Why Do So Many People With The Keys To The Castle Fail?

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keys to castle success

True story.

A year or so ago, a friend came to me for advice about launching, marketing and growing a boutique wellness business. Lets call him Jack.

I know the boutique health, fitness and lifestyle industry very well and I love mentoring, so I spend a solid chunk of time delivering a set of detailed, step-by-step instructions designed to fire up the business. The techniques I offered worked. I knew, because I’d tested them in my own and other businesses. All he had to do was execute.

Jack vanished for about 6 months, when I got another call asking for more help.

This time, I’m a bit hesitant, because it’s fairly obvious Jack hasn’t acted on much of the advice I provided. But I really like Jack, so I spent another few hours with him, first confirming that most of the original steps were never taken, then reassessing the current state of his business and telling him exactly what he needed to do to quickly turn around what now seems to be a failing business. And, I tell him to call if he needs me.

Another six-months go by, when I get an e-mail. Jack’s given up. The business is done.

Somewhere in the middle of this, I get a call from another person out of the blue, let’s call her Lisa. Lisa is a friend of a friend. She is looking to launch a similar business in a really tough market. I actually advise against it, but she’s fiercely committed to making it happen.

Even though my schedule is beyond packed, I am floored by her passion and agree to meet and share a few thoughts. Over the next year, that initial meeting turns into a string of semi-regular mentoring sessions, where I help her with everything from the initial planning to negotiating the lease to branding the concept and creating a high-profile launch campaign. Lisa implements everything like clockwork.

Two months ago, the business launched and blew away all expectations.

Lisa torched her first-week projections by 50%, was instantly in the black and is on fast-track to success. Her market wasn’t any better than Jack’s. The service wasn’t any more or less desirable. And, she was no more or less passionate about the benefits it offered. If anything, Lisa’s model was far tougher to pull off, because it relied upon a far larger customer-base in a much more competitive setting.

Two people in a similar biz. Both had the keys to the castle. Both knew exactly what to do to succeed. But only one took action.

FYI – these were not paid clients, but rather people who I’d agreed to mentor on a casual basis, making myself available if and when they asked.

My question to you, my fabulous blog-family, is why?

Why do some people, once given the answers, blaze ahead and succeed, while others with the very same answers sit, wallow and fail?

It’s not about knowledge. So, what is it?

Let’s discuss…

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38 responses

38 responses to “Why Do So Many People With The Keys To The Castle Fail?”

  1. […] Go to the author’s original blog: Why Do So Many People With The Keys To The Castle Fail? […]

  2. Jon says:

    It comes down to motivation. One of these people had a motivation that was embedded deep in her psyche, the other did not. He may have had a dream, and he may have been passionate about his dream, but he simply didn’t have the motivation to actually Do it.

    Doesn’t make either one of them a ‘better’ person. Just makes them different. Each of us are suited best to different things at different times in our lives. Maybe 10 years from now, or 10 years ago, the results would have been different.

  3. Claudia says:

    Mental block, fear of success in Jack. My bet.

  4. Rachel Beer says:

    Agreed. Fear/ self-doubt = procrastination and lack of performance.

    People that can influence the success of your business – not just clients – investors, partners, mentors, and so on, pick up on this too. You did.

    The difference between true commitment to success and having a dream.

  5. Some people jump, some don’t. Business is about taking risks and MAKING it work – not everyone has that entrepreneurial personality.

    I was discouraged several years ago from starting my own business, because that person didn’t think I had the personality for it – but I started anyhow and have made my own living ever since. Revenue rising year by year.

  6. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Jon – Motivation plays a role, but I can tell you that both truly wanted to succeed and, in fact, Jack had far greater motivation in the form of a family he had to support, while Lisa was younger, without kids and didn’t have the same burden. So, there’s got to be more to the equation.

    Curious, too, a question for all – what exactly IS motivation anyway?

    @ Claudia – Thanks for your thoughts, I have to be honest, I’ve heard the term mental block many times before, but I think it’s become a bit of a catch-all for “something went wrong, but we can’t figure out what.”

