Successful People Start Before They Feel Ready

In 1966, a dyslexic sixteen-year-old boy dropped out of school. With the help of a friend, he started a magazine for students and made money by selling advertisements to local businesses. With only a little bit of money to get started, he ran the operation out of the crypt inside a local church.

Four years later, he was looking for ways to grow his small magazine and started selling mail order records to the students who bought the magazine. The records sold well enough that he built his first record store the next year. After two years of selling records, he decided to open his own record label and recording studio.

He rented the recording studio out to local artists, including one named Mike Oldfield. In that small recording studio, Oldfield created his hit song, Tubular Bells, which became the record label’s first release. The song went on to sell over 5 million copies.

Over the next decade, the young boy grew his record label by adding bands like the Sex Pistols, Culture Club, and the Rolling Stones. Along the way, he continued starting companies: an airline business, then trains, then mobile phones, and on and on. Almost 50 years later, there were over 400 companies under his direction.

Today, that young boy who dropped out of school and kept starting things despite his inexperience and lack of knowledge is a billionaire. His name is Sir Richard Branson.

How I Met Sir Richard Branson

Two weeks ago, I walked into a conference room in Moscow, Russia and sat down ten feet from Branson. There were 100 other people around us, but it felt like we were having a conversation in my living room. He was smiling and laughing. His answers seemed unrehearsed and genuine.

At one point, he told the story of how he started Virgin Airlines, a tale that seems to capture his entire approach to business and life. Here’s the version he told us, as best I can remember it:

I was in my late twenties, so I had a business, but nobody knew who I was at the time. I was headed to the Virgin Islands and I had a very pretty girl waiting for me, so I was, umm, determined to get there on time.

At the airport, my final flight to the Virgin Islands was cancelled because of maintenance or something. It was the last flight out that night. I thought this was ridiculous, so I went and chartered a private airplane to take me to the Virgin Islands, which I did not have the money to do.

Then, I picked up a small blackboard, wrote “Virgin Airlines. $29.” on it, and went over to the group of people who had been on the flight that was cancelled. I sold tickets for the rest of the seats on the plane, used their money to pay for the chartered plane, and we all went to the Virgin Islands that night.

—Richard Branson

I took this photo right after he told that story. A few moments later I stood shoulder–to–shoulder with him (he’s about six feet tall) and thanked him for sharing some time with us.

Richard Branson talking on a panel in Moscow, Russia.
Richard Branson talking on a panel in Moscow, Russia.

The Habits of Successful People

After speaking with our group, Branson sat on a panel with industry experts to talk about the future of business. As everyone around him was filling the air with business buzzwords and talking about complex ideas for mapping out our future, Branson was saying things like: “Screw it, just get on and do it.” Which was closely followed by: “Why can’t we mine asteroids?”

As I looked up at that panel, I realized that the person who sounded the most simplistic was also the only one who was a billionaire. Which prompted me to wonder, “What’s the difference between Branson and everyone else in the room?”

Here’s what I think makes all the difference:

Branson doesn’t merely say things like, “Screw it, just get on and do it.” He actually lives his life that way. He drops out of school and starts a business. He signs the Sex Pistols to his record label when everyone else says they are too controversial. He charters a plane when he doesn’t have the money.

When everyone else balks or comes up with a good reason for why the time isn’t right, Branson gets started. He figures out how to stop procrastinating and take the first step — even if it seems outlandish.

Start Now

Branson is an extreme example, but we could all learn something from his approach.

If you want to summarize the habits of successful people into one phrase, it’s this: successful people start before they feel ready.

If there was ever someone who embodied the idea of starting before they felt ready to do so, it’s Branson. The very name of his business empire, Virgin, was chosen because when Branson and his partners started they were “virgins” when it came to business.

Branson has started so many businesses, ventures, charities, and expeditions that it’s simply not possible for him to have felt prepared, qualified, and ready to start all of them. In fact, it’s unlikely that he was qualified or prepared to start any of them. He had never flown a plane and didn’t know anything about the engineering of planes, but he started an airline company anyway. He is a perfect example of why the “chosen ones” choose themselves.

