The One Simple Difference Between Successful & Unsuccessful People


I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately.

My brain started to stockpile descriptions of successful people: good networkers, exquisite communicators, committed, driven, passionate, educated and blessed with strong teams, but the problem was, that cache can look quite similar to those of unsuccessful people.


So I stopped looking at the characterizations they harbored and instead investigated what it is that they do differently. (Well, I familiarized myself with a highball of scotch first and then I investigated. Investigations are much more fun with a scotch in your hand, I learned.)

My swigging and sleuthing combo led me to one conclusion. Assuming that all efforts and circumstances are equal:

Successful people finish shit.

Sacre Bleu! Could it be this simple or was this the Glenfiddich talking? I rechecked my findings and other than the fact that I chose to use the word “shit” instead of “stuff” told me that the scotch had given me a touch of crass but it hadn’t clouded my conclusion.

Finish what?

A thought. A conversation. A handshake. A draft. A book. A painting. A pick up line. A proposal. A pitch. A project that might fail. They close the circle on their accountability. They finish cleaning the office kitchen when no one’s looking. They finish writing script ideas in case anyone asks them for one. They finish the prototype even though it looks like a protozoa.

Unsuccessful people say, “I’m still working on it.”
Successful people get to, “I’m all set. Take a look.”

Successful people don’t always have the best ideas, they’re just willing to put their ideas out there and have something to point at. But if you have something to point at, that means everyone else can point at it too…and judge it, point out the holes and say what it doesn’t do.

Sorry, if you’re not willing to “finish” in the eyes of your public sphere, then you will never be deemed successful, publicly.

People like to know what you’ve done, not what you’ve worked on (Attention resume writers).

Does this mean that success is only defined by what others think? No, but you and I both know that it’s a huge component of it.

Finishing something allows you to pass the baton, the baton of work, the baton of judgement, the baton of progress.

If my duty is to punch a hole in a piece of metal so that the next person on the assembly line can thread a string through it, it does him no good if I only mill out 90% of the hole. 3 pieces milled out at 90% each, does not equal 2.7 milled out pieces.

Yes, you’re still milling things all day, putting in the same amount of work but your work is essentially useless to the greater good until the hole is punched all the way through.

Punch more holes in life. Finish shit.

  • Bassam, I’m man enough to admit you are SPOT ON!!!

    I once heard Halle Berry say as a fledgling actress it was important for her to be prepared for when opportunity knocked. Can’t be prepared if you don’t FINISH your homework.

    I’ve had time to notice, for myself, when I don’t complete something, nothing changes. Not my life, not my income, not my self image. I might not even have something new to share in conversation. How lame. When I do finish shit, I feel freaking fantastic and the whole world will know about it. My self image changes, people’s perception of me changes. They say, “that dude is winning.” And my opportunities change… for the better! Funny how that works. “Lucky” me.

    Fantastic post – a sharp shot right between the eyes! By the way, another self-medicating sleuth was Sherlock Holmes. 😉 You’re in good company for helping people solve the mysteries of their stolen/missing success.

    • bassamtarazi

      Thanks Charles! And you bring up a great point. I know I only used the angle of what the world will think of you, but as you said, we like ourselves better when we have something to point at. Finishing also proves that you’re willing to change, adapt and move on. Nothing should be stagnant, not our drivers, our beliefs or our progress, obviously.

      Keep finishing, Charles.

  • The bar on top (Home – How It Works – etc.) is so annoying. It should disappear when you scroll down.

    • It’s a navigation bar. Nice to have visible. Maybe yours flattens and expands a bit when you scroll. Mine does too. A little different, but still valuable.

      • Well then there’s got to be a blank space between the bar and the text as you scroll down.