    Your point about fear of success is a really interesting one, though. One that often ties back to teachings about not shining or standing out from the crowd for fear of being deemed arrogant or egotistical or superior. My favorite quote on this subject is one that has been attributed both to Nelson Mandela and Mariane Williamson (apparently, there’s a debate about it). It’s a bit long, but it goes like this:

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’

    Actually, who are you not to be. Your are a child of God, your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so other people won’t feel insecure around you.

    We are born to make manifest the glory of God that’s within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear our presence automatically liberates others.”

    Whether you believe in God or not, the bigger message is pretty profound.

    @ Rachel – Great point about people, I think that was a bit part of the equation. Jack was pretty much going it alone. I was the only source of information and support and, while I made myself available, he never took advantage. Lisa actually had a partner, too, who she leaned on for support and she turned to me for information on a regular basis. Having support, I think, is one of the great keys to success.

    @ Katinka – Risk tolerance is a big part of the puzzle, too. But, interestingly enough, the person who failed was the one who’d already made the initial commitment of capital and launched the business BEFORE even coming to me.

    I think one of the big challenges, too, is that everyone wants to be an entrepreneur…until they are one, then the vast majority want nothing to do with it, once they realize what it really is.

    Love the conversation gang, let’s keep it going…

  7. Merlene says:

    My first thought, before reading comments was fear of success.

    I think a lot of people subconsciously get in their own way. They fear they’re not good enough, not worthy, undeserving and wind up putting assorted mental and physical roadblocks in their own way without even realizing it.

    I also think once someone gets into the habits that sabbotage their own success it’s very hard to turn it around with real conscious effort.

    (I’m not speaking from experience here… oh no… not me 😉

  8. Talk about kismet. I really needed to hear this. Thanks, Jonathan.

  9. Jon says:

    Aww, Jonathan, I have to agree with you. I’m amazed I didn’t see think of that conditioning you speak of, since that is my greatest weakness. At 48, I can attest to the reality of that conditioning.

    When we were younger, I seemed to ‘outshine’ all of my 6 brothers and sisters until I finally just wanted to ‘fit in’ with my family. I learned to succeed marginally rather than spectacularly. I learned how it felt to be Silver or Bronze and let someone else take the gold.

    I remember feeling just awful about being gifted, because it seemed that the rest of us worked so hard and nothing ever came from it. I had that very thought you quoted above: “Who am I to be so great?”

    I wish I had carried that one step further. Who am I, who are any of us, not to be so great? It has taken me until recently to decide to shine again. But it’s not easy breaking your own conditioning.

    Love your work Jonathan.

  10. Alex says:

    Thanks for the great post, and commentss.

    I think that the comments about belief in oneself and subconcious inhibititions are right on in terms of how and why one person succeeds while another fails.

    At the same time, however, sometimes failure is the best thing that can happen to us. Perhaps Jack’s real dream wasn’t this business, and a failure such as this can awaken him to the real dream. I am always reminded about the Financial Guru Suze Orman’s life story of losing $50,000 (a personal gift to start up her dream restaurant) because she was swindled by a financial advisor, and getting into the financial industry as a result of seeing how corrupt the business is. When people today as her if she would rather be in the restaurant business, she says that if this massive failure hadn’t have happened, she wouldn’t be where she is today!

    Ultimately, it’s all a matter of perspective. Sometimes failure, whether self-induced or not, can turn out to be a good thing!

  11. zania says:

    I think Merlene is right in that we can get into habits that sabotage our own success, so we need to work on breaking those habits before we can succeed at any of our goals.

    But support also comes into it as you said. It is one thing to have support from someone showing us the way forward, but sometimes we also need support from our partner or someone close, just so that we can sound off to them about what we are doing.

    At the end of the day though, sometimes we may be enthusiastic about a project and have all the tools necessary to carry it out, but we do not have the energy to do so at that particular time. Perhaps that happened to Jack.

  12. Lance says:

    My first thought also is fear. Fear of possibly many things – failure, success, the unknown, change. I also think there could be some fear for the lady who succeeded as well The difference being that she was able to harness that fear, while the gentleman you worked with was possibly immobilized by it. Fear can be good and bad – it really depends upon what you do with it.