If you’re working on something important, then you’ll never feel ready. A side effect of doing challenging work is that you’re pulled by excitement and pushed by confusion at the same time.

You’re bound to feel uncertain, unprepared, and unqualified. But let me assure you of this: what you have right now is enough. You can plan, delay, and revise all you want, but trust me, what you have now is enough to start. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to start a business, lose weight, write a book, or achieve any number of goals… who you are, what you have, and what you know right now is good enough to get going.

We all start in the same place: no money, no resources, no contacts, no experience. The difference is that some people — the winners — choose to start anyway.

No matter where you are in the world and regardless of what you’re working on, I hope you’ll start before you feel ready.

134 Comments

    • James! Thank you for the incredibly inspiring article. So excited about being a part of a community of people that are like-minded. I feel supported in my journey. Health, well being and prosperity to us all in 2014!

  1. I just found this post and it is unbelievably comforting and inspiring to read. As someone who often takes on risks and projects that I shouldn’t be qualified for, it’s nice to receive the validation that I’m not (as a few senior colleagues have implied) merely arrogant for trying. I’ve found a lot of what drives me to do this is a mixture of impatience and a general sense that things could be better than they are now.

    What do you think is the best way to quiet that insecurity of feeling unqualified or unsure? Or do you think it helps to have that urgency attached?

    • Kati — first, thanks for reading. You’re welcome to share your thoughts here anytime.

      As for overcoming the feelings of insecurity, uncertainty, and the like … I think it fundamentally comes down to believing in yourself. Everyone faces uncertainty and vulnerability, but sometimes we trust ourselves enough to continue to move forward. I think that’s the key.

      p.s. Related note: getting small wins is a great way to improve your confidence and foster the ability to believe in yourself. In other words, there’s no need to be so bold that you bite off more than you can chew. Just continue to push the envelope, even if it’s in a small way, and you’ll start to trust your abilities more and more as you demonstrate the ability to achieve new things.

      Good luck. And welcome to the Becoming Better community.

  2. I can’t stop reading your website. I love that concept: successful people start before they think they’re ready. You can plans up to your ears, but it really just comes down to starting.

    I just wanted to say I appreciate your content immensely, and look forward to reading more from you!

    Have a great day! :)

    • Thanks for reading, Mary! I couldn’t be happier to have you here. You’re always welcome to share your thoughts in the comments.

      In the meantime, I’ll do my best to keep writing helpful articles.

  3. Richard’s life is the embodiment of starting without being 100%. I still remember his story about when he decided to go on the balloon across the globe. He didn’t become an expert in it but merely asked the expert he was going with if he had children, and that said all he had to know because he trusted his partner in the venture.

    • Hi James! Connected with you via Twitter and really LOVED this article! Big fan of Sir Branson and startups so reading this was a lot of fun.

      Just wanted to reply to the person above me about the hot air balloon story. Really like that. I’m a single Dad to a beautiful 5 year old. Great question to ask someone you’re trusting your life with.

  4. I felt so much inner resistance (read as fear) reading this topic, that I know its spot on. And yet, I’m extremely motivated at the same time. That push and pull comment is exactly how I’m feeling, times infinity…. I hope when I explode everything goes in the right direction.

    My favorite thing I read was on your Twitter… “Good things happen to me for no apparent reason.” I am going to write that down as a positive affirmation. :)

    Thanks for your insights. What an amazing experience to have with Branson.

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts James. As much as we might feel that we know these things it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves every now and again. I like the comment about RB asking the ‘balloon expert’ whether he was a parent. I met RB at the London Triathlon in 2011 and he has an enthusiasm and energy that is infectious.

  6. Hey, James

    I find your post from another amazing guy Sean Ogle on the twitter. It’s very encouraging and make me think a lot. Recently I read a post with the title “Ready is a myth”, I’d share with you and other guys.

    In it, the author says, “you don’t need permission to start, you control the staring line. You don’t have to have it all figured out, you’ll figure it out along the way. Ready is a myth!

    Hope you and others will find it useful too.

