Big mistakes that hold you back

Reaching the pinnacle starts with an unshakable belief in self.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Over the past year I have traveled across the country to train and speak on topics that help individuals and organizations more quickly reach higher levels of success. During this time I’ve learned from many highly successful entrepreneurs and executives. One big takeaway has been that in order to reach the highest levels of success in any industry, not only do you need to have positive and productive habits, you also need to recognize things that you don’t do or haven’t done that can hinder your success. Let me explain.

I was speaking at a conference in Chicago last month and later met with a couple of friends. One friend recently moved from California to Austin, Texas, to start a new business with Gary Keller, cofounder of Keller Williams Realty, and Jay Papasan, Keller’s coauthor on the best-selling book, The ONE Thing. When asked about the takeaways from working with two incredibly successful business people, he reached into his bag and pulled out a large, folded piece of paper that looked like a map.

He then said, “After I presented my first business plan to them, they gave me this and told me to go back to the drawing board. Do you know what it is?” I shook my head no. “This is a mind map that Walt Disney created in 1957 for his vision of what Disney would become before any of it even existed.”

The mind map had boxes labeled with TV, film, music, merchandise licensing, the Disneyland theme park, and more. It also had lines and arrows that connected these elements to show how they would help the entire vision come to life. My friend explained how Gary and Jay told him to create one of these mind maps for his business vision and challenged him to think even bigger. What had started with a simple yet big dream for Walt Disney has grown into a multibillion-dollar empire, and my friends want the same thing.

I wish them well but also know that people struggle to reach higher levels of success for two basic reasons. The first is not having a clear vision of what they want to achieve. How smart would it be to get in your car and drive for days without knowing your destination? Not very smart but many people do that in life. They go to work each day, fall into a comfortable pattern, and in time realize they aren’t happy.

The second mistake is not thinking big enough. What if Adele only thought about singing at local bars in London or Aaron Rodgers only thought about making it all they way to a recreation league? Reaching the highest levels of success in any field takes talent and hard work, but it also takes vision and belief. In one of my favorite books, Think and Grow Rich, author Napoleon Hill says, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”



If you want to avoid these pitfalls, here are three action items:

  1. Create your own mind map: Get a blank piece of paper and draw out what your success looks like — for your business, career, and personal life. If you had everything you wanted in your life, what would it look like.
  2. Focus on one thing at a time: Although Keller and Papasan encouraged my friend to think bigger, they reminded him that it took Walt Disney many years to accomplish his vision, and he focused on making one segment successful before moving on.
  3. Think bigger and bigger: Don’t let your own mind’s limitations hold you back. There are people who are billionaires, famous entertainers, professional athletes, leaders of nations, and CEOs of major corporations. Why not you? Everyone has the opportunity to shape the future. Reaching the pinnacle of success is difficult and takes dedication and talent, but the very first step is belief.

Do you have a mind map or big vision for your future? I’d love to see it! Send me a message at

Jenna Atkinson is the president of CONNECT Madison, a young professionals group offering development, community engagement, and relationship-building opportunities to local business leaders.

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