  13. Nickey says:

    I launched my own Virtual Assistant business last October. Although I felt it started out slow, 8+ months later I’m wondering how I’m going to get help so I can grow it bigger. It’s hard to describe motivation in a concrete way that fits everyone. I feel being successful in anything that you do is by not looking at it as a business, a job, work – but a lifestyle. I do what I have to do to get the work done – whether it’s 6 a.m. to midnight and weekends, knowing that it’s just for now – when I can figure out how to get help and utilize help, I will have free time again.

    Did’s Jack’s family get in the way? Did he make his family a part of his business so they didn’t feel left out in the cold while he was putting everything he had into the business? Because that’s what it takes – everything. Did he feel he was battling everyone or did he have support?

    It takes everything to make a business grow – at least in the beginning. Did Lisa perhaps have “everything” to give?

  14. Wow, what a question. There has to be conflict of some sort to keep us from the forward motion. This is akin to obstacles, but a bit different. Real obstacles are picked up looked at and handled as they crop up according to resources and ingenuity. Conflicts, well conflicts, no matter whether it is fear of failure or success, or just unclear vision, these do not go away as obstacles are cleared out of the way. Conflict is out and out resistance. It is a wall we ‘ll slap up against consciously or unconsciously. Getting to that wall is actually a good thing. Finding that contradicting thing, can be a great, aha moment. Recognizing the wall can also move us from conflict to action. And that is probably where motivation comes in. How badly do we want it?

  15. Shama Hyder says:

    Ready, Set, Action…oh wait-What happened to the Action? = )

    I think it’s

    1) Motivation to Act
    2) Discipline to stick to a goal!


  16. shelley says:

    I agree with so much that has been said.

    At our core we are in a struggle against dignity and depravity. We combat this through shame and contempt.

    If you see how good I am then you will want more and then once I set a boundary ( like I am too tired to help you) then you will be angry with me and leave me. If you see how bad I am at something then you will find me worthless and then you will leave me.
    Since we are all in a struggle to maintain our closest relationships we constantly feel shame from others when we under perform (depravity) and we show self contempt as to combat this shame to save face(dignity). If I knock myself down lower than you would have then at least I can be “Prepared” for the injury that follows.

    All of this comes from a great man, writer, speaker, named Dan Allender. He works in the context of spiritual relationships but I think his argument certainly applies here.

    – shelley 🙂

  17. Why do some people, once given the answers, blaze ahead and succeed, while others with the very same answers sit, wallow and fail?

    On the surface the person who didn’t follow through seems to be suffering from fear. But much deeper there is likely a mismatch between their conscious desire and their subconscious belief. Until the subconscious is convinced of our worth and the worthiness of our goals, it will sabotage any efforts that are in conflict with its beliefs.

  18. Walt Goshert says:

    “I want my business to grow, but I don’t want to change.”

    Yes Flora, I agree… it’s the disconnect between the conscious and subconscious that prevents people from taking actions outside their comfort zones.

    You may want it so bad you can taste it, but until it becomes that burning desire that consumes your subconscious, it ain’t gonna happen.

    “Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

  19. Kelly says:


    You have a great discussion going here. This is something I’ve talked about on my blog a couple of times, and my personal feeling is that it is totally wrapped up in self-esteem. Loving the field and loving hard work are not enough, oddly. You have to love you. A few folks have touched on that a bit here. I think it’s even more important than wanting the win. Self-esteem is more like you believe you deserve the win, and that, combined with having the “keys to the castle,” is pretty powerful stuff.



  20. Ben says:

    It is about attitude. It is about focus, attention, and commitment. (Focus + frequent attention)x level of commtiment = level of success.

    I see it every day in our efforts to implement change in our business. Every single daaaaay.

    Great Topic!

  21. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Everyone – great discussion, lots of focus on the concept of fear and it seems we’re talking not only about fear of failure (which tends to be more overt and easier to deal with), but also fear of success (which is often far harder to identify and work on).

    Of these two, I wonder which is a stronger saboteur of success? What do you guys think?

    It’s interesting, too, because if you are really looking to help someone, it seems knowing what their primary internal roadblocks are would just as important as understanding what information they need. Because, with this knowledge, you could better tailor the “mode” of intervention.