  7. James!

    Fantastic article, I really enjoyed it. We will connect a little later on and I want to refer to this article at that time. I won’t provide any details but it will confirm everything that you have written in our article.

    Evelina Mannarino
    Host of The Evelina Show
    @evamannarino

  8. The most easy solutions for the complicated problems… just the perfect blog I needed on health and fitness.

    Sir, you surely know the art of succeeding from inside-out … better than outside-in ! :) :)

  9. The best advice I’ve ever read in my life. I had always concentrated on planning and planning and planning and in the end get overwhelmed by it and eventually discard whatever I planned to do. Nothing is gonna hold me back again.

  10. I’ve struggled with the ground work of habit transformation, now I understand why. Thanks James.

    p.s Great name.

  11. James,

    This was a great article, lesson, and story. One can see the boldness of Mr. Branson in his decision to charter that plane. 99.9% of people would have said, “oh well, looks like I’ll have to wait until tomorrow.” I guess that’s why he’s not a part of the 99.9%, huh? :-)

    I think a lot about what separates people, and it seems to be this sort of thing… being willing to step out and try something new and even crazy. So many of us wait wait wait…and then life is over and we never found that perfect starting point.

    I wrote an article on my blog about how there’s no such thing as a poor finisher – there are only poor starters. Because a failure to finish only means that you stopped starting.

    *raises wine glass*

    To starting!

  12. I so love this article so inspiring… I’m proud to be a virgin media employee. Proud to be led by a very inspiring and amazing person Sir Richard Branson.

  13. I like the moral of your story, but I think this is the exception rather than the rule. I would bet that Richard has many other exceptional qualities that enable him to succeed in this manner. Just because it worked for Richard, dosnt mean that it is good advice in general; sometimes planning is a good thing.

    This reminds me of when people start listing high school drop outs that went on to great things and conclude that school isn’t important. It is true that some people go on to succeed without it, but in general an education is beneficial.

    Anyway, I really do appreciate what you are trying to say as I am in the beginnings of launching a business and am full of doubt and “what ifs”. I just think that it is important to keep grounded too.

    • Kron — thanks for reading. And you’re making a good point. Risk management and planning are important to keep in mind as you chase your goals.

      For most people, however, the problem is getting started in the first place, which is why I wrote this article.

      Good luck with your business!

    • I have the same point with kron. There must be many other strengths that Mr. Branson has. However, you never know until you try what you have and what you lack.

      I saw theses sentences said by T.K. Coleman. I think he figured out the rule. “There are certain lessons necessary for success that don’t begin until you 1) engage the world through action and 2) receive feedback from the world in direct response to the actions you’ve taken.”

      P.S. I’m a Chinese postgraduate.

  14. Wow, I’m pumped. Awesome story, my problem is that I can feel pumped and encouraged, go start something with all kinds of energy and then doubt and discouragement set in (almost like clockwork) then I lose all my energy and focus.

    Question: How can you STAY motivated?

  15. A catchy and intriguing lead into an insightful and inspiring piece. Branson definitely sets a fine example for passionate motivation. Thank you James! … indeed there’s no time like the present to dive in deep and bring your vision to life!

  16. A very inspiring post. Really makes the whole “Just Do It” thing more important. Thank you for this.

    p.s. Google “Sir Richard Branson Stewardess” and have a laugh.

  17. Reading this article sparked something in my brain and suddenly I realised what my true business goal is. Thank you! Amazing blog site. Loving the updates and articles.

  18. Thank you for the great, inspiring, motivational article! It has prompted me to take action on something that I have been waiting to start because I haven’t felt ready or qualified. I feel like I can not set aside the reasons I had to procrastinate and just do it. Thank you very much!

    Lori

  19. Excellent! I found your blog a couple of days ago and am hooked! I have decided to start at the oldest post and work my way up. One of my biggest overarching goals is to become a person who doesn’t simply read endlessly about how to have success but to be a person who studies and then implements what she has learned. A huge roadblock has always been not feeling like I am ready to do “x, y or z,” but your writings have given me the kick I need to just get started. Thanks!

  20. Woohoo! Thanks, I think this article is just what I needed. My journey, that I’ve wanted to start for ages is finally about to begin.

