Obviously there are more keys to success than these three. And depending on who you talk to there are bound to be even more. The point is, success means different things to different people, so achieving it is a highly subjective pursuit.  The list that follows then is what has worked for me. If you’re self employed, they may work for you too.


When you work for a boss, a manager or a supervisor, you will be held accountable whether you like it or not. Just fail to execute a task and you will become painfully aware of that. But what if you’re accountable to yourself?  What happens if you miss a deadline or simply don’t do something you told yourself you would do. Then what?

Quick story. Back in the late 80’s I decided to try my hand at stand up comedy. I worked with a drama coach who critiqued my act and helped me prepare a killer 5 minute set. About three months in, she looked at me when our hour was over and said, “You’re ready. The only thing left now is to just go do it.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Really,” she answered.

I headed toward the door determined to take the stage the following Sunday. I was pumped. But just before the door slammed shut behind me, my coach shouted, “Come back here. There’s one more thing.”

“Here’s how this is going to go,” she said. “You’re going to write me a check for one hundred dollars. If you go through with your act, I will return it. If you chicken out, I will cash it. Okay?”

She isn’t going to let me escape. “Okay,” I said, very reluctantly.

On stage at Stitches

Me on stage at Stitches Comedy Club, circa 1989.

Fast forward to the following Sunday. I’m at Stitches Comedy Club on Commonwealth Avenue. Wall to wall people. I’ve never seen it this packed. There are video cameras everywhere. Steve Sweeney, the Dean of Boston comedy is plying the room yukking it up with the expectant crowd. I check the sign up sheet. I slowly move my finger down the list desperately hoping my name won’t be on it. It is. Seventh. At the sight of my name the butterflies in my stomach erupt into a frenzy flapping their wings furiously. I run to the bathroom. It doesn’t help. One by one the comedians do their five minute acts. I take another look at the list. I’m next. In full panic mode I head for the door when a thought hits me. I can’t afford to lose a hundred bucks.

Then I hear, ” Ladies and Gentlemen, please put your hands together for a newcomer here at Stitches, Marvin Kane.”

I’m on the stage. I look at the crowd. I can’t see anyone past the bright stage lights. The room is silent. I tell my first joke. Laughter. Lots of laughter.

The next day I visit my coach to collect my check.

Accountability. If you find it difficult being accountable to yourself, work with a friend, a relative, anyone who you can be accountable to. It’s human nature to not want to disappoint people. Try it. It works.


Whether you’re a writer, a designer, a plumber, a lawyer or an athlete, you need discipline to succeed. The good news is that discipline is yours. You own it. If you’re getting out of bed at 5am to run five miles as part of your training for a marathon, you can’t blame anyone else if you don’t do it. Here is dictionary.com’s definition:

dis • ci • pline – activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training.

When you work for a boss you don’t need discipline to get your work done. That’s because you know you’ll get fired if you don’t. Don’t get me wrong, most well intentioned people will get their work done because it’s the right thing to do. But still, the knowledge that you will lose your job if you don’t is a pretty strong motivator. But how do you maintain discipline if you’re the boss and the threat of being fired isn’t there?

First of all, understand that all discipline is self discipline. Unless you’re in the army, no one can impose discipline on you. Not really. What works for me is thinking of the consequences of not being disciplined. Will I fall behind? Will my competition fly past me? Will I fail to deliver on a promise? Will I look bad (that’s a big one for me)? Will I lose money? Will my reputation suffer? See where I’m going? Make a list of all the things that can happen if you’re not disciplined. Your behavior will change. I promise.


Ah, reward. My favorite part of the three legged stool. What I like to do is set small, achievable daily goals, hold myself accountable (actually it’s my business coach that holds me accountable) and maintain the discipline to accomplish them. At the end of the day I count up my wins (sometimes there is only one). Then I reward myself. The reward can be anything. You decide. The more you practice the accountability-discipline-reward pattern, the easier it will become. Before too long success will become a habit.

And Now Back to You

If you’re self employed, how do you get your work done? For some people, discipline comes easy. I’m not one of them. Are you? Do you have a routine that works well for you? I’d love to hear about it.

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