    I sometimes wonder, when I see people offer coaching, mentoring or advisory services that follow a “highly-standardized” approach, methodology or system, whether applying the same system to people with very different modes of operation, emotional bias, risk tolerance and history of fear-response patterning does more dis-service than service.

    What do you guys think?

  22. Eric says:

    Anything highly standardized is the opposite of what I have always found to be most effective – highly customized.

    Back to Jack and Lisa. Actually, let’s go back to one of your previous posts – effortless success. Lisa found flow and was “in the zone” with what she was doing – bottom line: this is her passion. Conscious and sub-conscious not being connected only means you are doing something for the wrong reason and your sub-conscious knows. This is the fear generator. So it sounds like Jack fell in love with the idea of a wellness business while Lisa’s wellness business was her passion. To simplify (or steal) Ben’s equation: Level of passion = Level of success

  23. Bob Collier says:

    In my view, you’re right. Success or failure for any individual is a product of how that individual’s neurology is configured. In other words, what they believe, about who they are, what they can do, what they can have, what the world they live in is ‘really like’.

    Good or positive advice in itself rarely changes belief. What will be acted upon by one individual will often demotivate another.

  24. Peter Blue says:

    I think some people just don’t want to succeed! Although they speak differently. We experience this sometimes when workin with artists in our studio.
    They ask for advice, help. We take some time and energy – afterwards nothing happens. They act as if they had never gotten our advice.
    We try to check very carefully if someone really wants our help or if he is just pretending.

  25. Naomi Niles says:

    I agree that fear in all shapes and forms can be a big force. Fear can even be motivational, but that’s not very fun.

    I would say fear of failure rather than fear of success would be a stronger saboteur because it could cause you to not get off the ground in the first place.

    Personally, I feel that having a positive attitude and discipline are the two most important factors. I used to my main motivation for negative reasons. I felt a lack of support from family and friends and wanted to prove them wrong. It made me work really hard, for sure. And I think that works for some people, but in the end was limiting for me.

    When I decided to do the best I can for clients first and then myself and not worry about other people, things improved a whole lot. Actually, revenues doubled in one year with no other specific reason why. And, I get to go to bed every night happier now. 🙂

  26. A lot of interesting comments here, but I like Jonathan’s the best: that we were made to manifest the glory of God. I have read, and agree, that we humans are afraid of the light (what might be seen in our darkest chambers?) and prefer the comfort and familiarity of the dark (and all that it entails).

    Looking at my own life and business, I have to say the one thing that has and continues to keep me from being successful is discipline. I can know all that I should do, but then it comes down to whether I will make the effort to do it. I am realizing that for me to add or change something in my life, something else has to give. I can’t add unless I remove something else, and this comes down to prioritizing the things in my life. It may come down to preferring hanging around doing nothing rather than putting forth the energy to make a change. Going against the current is no easy, mindless task!

    Now, if I can just do what I say…. 🙂

  27. Jonathan-Good discussion. Highly standardized mentoring or coaching, in my view is a disservice to the individual.It will only get the individual so far. In my experience offering a highly customized mentoring program worked much better. I worked in small groups. It was very demanding of my energies, but in the end the individual growth in my mentoring group was fabulous. The thrust of the activities were presented to all equally, but the execution guidance was one on one and was directly responsive to the needs presented.
    I encountered more fear of failure than fear of success. It is hard to say which is more inhibiting. Personally, I think they can have equal tugs and present simultaneously at times. That will really keep someone on the fence. So chunking things down in small steps makes a lot of sense. And key is the idea that it is okay to make mistakes. In fact encouraging experimentation and mistakes was essential in several cases.
    It’s funny, success in other parts of one’s life is sometimes hard to replicate in a different part. That subconscious wall has to be met and hurdled, or knocked down.

  28. shelley says:

    Agreed- Highly customized.