  21. Very inspiring, thank you! I shared your article on LinkedIn.

    Quick suggestion: It would be great if you had a LinkedIn share button, so me and others could share your posts on LinkedIn :)

  22. This was the perfect read for me. Thank you! I’m currently in college interning at a very respected Fortune 500 tech company and I have felt pretty overwhelmed at times. All this mixed with the fact that I’m working on starting a blog (as writing is my true passion). This definitely got me in the right mindset, especially thanks to these two quotes:

    “Successful people start before they are ready”

    “If you’re working on something important, then you’ll never feel ready.”

    Thank you again!

  23. Hi James,

    I have read a couple of articles of yours till now. And I can very closely relate them. This one with beating procrastination with 2-minute rule. The crux which I could find is “start now.”

    I am really inspired by this and whatever I read I do implement that in my life. That’s the way I can inspire others as well.

    Regards,
    Surbhi

  24. Hi James, I have just subscribed to your newsletter, and I am already addicted to your articles. This article is very inspiring and validating. Thank you!

    One request, can you add a link to enable us to share it through LinkedIn. Since LinkedIn is a professional network, I would love to share your articles with a lot of people that could benefit from it.

    Cheers!

  25. I’m so glad I found your website because I have benefited immensely from the golden nuggets you dole out weekly. I have been suffering from inferiority complex but I have self belief now thanks to your articles.

  26. this is a wonderfully motivational article, very genuine — just like Branson’s unrehearsed and casual conversation.

    I have improved my internal willpower threefold over the past six months, with some pretty extreme life experiences both negative and positive. Since September I’ve turned around from rock bottom poor-ass doing nothing with my life to having a good job and finally working on the things I love. Particularly, my health.

    That being said, the most common reason I procrastinate things now is because I feel like I have too many important goals all at once, and doing too much at once makes me falter more easily. So I wait on some things while I’m focusing on other goals. But you’re most definitely right in this article, I love writing and composing music, and want to even make philosophy articles/videos, but I don’t want to really do any of that until I know I can commit to a regular schedule. I even know exactly what I would do, the only thing that remains is my fear that I’ll flop like I have in the past, only this time with an audience.

    But this article will have me rethinking how long I take to change each habit. Maybe one at a time, but at a faster rate? Or a duo, so in case I know I’m about to falter I do on one but not the other habit… I don’t know. But I do know I need to start more things.

  27. What we all miss here is that just behaving like successful people don’t make you one. There’s a lot more to it than just following one or even many aspects of people like RB. So, if you are inspired by this and are going to start something before you’re ready — be prepared for failure and don’t blame anyone else but yourself for being so gullible and simplistic. Instead, find something you’re passionate about and labor through building it.

  28. I’m sorry but Richard Branson is from a very well to do family and went to one of the BEST public schools in the UK (Stowe school). This school is on par with Eton.

    An education like that alongside a family that completely support you and can probably afford to support you and let you take risks helps massively. The fact is most people in the UK or the world do not have such a support network or advantages in life.

    I am not taking anything away from Branson. His successes have been amazing. But I am sorry these facts go unheard off and it makes me very angry because people start touting you do not need an amazing education and can become a billionaire from just taking risks.

    • Hi Michael — thanks for reading.

      I’m sure I could have written a better article, but just to clarify, the point of this article wasn’t that you could “become a billionaire by taking risks” — in fact, it wasn’t intended to be about money at all. I was simply using Branson’s story as an example of someone who has (not once, but over and over again) chosen to get started on new projects. My hope is that people like you and I will use this as a little spark to get started on their own projects, whether that is business-related or otherwise.

      That said, I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts.

  29. Hey James,

    Let me tell you, you are not only writing a motivational Sir Branson’s story, you showed it with this article and the book you wrote and distributed for free.

  30. It’s really true! Once you have things in place or not, you will still have to act on it. Action will determine the end results of what you project. Thanks for this simple and yet inspiring thought, James, it proves how we can do better once we act on it right away.

