear are the failures and sacrifices that they had to overcome in order to succeed in life.

    Let me tell you one thing that I don’t disclose to most people: I almost didn’t get into UofT. My grades were so bad in grade 11 because I realized I hated my life and I wanted to end it. It was a pretty dark period of my life that I usually dismiss it as a casual thing that happened to adolescence and puberty, but in hindsight, it was very serious and I should have talked to someone at the time. However, being the introvert that I am and not wanting to talk about it, I focused most of my energy into trying to figure out how to be happy by wasting my time on the Internet and not studying because I couldn’t figure out how to be happy and live the life that I wanted. But on the outside, my peers always thought that I was achieving so much, and getting those straight As–when in reality I was flunking half of my courses and the ones that I did well were the ones that I had a passing interest in. I just didn’t care about school anymore.

    What ultimately got me to settle down and study for grade 12 was the realization that university was a means of an escape. I could literally do anything once I get in, and I can be anything I wanted to be once I get there, and I could figure out my life. And then suddenly, that was the one thing that I wanted the most out of everything. The bad news was that my grade 11 average was literally crap. Obviously, my parents flipped and thought I could never get into university (here they talked a lot about applying for colleges, and that I could pull my average up and get into university later on), but I was determined. I worked so hard to get the highest grades I could for grade 12, but even then it didn’t seem like it was enough, because most of the science and math courses required me to remember my grade 11 knowledge that I threw down the drain the year before.

    And I applied for universities–I applied to basically every Ontario university that I could, because I didn’t think I was going to get into any one of them. Furthermore, my mother didn’t believe that I could get into any Science program, and applied for different programs of the same universities that I applied for–ones that accepted someone that had a mid-70 average. In total, we applied for 20 programs for 10 universities. And I remember one night, when everyone was asleep in my home, I broke down and prayed to God. This was a big deal for me, as I’ve been an atheist for quite some time, but this was the one thing that I wanted most of all, and I begged God that if I got into university, I wouldn’t waste that opportunity. And I got admittance–not early admittance in February, when all my peers were excitedly talking about their acceptance letters, and quickly assumed that I got a bunch of acceptances as well–but admittance in late April, when people started rejecting universities and therefore giving me their position to get into UofT. And UofT was the last university out of all the universities that I applied for to send me their acceptance package. But it didn’t matter, because I got in, and I couldn’t believe that I had a chance to do something with my life. I remember going to their open house session, and just simply taking everything in and thinking, ‘The next 4 years are going to be tough, because you’re never the type of person to do well in school, but you gotta buckle down and study if you want to get through it all. This is what you want, don’t waste this opportunity’.

    This story is common knowledge to my family, one where they never let me forget, because they often tell me that I was lucky to get in, a fluke, even though I worked my ass off for it. I know that it’s not a ‘started from the bottom, now we here’ story, it’s more of a ‘it’s easy to think that the other person has it all figured out, but they don’t’. I think that whole experience got me through the constant rejection letters I’d received for grad school for a whole semester (again, I applied to every Ontario university that I could think of) before I got accepted on my last week of undergrad, studying for my last exam. Again, it was the whole ‘I want it so bad, I’ll do anything’ experience–and I worked so hard that year to beef up my resume, get as much lab experience and taking on research projects and taking courses and not sleeping (a lot of not sleeping!) to do it all. You guys had already graduated at that time, but I needed that extra year because I knew that if I graduated at the same time as you guys, I wouldn’t be competitive enough to get into grad school. And it sucked, not graduating with you guys, and I was trying to do something that at the time seemed like a long shot, because I didn’t prepare myself to want to go to grad school, I prepared myself to pass my courses and get a degree, so again, my grades weren’t that competitive for grad school. And every supervisor I e-mailed rejected me in the fall semester, and by the winter semester I sat myself down and told myself that it was fine, I did the best that I could, I’ll graduate and find a job, and I’ll try again in September. And then, out of the blue, my supervisor e-mailed me during late April during finals week and set up a Skype meeting, as a position opened up in her lab. The night before our meeting, I was writing my Speciation final, and so when she offered me a position the next morning, I was still half-awake and figuring out whether she was for real or I was dreaming.

    And I’m here, writing it all down, just as I’m trying to figure out what I would like to do once I finish grad school. I know I tell people that I want to do a post-doc, but the reality of the situation is that it’s going to be tough to achieve it–from wrapping up my project, defending my thesis, to making sure to get my publications out there in order to stay competitive, to the same rejection cycle of obtaining a post-doc position. I guess what I really want to say after sharing these experiences (sorry for the long comment) is that to be honest, you guys always think that I’m this smart person that gets what she wants, but it’s more that I found something that I REALLY wanted in my life, more than anything in the world, and even though there’s a constant nagging in my head, telling me that I’m not smart enough, I should just quit, the actual reality is that anyone can do what I can, but it’s either a) not what they’re interested in doing or b) they don’t think they could do it. But If you set your mind to it, no one can tell you that you can’t do it.

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