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.

habits of successful people

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.

94 Comments

  1. Drew Tewell says:

    Thanks for the good advice James!

    • James Clear says:

      Thanks Drew. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Feel free to share your thoughts any time.

    • Brenda says:

      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!

  2. Jana says:

    Wow, this article is epic! Thank you!

  3. Kati Sorensen says:

    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?

    • James Clear says:

      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.

  4. Mary Bast says:

    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! :)

    • James Clear says:

      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.

  5. Leon Gaban says:

    Great post, just the right amount of motivation for writers block days :) So James, when did you decide to start?

  6. Gábor says:

    Wow, I think this post was the push I needed. Thank you!

    • James Clear says:

      Awesome. Get started, Gabor.

      p.s. Thanks for reading! I’m looking forward to hearing more from you in the future.

  7. Aeyai says:

    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.

  8. Suzi says:

    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.

  9. Chris Smith says:

    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.

  10. Steven says:

    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.

  11. 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

  12. Radhika says:

    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 ! :) :)

  13. Abduljalil Yakubu says:

    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.

  14. Mohamed says:

    Brilliant advice!

  15. Shane says:

    Great article!

  16. James says:

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

    p.s Great name.

  17. 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!

  18. Mae says:

    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.

  19. This is such a genius article, which teaches us how to be successful people even though we don’t have much of anything. Thanks James for sharing a good article with us.

  20. […] Entrepreneur, weightlifter, and travel photographer, James Clear, recently wrote an inspiring blog post on Richard Branson, the founder and chairman of Virgin Group, about the importance of taking action before you feel ready. I strongly recommend you read his post here. […]

  21. […] Habits of Successful People: Start Before You Feel Ready […]

  22. […] telling myself that I’m not ready. (See previous post.) But then I read a blog post at http://jamesclear.com/successful-people-start-before-they-feel-ready, and it hit home. I’m not dumb enough to think that I know it all, but it also reminds me […]

  23. kron says:

    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.

    • James Clear says:

      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!

  24. I asked God for a sign earlier in the summer, and He’s been hitting me with pellets ALL summer long…this article was the BRICK!

    Like Nike says…#JUSTDOIT!

  25. […] I think I’m taking the Theater Education job. After all, at this article proves, sometimes you have to leap before you’re […]

  26. Michael says:

    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?

  27. Stella Muse says:

    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!

  28. Gary J. says:

    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.

  29. […] Successful People Start Before They Feel Ready […]

  30. Suzy says:

    What an inspiration. Great post.

  31. […] Clear recently shared his thoughts on the one key decision successful people make: Even then they’re not ready,they choose to […]

  32. Sarah says:

    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.

  33. Lori Stark says:

    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

  34. […] Totally stole the theme of this post from James Clear. You should go read what he wrote. It’s better than the […]

  35. Bev says:

    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!

  36. […] people don’t wait to be tapped, chosen, appointed, or nominated. They start before they feel ready. They tell themselves, “It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s my fault that I’m here. This […]

  37. […] Successful people start before they feel ready. […]

  38. Tom Libelt says:

    Agreed… start first and iron out the mistakes/problems as they come. You will never be able to foresee all of them anyways.

  39. […] think I am ‘ready’. Thank to an article I read this week, I’ve learned that I should just start before I am ready, because the article is right: “successful people start before they feel […]

  40. […] habits of successful people […]

  41. arifa says:

    james clear, i love the way, you deal with words hahahaha and motivate me !!! thanks , stay blessed and happy!!!

  42. Santoshkrishna says:

    Dude !!

    You Rock !

    Awesome is the word and brilliant is the piece of advice!

    Thanks tons buddy !

  43. Steven says:

    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.

  44. Nadia Kuznets says:

    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 :)

  45. Henry K says:

    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!

  46. Surbhi says:

    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

  47. Sriram says:

    James, you have the most appropriate last name, Clear.

    Great article, you managed to sum up a point thats so hard to explain so plainly.

  48. Jocelyn says:

    Wow James this article is brilliant. Thank you for sharing such wonderful stuff with us. I got really inspired by your writing. Thanks!

  49. […] told by James Clear in this post (which is spot on), take a look at this story which demonstrates how Richard Branson understands […]

  50. Vish Sinha says:

    Great advice… thank you!

  51. Jeany Shipley says:

    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!

  52. Mohamed says:

    Great, inspiring article.

  53. […] approach of professionals is an indication of just how strongly struggle is linked to success. The Richard Bransons and Jerry Seinfelds and Tom Clancys of the world see failure as a signal to re-commit to the […]

  54. […] I was encouraged by a blog post that I stumbled upon.  It was written by James Clear and titled Successful People Start Before They Feel Ready.  What an awesome title!  It went on to tell about the background of a great entrepreneur, Sir […]

  55. Oluwafunsho says:

    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.

  56. Jack W says:

    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.

  57. James D says:

    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.

  58. Michael says:

    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.

    • James Clear says:

      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.

  59. Kubistra says:

    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.

  60. Fraser says:

    Great advice, couldn’t agree more. I’ve just started writing my first book. I’m in way over my head but know the only way to make happen is to begin

  61. […] James Clear - Successful People Start Before They Feel Ready […]

  62. […] Successful People Start Before They Feel Ready Written by: James Clear […]

  63. […] More on this here: Successful People Start Before They Feel Ready(read it! ) […]

  64. Bobby Medina says:

    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.

  65. Ed Syrett says:

    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.

  66. […] I’m by far not the first to point this out. Here is James Clear spreading Richard Branson’s wisdom. […]

  67. […] Put yourself in the best possible position to succeed. And you can do that by simply at least starting. Like what I mentioned in “Overcome Fear and Self-Sabotage”, ignore the lizard brain and the mind chatter and just do it. It is okay if you don’t feel ready. Successful people start before they feel ready anyway. […]

  68. Orxan says:

    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.

  69. Morgan Webert says:

    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!

  70. Daniel Hayes says:

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

  71. […] 3. Las personas con éxito empiezan los proyectos antes de sentir que están listos […]

  72. […] Clear en su brillante artículo “La gente exitosa empieza antes de estar lista” cuenta cómo Sir Richard Branson inició Virgin […]

  73. […] Successful People Start Before They Feel Ready {James Clear} […]

  74. Erin Casey says:

    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.

  75. […] And with good reason — it’s pretty solid advice! […]

  76. Lilly says:

    Awesome post. Thanks.

  77. Desiree Reagan says:

    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

  78. Trev Martin says:

    Great article.

  79. Gail Royce says:

    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!

  80. Aman says:

    Very nice article. Thanks for the advice. Very useful and true :)

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