  • Daniella Castelucci de Medeiro

    I loved this article. In a few words you expressed something that is a common place in the working environment and opened my eyes! do you mind if I translate this article to publish it in my blog, I’ll obviously mention the credits. Thank you for sharing this knowledge! and finishing this shit 😉

    • bassamtarazi

      Hi Daniella and thanks! You can most certainly translate it on your blog. Keep spreading the love. Keep finishing shit! In finishing we trust 🙂

  • gabriellpss

    Definitely, amongst the best articles I’ve read in 2013, because its simple. So simple that makes clear an old question using an old statement. Only one small contribution: The hard part, even for “finishers” is to understand what is meant by finish. For example, if you have to make a presentation for the next week and you have limited time this week, finish can also be understood as “make a good draft” or “define which topics include”, not necessarily finish everything now, but step forward, move in the right direction.

    Define what’s finishing can take some time but people should think honestly about the possibility of finishing the whole shit or part of it (and which part) before starting.

    • bassamtarazi

      100% Gabriel! Originally my article was longer as I spelled out what “finishing” could mean but I feel I was watering down my message. For me, I do everything in 30 minute increments. I own those 30-minutes and I finish until the alarm goes off.

      inch by inch, bit by bit, we finish. We can’t finish a book in one sitting. But we can finish a writing session with fervor. We can finally let something go. That’s finishing too. It’s all about getting to the next rung on the ladder. Keep rockin, brother! Keep finishing.

  • RepOfFreedom

    This explains everything! I am a serial “closer”. I move FAST. And learn even faster. I can’t believe I never realized this but thanks for pointing it out Bassam. I think you’re right on the money with this one.

    • bassamtarazi

      Thanks Heather! Glad you enjoyed and glad it struck a chord. Keep on keepin on

  • Anna Long

    So true and the more “shit” you finish, the better you feel and the more likely you will be to complete future projects…degrees…or whatever. Thanks for this!

    • bassamtarazi

      Glad you enjoyed, Anna. Yes, finishing is contagious. Keep rockin!

  • timlombardo

    This has been on my mind for a while as I’ve worked with people trying to transition into entrepreneurship or grow their businesses…usually the conversation ends up being “bring any safe-to-fail experiment to fruition.”

    I love your analogy to drilling holes, so many people mistake activity for value creation. I see solopreneurs begin working on a different task/project as soon as the current one becomes “difficult” – interestingly, this same “hard part” is usually where the value is added, many times the other activities are actually commoditized. One effective way to prevent this issue is limiting work-in-progress (wip), which comes from Toyota Production Systems or Lean. Most individuals and teams that start limiting wip improve pace and consistency of throughput (the speed at which shit gets completed).

    Some research is showing that “grit”, or the ability to hang in there until completion is one of the better predictive factors for future success. I’m interested in your thoughts on how we balance that with strategic quitting as a skill.

    • bassamtarazi

      Tim, great stuff. I like that WIP analogy. Simple and concise. The grit article/argument is fascinating as I am a believer in it. For anyone interested, I think this is a great article on the topic Tim brings up:

      You do bring up the million dollar question though of, “Ok, if grit is what counts, how do I make sure I don’t grit myself into walking off a cliff?” With my clients I talk a lot about the “I just can’t” problem. For instance, I just can’t beat Usain Bolt in a 100 meter dash. There is no sense in fighting it. But, “I just can’t finish my prototype” is a different problem. I think strategic quitting depends on the outcome desired. If we don’t know what it is we are hoping by the completion of this something, then we are going to be hard pressed to defend any reason to stick or quit.

      Anyhow, a blog post on that might be a good idea. Thanks for your insight, Tim. That was awesome.

  • You got me going! Close to home. “Finish shit” is a good mantra.

    • bassamtarazi

      Onward, robbiecat.

  • Meg

    Great Bassam – I would also like to put it on my site as love how you have put this – to the point and cuts through the crap! Thanks for sharing, Meg

    • bassamtarazi

      Yes, feel free to share Meg! Keep finishing

  • Such an amazing article man. It worked for me, it is like a huge punch on the face 🙂
    I really needed to read something like this, congrats and keep awesome.

    • bassamtarazi

      Thanks Joáo. Glad it helped!

  • Feeling re-invigorated and inspired. Thank you Basam…as always you truly hit the mark!