  31. I’m really pleased that the guy you modelled this article on is a Brit! Yay!

    But if you read “Losing My Virginity”, you’ll know that Richard got himself into some really sticky situations – he borrowed so much money to buy The Manor (his recording studio) He has escaped death a couple of times on the balloon with Per Lynstrand, and crossing the Atlantic on the Virgin Challenger. As you may have figured, I’m a big fan of his.

    But I would modify your advice slightly – there is never a “best” time to start something. The best time is NOW. But the first thing you do NOW is preparation and risk assessment. That’s not the same as starting before you’re ready…..

    Keep up the writing, it is really motivational, inspirational and informative.

  32. Hey James, great thanks. Yesterday I found your profile. Your posts effected me like a doping. :) I’ll continue read your books and posts everyday.

  33. Love this piece!! I always seem to commit to things before I really feel ready because I get so excited about the idea of them and then go through a mini freak out about not being qualified or prepared enough, but then since I’ve committed to doing it I just have to get on and do as he said…and it always works out. Was just wondering this week if that was a good quality or not. Just what I needed to read today, thanks!

  34. I loved this post…but I have to say, what a great photo you took of Sir Richard! Really, really fantastic. Well done!

  35. A few years ago, I decided I was tired of being the person who talked about doing things. I wanted to DO them. Since then, I’ve written and published two of my own books, helped other people do the same, started a business and relocated to a new country. It’s scary to not know whether the final outcome will be what you want, but it’s scarier not to try.

    Thanks for the inspiration and insights.

  36. James Clear — why have I never heard of this name before this week? I’ve only been here shortly, but I absolutely love everything I have read so far. Incredibly on point. Very Clear, you could say. :) Thank you for your inspirational articles.

    Not to mention how envious I am of you getting to meet and listen to Richard Branson. What a delight!

    Request from your audience: please don’t stop writing.

    Thanks again,
    Desiree

  37. As one who is responsible for the motivation, inspiration and encouragement of others on a daily basis, I appreciated the kick in the butt that I sometimes need myself! With an exciting but daunting possibility in front of me at the moment, I’ve been hesitant to jump in with both feet. Thanks for the shove!

  38. I really enjoyed reading this article, thank you. Even with a bad head cold and feeling a bit dull today, this article is inspiring.

  39. I liked that story because he didn’t think twice about what he was going to do he just did it… and that’s how he became a millionaire… because winners don’t quit and quitters don’t win and he’s a winner for sure.

  40. I first heard your interview in the Art of Charm podcast and it literally opened my eyes. Your story with Sir Richard Branson really stuck out to me because you brought up a few good points. I’m new to all this but I’m sure with your help through your blog and the many other resources available to me, I’m heading down the right road.

    P.S. I’ve always thought about being a travel photographer. Now I’m actually looking into it.

  41. A perfect example is parenting. There’s no instruction booklet and ‘to be’ parents are pulled by the passion then pushed by the confusion.

    Thanks for the article.

  42. We all need that kick in the butt sometimes. This post was it for me. Sometimes I get so caught up in looking at how other people have these sophisticated systems in place, and I’m just here trying to figure everything out…

    But hey, everyone was a beginner once right. And the only way to move down the spectrum towards an expert is to start. Thanks for the reminder James.

  43. This is my wake up call to start doing things and succeed without the need to find affirmation from the so called learned expats. Thank you so very much.

  44. Thank you. I did start with nothing, but vision, determination and believing in myself–otherwise I would still not be ready.

  45. I have to say… I probably heard bits of this information in similar ways many times before but your whole insight has stuck out the most and inspired me to just do the darn thing!!!! In a world full of “you have to have the money” or “why would you do that” or ‘”that is a great idea, but…” we should all hope to have the courage to just take that first step. I haven’t started a life-long dream because of constantly challenging myself to make the business plan more efficient, cost-productive, stable, wait for finances, etc. etc. etc. One moment I am following with my heart and just doing different things, experimenting and moving forward and the next, logic takes over, and I am trying to do everything by the business handbook and make it meet the specifications of what other business folk might deem as appropriate or acceptable and with each turn I stay in the same circle. But tonight, I make a different turn out of the circle and head forward. Thanks for your inspiration!

