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Picture featuring Barbara Corcoran on creating success for John R. Miles blog

How Do You Create Success? Life Lessons From Barbara Corcoran


We hear the term success all the time, and it carries considerable weight today in society, both in how others perceive our success and how we define it for ourselves. Many people believe they create success by earning a degree, buying a house, a car, or a yacht. It can also be determined by their career, awards, accolades, and recognition. For others, it may mean getting married and having a family.

But have you ever thought about creating success as giving back to the world and making a difference in others’ lives? Or, perhaps success is doing the things you love when you want to do them and with whom you want to do them with.

Renowned author and leadership consultant Miles Munroe once said, “True success is not a project but a journey.”

This quote summarizes that when we create success it is not determined by a single event but by a succession of steps and actions. It shows that we are never to conclude that a person is unsuccessful simply because of temporary situations that do not fit into the general definition of success.

Let’s look at how to create success through the unique rags-to-riches story of American businesswoman and Shark Tank celebrity investor Barbara Corcoran.

This article is based on an episode I did for Passion Struck with John R. Miles.

The inspiring story of Barbara Corcoran

It was another school day, and Barbara Corcoran attended the reading class that she so dreaded. Her Teacher, Mrs. Marie, wrote a sentence on the board and looked around the class for whom to call to read it out.

“Hey Barbara,” she called, pointing at her with the ruler in her hand. “Read this out.”

Timidly, Barbara stood up and nervously attempted to read out the sentence, but she couldn’t. She then stared at the sentence for what appeared to be hours but couldn’t figure out how to read it.

Steadily, Mrs. Stella walked towards her seat and “Thwack!” She landed her ruler on the back of Barbara’s neck. Then she leaned over, close enough for Barbara to see the black hairs twitching on her chin. “Barbara Ann, if you don’t learn to pay attention,” she scowled, “you’ll always be stupid.”

Hearing this, the entire class burst out in laughter.

Barbara Corcoran sucked in her breath, counted to a hundred, and concentrated hard so the tears burning her eyes wouldn’t leak out.

After class, she cried all the way back to their house on Undercliff Avenue, ran up to the woods, and sat on a big rock by the stream. She was convinced she would never learn to read. Every time she guessed, she was wrong. And when she knew she was right, she was still wrong.

She often found herself distracted and unable to concentrate. She couldn’t understand the words unless they were read to her: b always looked like a d, p looked like g, and e just looked plain weird.

Unknown to her at that time, she suffered from dyslexia.

Barbara stifled her tears in time for dinner, not wanting anyone to know that her teacher had said she was stupid. “How could she be?” She thought to herself. She was the family entertainer; she created the games and came up with the ideas for the ‘shows’ she and her four siblings held in their basement. She had always thought she was brilliant but now felt she was a dumb kid.

After the family had dinner and the table cleared, her Mom asked her to stay with her in the kitchen.

“I got a call today from your teacher, Mrs. Stella Marie,” she told her while sweeping the floor. “She said you’re having trouble reading.”

Barbara’s eyes welled with tears. Her Mom put down the broom, held her shoulders with both hands, and looked her straight in the eyes.

“Barbara,” she said encouragingly, “don’t you worry about it. You have a wonderful imagination. And with it, you can fill in any blanks.”

With that, she smiled and picked up her broom.

Years later, Corcoran revealed, “I feel like my whole life I’ve been insecure about looking not smart. So I feel like everything I do is a constant attempt to prove to whoever’s around me that I can measure up. I’m also proving to myself that I’m always running around with insecurity.”

In the years that followed, she didn’t let that feeling of insecurity halt her ambitions, but it didn’t come overnight. By the time she turned 23, Barbara Corcoran had already 20 jobs and was working as a waitress. That is when she obtained a $1,000 loan to launch her real estate company in New York City. Thirty years later, she oversees a $5 billion real estate business, is a successful TV personality, and is the author of Shark Tales: How I Turned $1,000 into a Billion Dollar Business.

This story leads to a series of essential questions:

  • Is there a wrong way to create success?
  • What is the meaning of true success, and how can I define it for myself?
  • Is success measurable?
  • What can I do to create success?

Is there a wrong way to create success?

Author Steven Covey remarks, “If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.” This statement clearly indicates that it is possible to pursue the wrong kind of perceived success.

You may find it interesting to know that many people’s definitions and ideas of success are inaccurate, deceptive, and unacceptable. They often adhere to what society tells them is important: the pursuit of materialistic things. Or what others might call the quantified society, where we are judged by various metrics such as followers, likes, grades, type of car, salary, house size, etc. The higher someone scores on those metrics, the more successful society determines them to be.

Quote by John R. Miles on how to create success

When you base how you create success around fame, wealth, possessions, titles, or accolades, you find yourself unable to enjoy and be passionate about what you are doing. Thus, success by that definition is, by definition, made up and does not exist.

Instead of following an explorative or creative mindset, we turn life into a competition. In short, we pursue the made-up system of what society tells us we should be doing instead of the life we were meant to be living.