  29. zania says:

    You were asking which is a stronger saboteur of success – fear of success or fear of failure. I think you answered your own question. It depends on the individual.
    It also depends on where that individual is at that particular place and time, and only individual mentoring, customized in relation to that particular individual will work. But even then you cannot guarantee success, because people change every day…

    As to me personally, I was always one of those who ‘succeeded’, so fear of failure would be stronger to me, but how I reacted to that fear would depend on whether I thought, deep down, I could complete the task.
    So for me, the lack of motivation to succeed would mean that I felt I couldn’t complete the task in the first place, which is not quite the same as being put off by fear of failure as I know I can succeeed at other tasks.

  30. Anita says:

    Motivation doesn’t seem like the right word, more like follow-through. Successful people know only big success and utter failure, they don’t know how to give up. Many successful people are afraid of failure, but they follow-through with their plan and anyway.

    Those who never start, or who stop at the first roadblock, are the ones who can never achieve success … although they may never know great failure either.

  31. Yoav says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    Great post and even better discussion.


    Contrary to the popular opinion, I think the reason Jack failed and Lisa Succeeded isn’t fear of success or failure it’s because Lisa was reading the Wall Street Journal and JAck wasn’t (or was it the Economist) 🙂

  32. Marvin says:

    Jack wasn’t hungry for success —
    Lisa was!

    When you’re hungry you eat!


  33. Nez says:

    Motivation, passion, drive — all the buzzwords we hear.

    Think about this:

    The NBA are full of super-elite athletes, men with less than 10% fat, lean, mean muscle tissue, stamina beyond us mere mortals, etc.

    So why was there only one Michael Jordan? After all, the two-guard/swingman position is easily the most common. Lots of NBA players are 6’6″ 210-220 lbs.

    Michael had the drive, the commitment, the sheer will and determination to make the best of the physical gifts he was given.

    He had the mental part to go with the physical.

    Perhaps he even had the spirit.

    That’s what your friend Lisa obviously has, and what Jack lacks (ooh, I made a rhyme).

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  34. Richard Howes says:

    Hi All, from the colonies (South Africa)

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned is self belief. Let me share something with you that will illustrate the point.

    I have started several businesses. One or two are even still limping along and I earn my living from an entrepreneurial business my father founded and I now own and run.

    Self belief, self esteem, self confidence, call it what you will but this is a key ingredient. I grew up in a stable family, but in war torn Rhodesia at the height of the conflict (born in ’69 and left in ’80).

    My father was a domineering, critical man that thought he was helping his children by criticizing their weaknesses and pointing out their faults so that they could “work on improving”.

    What he did was take potential (my siblings and I are intelligent and capable) and create timid people with little self belief.

    So, while I have started my own businesses I have not had the confidence to take the radical steps necessary to ensure massive success. Steps like you took Jonathan, or ‘Lisa’, jumping into a difficult market with large challenges, and despite naysayers, believing you could make it work.

    There are many things I have wanted to do in my businesses. Lead like Ricardo Semler, build radically different cultures, buck the trend. The things that make true entrepreneurs like Richard Branson successful. They believe they will succeed no matter what the odds and that ensures they take the radical approaches that separate them from the crowd and ensure success.

    But that takes huge self belief.

    I could go on, but I’ll spare you. Some day soon I am going to create a blog on this very subject.

    Regards from darkest Africa

  35. Steve M says:

    We might be looking too deep into this. I think it comes down to plain laziness on Jack’s part. Even though he had the answers to running a successful business right in front of him he chose not to act on them.

    I’ll bet that once he heard them his reaction wasn’t an excited one, and he continued to seek easier answers that would require less time, less work and less effort. Laziness.

    I see it all the time in helping people lose weight. I can give them all the answers to get the weight off, but it’s not what they want to hear. They want we to tell them to take a pill, sit on the couch and the weight will just fall off you.

    The worst part is that those same people are the very first to complain about the situation they are in. Overweight, failing business, whatever the goal is.

  36. Natasha says:

    Sorry if this isn’t really contributing, but if I were Jack or Lisa, I would feel really embarrassed that you’d posted this. Just a thought. I’m not sure if you got their approval first but they could get embarrassed or even angry if they found this.

  37. Ollie Hicks says:

    Some people are insulted by having to do any work and would really rather you said, ‘Oh, just move aside and let me do it for you.’?

  38. Dendy says:

    This is the article I was looking for, thanks for sharing