  46. Hi James,

    I have just started getting your posts and am finding them invaluable. I read one of Branson’s books 2 years ago on holiday and then decided to start my own Street Food business. After being refused finance from the banks I took an old French pick up and converted it myself and financed it thru asset finance. I have a full time job and a daughter to bring up too so my life is pretty busy. My mother, partner and daughter all help me with the business, preparing the food and serving, it brings something to us all not just myself. I have learned skills such as Marketing, social networking, product consistency and profitability. It’s been really really hard too at times but the rewards and the buzz are so rewarding when you’ve created something that’s a success. I have had national press coverage 3 times in my first year too and was recently asked to take my food truck on BBC National TV! I am now in a position where I have more than enough work and my truck will be paid for in 14 months so my profitability will improve and I may even think about giving up the day job. I can’t help thinking that if I hadn’t read Branson’s book I would never have taken the plunge and kept going when it got tough! I am so glad I took the plunge and would advise anyone out there to get on and do it!

  47. I recently started a business and felt a little unsteady. I had never done anything like this before and the environment I was about to enter a little trepidatious due to relying on the client climate. But, I went ahead anyway and I’m doing nicely. I’m not Branson standard yet but give me a little time!! This article reminds me and encourages me to keep going. All I need is a little determination and I can succeed!! Thanks for sharing the wisdom!

  48. Thank you. After reading that I have no more excuses. You have created another businessman. Thank you, Sir.

    Tom Foley

  49. This is perfect for me. Few days ago I just found myself procrastinating in doing my work to design and I can see a very small results. I feel not inspired to do it and now with your article I realized the wrong is with me. I waited for inspiration and true enough I haven’t found it until I get started.

  50. Hey, I also started software business, even though I am not a software geek!!! So I have already started…

  51. This has been refreshing and inspiring. I often defeat myself before I get started because I feel I need more of something….

  52. Oh wow, James, I have just discovered you, but you have already made my night! Start before you are ready… I have an idea beginning to explode in my head. I know I’m not ready, but now I get why that doesnt matter! Thank you.

    -Love, Suzy

  53. Thank you so much for this insight today – I am sitting here on the verge of starting my own business that I have been passionate about starting for 2 years and busily chipping away at trying to get all the blocks in the right order to make sure it’s perfect – all the while working full time and putting energy into a job that no longer aligns with my values and beliefs – reading your article this morning has confirmed to me something that I have known inside for a long time that – The Time is Right – Right NOW to Live my Passion …… Share my knowledge and assist others to do the same ……….. Many thanks – Gxx

  54. Hi James, Terrific post. Always love Richard Branson stories. A question, if I may: what about the advice that says you need to do your homework first before starting a business? How will it be made, who are your customers, what is your business plan, etc. It seems as if all the pieces should be in place first before proceeding. Or is this just a different topic than what you are presenting? Many thanks.

  55. Thanks James for sharing such wonderful thoughts.

    I read Richard Branson’s biography long back and after reading your article it all came back to me.

    Awesome.

  56. Your articles are very well-written, detailed and very inspiring. They just give a different and a very simplistic look to all problems. Superb. Lucky that I get to read all this. It gives me a regular dose of much needed inspiration. Some of the articles are really eye-openers. One concept which impressed me very much was 1% improvement makes 1 into 37 in 365 days. Great. Thanks.

  57. Hi, James! This is a really great article. :) I like how your works are both inspiring and practical. They’re even backed up by some interviews or research. :) Keep it up! :)

  58. Thank you so much, your articles are inspiring and thought provoking… This one just hit home for me this is where I am… I am a winner, ready to make a difference.

  59. I embarked on the same path but was 49 years old. I bought a vinyl record pressing company in 1999. Making 45s only. By 2008 we were the largest in the country and going strong. I knew nothing about the market the process or what the digital world would do. It was a fun ride. That it what life is all about.

    Cris

  60. James , Thank you very much for this inspirational speech , Today I will resign from my Company .

    I have many ideas However, I can not figure out which one fits me the best or what is my real passion ?

    So could anyone help me to discover my passion ?

    Thank you

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