When this happens, you are almost certain to suppress your natural instincts to pursue true and lasting success. This will most certainly lead to a general sense of discontent with life.

This is why you must define the version of success for yourself and yourself alone before attempting to achieve it.

What is the meaning of true success, and how can I define it for myself?

True success always begins with who you are as a person and the unique gifts, abilities, and talents you’ve been given.

On your road to becoming successful, you need to first ask yourself, what is success to me?

Success begins in our minds. Said another way, our thoughts become actions, and actions produce outcomes. So the success equation starts with our mindset and controlling our thoughts. Good ideas create positive habits, which yield favorable results. Once you realize this, you make the space within yourself to realign harmoniously with your essential self and become the best you can be with your gifts.

“We create success or failure on the course primarily by our thoughts,” Gary Player

The goal of defining your own success is to begin by living a life based on your own terms and expectations. This starts by focusing your actions on activities that bring you joy, a sense of fulfillment, service, and advancement.

In defining true success for yourself, you need to stay true to a more profound sense of purpose and meaning. You need to have the courage to pursue your own journey when confronted with the fear of uncertainty. You need to choose your own path rather than merely follow the empty promise of conventional success.

In doing so, you must be conscious and intentional about living with the core values that allow you to genuinely connect to a cause or community beyond yourself. Whatever success you achieve should connect you to others and positively impact their lives.

Is success measurable?

According to the article, the true measure of success in the Harvard Business Review, there is a sequence for selecting metrics that allow a company to comprehend, track, and oversee the cause-and-effect relationships that determine its performance. These same steps, taken in this exact order, can also be applied to charting one’s personal goals:

  • Define your governing purpose.
  • Assess the drivers of that purpose by developing a theory of cause and effect.
  • Identify the specific activities that you can execute to achieve the desired objective.
  • Measure your outputs to ensure they constantly align with your end goals.

A clear governing purpose is essential to individual success because it guides the allocation of time and effort. Defining one’s objective requires us to outline what success is to each of us individually, considering our unique abilities. Developing a theory of cause and effect to assess presumed drivers of the objective translates to examining your reasons for choosing that goal and what achieving them will result in.

Identifying the specific activities that can help achieve the governing objective translates to consciously making actionable plans and taking steps to lead to your desired goals. Measuring your outputs to ensure they align with the objective translates to consistently reviewing your plans and ensuring they are well in line with your end destination.

What can I do to create success?

In achieving true and lasting success, you need to actively pursue what you aim for. Let’s go back to our story about Barbara Corcoran.

Because of her dyslexia, Corcoran was labeled the ‘dumb kid’ by her teachers and classmates. However, she later says that the bullying “drove her to work harder and learn the skills she needed to succeed.” In like manner, you can use the rejections and obstacles you face to fuel your desired future.

Realize that success is a continuous process and not a fixed destination. It is not just a state of being but an evolving journey of achieving your goals, by taking action, step by step.

Most importantly, it would be impossible to achieve your goals without full faith in yourself, no matter how hard you try. Even though Barbara Corcoran had a learning disability, she learned that her past did not define her future, and she could rise about that and believe in her ability to be successful.

Corcoran made significant personal strides without recognizing the extent of the odds stacked against her. Her success alone is confirmation that “looking good on paper” — being at the top of your class, the best athlete, or even progressing at the same rate as your peers — does not equate to future success in life.

Without belief in yourself, the hard work, sleepless nights, and effort you put in simply goes down the drain. Do not permit self-defeating thoughts, and don’t give in to excuses and reasons why you cannot achieve a successful and fulfilling life. And just as Jen Bricker-Bauer pointed out in episode 107 of the Passion Struck podcast, everything is possible when you believe you can achieve it.

Begin where you are, study the daily routine of successful people, and adjust yours accordingly. Follow your plan strictly, and with focus and dedication, you can achieve the seemingly impossible and become the genuine success you hope to be.

Every ‘Rule for Creating Success’ Is Worthless If You Don’t Master This One

American Chef and author Marcella Valladolid said, “True success will come when you have the courage to be yourself.”

When you focus on yourself and stop trying to be like everyone else, you will be able to recognize and put to practical use your unique potential and abilities. In doing so, you will realize that true success is not found in mere material things but in maximizing your potential for the benefit of yourself and others.

I’ll leave you with this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“What is success? To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate the beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch Or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!”

I’ve learned throughout my life that I and I alone determine my own version of success. Therefore, my parting words to you are that you have to define and create success for yourself, and no one knows the end result better than you.

I wish you all the success in life.


Listen to the Passion Struck Podcast anywhere you listen to podcasts online.

  • Are you having trouble prioritizing yourself? I discuss where you invest your love; you invest your life in Episode 104
  • I explain why materialism is impacting your success and happiness in episode 96.
  • Do you know the science of healthy habits? I explore this in-depth in Episode 108.
  • Suppose you missed my interview with Jen Bricker-Bauer on Everything is Possible. Don’t panic! You can catch up by downloading it here.
  • How do you strengthen your relationship with your best self? Explore episode 110.



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