You have to be crazy to be highly successful.


Being realistic is the most common road to mediocrity. Why would you be realistic? What’s the point? It just puts up a barrier.
—Will Smith

Is being a little crazy a good thing?

Will Smith makes a good point (see the quote above). For many worthwhile endeavors, the odds of success are so low, the effort required so high, the sacrifices so great, that those who were dedicated enough to actually persist through the mind boggling odds must have a characteristic that keeps them going when the average person quits.

I believe that the three main attributes required to overcome such intimidating odds are:

  1. A compelling vision (purpose)
  2. A plan that’s actually effective (feasibility)
  3. A little bit of craziness

Developing a compelling vision and solid plan are topics for a separate post. For that reason, I want to write about craziness – I feel it isn’t discussed frequently enough in the world of personal development. But I believe it’s true that all highly successful people need to be at least a little crazy. And before we move any further, allow me to define what I mean by “crazy.”

For the purposes of this post, let’s define crazy as someone who possesses, for better or for worse, a view of themselves and the world that doesn’t stay true to reality, as objectively measured by statistics and probabilities.

So the craziness I am referring to in the scope of personal development is believing that you will succeed even when every rational statistician would bet against you. When your odds are 1/1,000,000, but you choose to fight through anyway. When you’ve failed 999 times before, but you believe that attempt #1,000 will be the one that changes your life.

Being realistic about everything is for the mediocre

Whether your goal is to find true love, start a successful company or change the world, those who are insistent on being “real,” “rational” or “correct” are the ones who are dooming themselves from the start.

Consider a scene from the popular sitcom show “How I Met Your Mother,” in which Ted is trying to convince a dating specialist that he doesn’t need her help:

Ellen: You give me 3 days and I will find the woman you will marry.

Ted: No, thanks. I don’t need an algorithm to meet women. It’s New York, you know. Plenty of fish in the sea!

Ellen: Plenty of fish in the sea! [grabs a calculator from the desk and starts clicking away] There’s 9 million people in New York. 4.5 million women. Of course, you want to meet someone roughly your own age – let’s say plus, minus 5 years. So if you take into account the most recent census data that leaves us with 482,000 women. But wait! 48% of those are already in relationships, and then you have to eliminate half for intelligence, sense of humor and compatibility. And then you have to take out the ex girlfriends and the relatives. And, oh, you can’t forget those lesbians. And then that leaves us with 8 women.

Ted: That can’t be right! Eight? Really? Eight?

Ellen: There are 8 fish in that big blue ocean, Ted. And if you feel confident that you can reel one into your boat without me, there’s the door.

Ted: Do you take credit cards?

Could you imagine if every guy were given the exact odds that they’ll meet someone that’s perfect for them? It would simply dissuade and discourage, rather than help.

Being realistic about everything is for the mediocre. Click To Tweet

A few friends of mine prefer to think along the lines of, “Destiny will bring me the person that is right for me, so I must keep looking.” Although that attitude isn’t grounded in science or realistic probability, it’s that kind of attitude that keeps the hopeful person in the game much longer than any overly-rational person would. And staying in the game is the only way you’ll ever meet the right person. This leads to an interesting conclusion:

A belief grounded in non-reality can oftentimes be the reason you achieve real results when “rational” people don’t even bother because the odds are so low.

Powerful examples of this phenomenon in action can be found in the stories of Holocaust survivors (see Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl), famous actors and other celebrities, successful entrepreneurs, war heroes, victims of tragedy and more. Whether enduring through pain and suffering, or giving their all to try and change the world, the odds are never good for these people. Only by maintaining a crazy, unrealistic view of the world – and their ability to succeed in it – were they able to wake up every day with enough hope to get themselves through to the next day.

Imagine an entrepreneur woke up every morning and reviewed the failure rate of all start-up businesses in her industry. Imagine a war hero woke up every morning and reviewed how many comrades have died in the war he was fighting, and his subsequent chances for survival. These reality checks are not conducive to fighting the good fight. And they never will be as long as we are emotional creatures that rely on hope.

A belief grounded in non-reality can oftentimes be the reason you achieve real results. Click To Tweet

You have a choice to make

You have two choices you can make in any endeavor. The first is to be realistic, rational and honest with yourself and choose not to pursue it (or at least limit how much time you spend on it) because you don’t have what it takes to see it through. The other choice is to pursue it with such ferocity and fire, that you believe you have what it takes to become the best in the world. Most of your choices should be the former – no one in the world has the time, nor ability, to pursue everything with such intensity. But it becomes an issue when you don’t apply the latter to any of your goals.

Stop reading right now, and ask yourself the following question:

Which endeavor in my life am I going to pursue with a crazy, unmitigated ferocity? And can I promise myself that I’ll work at it until I’m the best in the world?

Have you identified a goal or endeavor that’s important enough to you to meet the requirements in the question above? If not, some soul searching will do you good.

If you’ve identified a goal that’s immensely valuable to you, take it from Will Smith: Being realistic is the surest route to mediocrity. So be unrealistic. Be irrational, and even slightly crazy. It’s those slightly distorted beliefs about your ability to succeed that will push you past the horribly discouraging failure and lack of results that all high-achievers experience (Seth Godin refers to this as “making it through the dip”) until you break through to the successful side. Just link that crazy attitude with a solid plan and a compelling purpose and you’re ready to go.

I’m personally tired of being so rational all the time. It’s time to bet on my success, despite the odds. It’s time to politely ignore those who dissuade me (even though they will use perfectly sound logic and rational thinking to argue against me). It’s time to develop effective action plans and see them through as if my life depended on it. Even if I don’t make it through to the successful side, I will have infused my life with purpose and can know for the rest of my life that I gave it my all.

Are you ready to stop being so realistic all the time?

Image credit: deveion acker

About Jon Guerrera

I'm Jon Guerrera, a life hacker at heart and the man behind the scenes here at Living For Improvement. This blog documents all of my successes, failures, and lessons learned as I experiment with finding happiness and fulfillment. I also wrote an e-book. If you like what I write on the blog, you can grab a free copy by subscribing.
  • jopland

    Nice article mate

  • Joseph Weaver

    Wow this is amazing stuff dude! <3

  • Thanks Joe!

  • Truth. I feel validated.
    Awesome article.

  • JS

    Please read. I found another article that was very similar to this one, dated several months after the fact. Here is the link:
    Some of it was word for word. Thank you.

  • Thanks, JS! Plagiarism is the worst. Thankfully, it appears that author isn’t “writing” anymore. Cheers!

  • John Jones

    You are right on my head! but being crazy even for killing and screaming at people is an psychological disease it may causes to death it stresses and it makes the person fat and also it makes the demon ride on his soul so i disagree on this my topic but too much can be dangerous and my theory now regarding your article of what you ive wrote being motivated or crazy on work,love,sex and comedy is much better because at least it doesn’t scrambles your home not at least it can scrambles the world if left uncontrolled with many populations of this world. Take Care of Yourselfs O World!!