The Iceberg Illusion of Success



More often than not we are in awe of witnessing someone else’s success. This success can be viewed above the surface level.


However, most of us don’t factor in the cost of opportunity that person paid to achieve their success(es).


"If we choose, we can live in a world of comforting illusion"
- Noam Chomsky

This path to success is a marathon, not a sprint. Success doesn’t have a just add water feature yet!


You’ll still need to roll up your sleeves and get to work on securing your goals, vision and dreams.


Admiring the thirty percent that we do see is called the “iceberg illusion”.


I first heard about this analogy in one of my sociology courses that I took while completing my Human Resource diploma with George Brown College. It stuck with me for the past two years now and has been one of my favourite analogies to use because most of us are so oblivious to what happens backstage, underneath the surface, and behind closed doors.


As a high achiever in life, I completely embody this analogy because whenever huge accomplishments, recognition, awards, scholarship, grants are awarded to me, it’s at that time that people praise me and want to know the secrets of how I accomplished abovementioned success.


Behind closed doors, many will never get the chance to see the countless sacrifices, homework or hours of rehearsals that one must trench through to get those successes.


There are no shortcuts.


Let’s look at why individuals are so hyper focus on outcomes.


One large contributing factor (or failings) is the presence of social media.



It’s a beast that’s infamous for creating the illusion and false representation of the steps to success.


What we don’t see is the loneliness, the necessary failures, the unseen hours of work, the countless hours of learning, the late nights and very early mornings, as well as the crawling before we walk or much less run.


Think of social media as the highlight reel that captures all the happy times and skips over the failures, mistakes, challenges, errors, and miscalculations.


There are no shortcuts, nor are there any overnight successes.


Success is taking the scenic route while stopping periodically to smell the flowers.

The Pseudo-Comprehension of Success


"Successful people and over-achievers don't get results by accident. While luck has its part in success, they don't wait for luck to happen. They are deliberate in what they do and open to new paths."
- Roberto Zoia, Effective Goal Setting

This quote sums up why having superb talent and no drive is non comparable to one who is growing and learning…painfully…climbing inch-by-inch towards success.


The final product is the equivalent to crossing the finish line in a 10K run.


Yet, you know what has happened behind the scenes in order to show the final results to the world.


The pseudo-comprehension of success is the true gap that limits the understanding of success.


If individuals are going to improve their internal and external realities, they should first be willing to embrace life’s challenges, failures and mess-ups.


When you are making mistakes, you should pivot your outlook and allow yourself to make mistakes.


Use a journal or note when the mistake happened. As annoying as this exercise is by bringing up your mistake you are capturing these moments to use as growth opportunities.

It’s the actions that come after the mistake that are crucial in setting you up for future successes in life.


Did you know that us humans are persistently trying to control our outcomes and desires to suit our interests?


Did you also know that we are hardwired to make mistakes (and lots of them)?


The reality is that we learn by doing.


Childhood is a perfect example of learning by asking and doing.


Human beings cannot get better at something if you’re stopping yourself or are being stopped from learning.


In the workplace, many can agree that making mistakes are viewed as a negative outcome.


That’s why most employees work hard enough to do their job(s) well because they believe making mistakes would negatively impact their performance review.


Employers that embrace mistakes and growing pains would even go as far as to recreate the challenge again for more opportunities of learning, growth and success.


Humanizing Errors


Celebrate mistakes…go as far as to even highlight your mistakes to humanize the experience and become more relatable to others.

Albert Einstein once said, “anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”.

How much truer can that quote be?!


When creating a culture of learning and growing, you intentionally create a culture accepting of errors and mistakes.


So how does making mistakes tie into success?


The majority of our success or approximately seventy percent of it is buried underneath the surface and are the components that truly make up your highlights on that highlight reel (social media reference).


We’re just going to have to get use to stumbling, failing, and re-trying A LOT before you start seeing any successes in life.


Get used to tripping and falling down.


I know it sound counter-intuitive to make mistakes and lots of them, but that’s the only way to build yourself up to becoming a high-performer.



“Do it again. Play it again. Sing it again. Read it again. Sketch it again. Rehearse it again. Run it again. Try it again. Because again is practice and practice is improvement and improvement only leads to perfection.
– Richelle E. Goodrich

This quote nicely captures the essence of this article. Don’t get fooled into thinking success has an add water feature and ta da you’ve made it.


If that were the case, there would be no use for the phrase “hard work” or the word “practice”.


In order to achieve great success, you’ll need to practice your way into it!


- Thank you for reading and I appreciate your continued support


- Articulate Tee

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