Have you ever heard of Samuel Pierpoint Langley? Probably not. But you have heard of the Wright Brothers.
Why does this matter?
Well, Samuel Langley had actually created a plane that had flown as early as 1896 (almost a decade before the Wrights). The story is even more interesting. Langley was the Secretary of the Smithsonian and had access to everyone he needed to make his dream of manned flight happen. He even secured almost $70,000 from the U.S. Government in backing (a lot of money for back then). And after much toil and five years of working to build the perfect engine, a 5 cylinder master piece better than anything ever created to that point, Langley finally boarded his plane. He took off over the Potomac and abruptly the plane went right into the water. Langley swam back unharmed, as the plane sank. A few months later, Langley was ready to try again in front of a who's who audience of military, dignitaries, and the like. He revved the engine, started to take off and abruptly the plane dove into the Potomac.
A week later, the Wright Brother's accomplished their feat in Kitty Hawk. Langley, embarrassed and frustrated, gave up.
Why was Langley unsuccessful where the Wright's were? First off, he was successful, but was too blind and focused on his ego to see it. The engine he had built was incredible - it was just outfitted on the wrong plane. A redesign of the plane would have allowed for an incredibly far superior machine than the Wright's. And the engine itself set the stage for what was the engine in a lot of planes in WWI, II, and even powered Lindbergh's plane.
Of course, today, the Wrights are immortalized in history, while few know of Langley.
Langley was all about the glory and failed to recognize and embrace the 4 Secrets of Unlimited Success.
Langley had a passion to get his name known more than flying itself. In fact, one of the biggest reasons for his failure is that he wasn't a pilot nor had spent time learning how to fly gliders, let alone a plane. The Wrights, on the other hand, were passionately obsessed with flying and spent all of their spare time for years learning to fly and build gliders that worked. They understood how to account for thrust, wind, and all of the things that affect a plane's ability to fly. Langley had none of this.
Passion is critical to success, but it has to be focused passion. Just because you are passionate about life and living, doesn't mean you will be a rocket scientist. But, if you are passionate about space, astronomy, and spend your time learning everything you can about space flight, physics, etc., then you'll have a much better chance of becoming one.
You passion must be harnessed and focused on what you truly, truly want, and you'll have a much better chance of getting it. The Wrights just wanted to fly. They weren't concerned with being the first or getting all the glory -which is why they went to an obscure beach in the Carolinas away from all of the dignitaries and high society to attempt their flights.
As mentioned above, the Wrights had spent a better part of their lives learning to fly and account for all of the variables that must be mastered to fly. In short, the paid their dues seeking out and figuring out the knowledge needed to be successful.
Langley, flush with cash, hired others to build things for him and depended on them to make it successful. He had an interest in what was happening, but not an active interest in understanding how everything was coming together and how to really make it work. This was evidenced by his lack of flying knowledge and understanding of how to create the right plane to fit his engine.
Knowledge is power and along with your passion, you must seek to learn "what you do not know," so that you can grow and reach the levels you aspire to. Most people, go through life with their brakes on, never seeking knowledge past their education or their immediate job or role. The secret of those that are consistently successful is that they are life-long learners and know that their education never stops. They seek knowledge and to understand what they do not know on a daily basis...looking for that breakthrough. The one little piece of information or detail that can set them apart.
And that is all it takes. Olympic races are won by 1/100th of second. The game of success is won that way as well.
Take the Right Action
It's no secret that to be successful in anything you must take action. But, its' not enough just "to do something." You must focus and take the right actions. The Langley story illustrates this well. He was taking action. He was getting the engine built, getting the plane built, etc; but the action he should have been taking was studying flight and aeronautics to make sure the pieces came together correctly. He missed the most critical action of all.
The consistently successful make sure they are taking the right actions. They are constantly asking, "What am I missing?" "What do I not know?" "Am I focusing on the right things to really make this happen?"
It is imperitave that you do the same, otherwise, you can waste a lot of time and energy and have little to show for it. Make sure you take the "right action."
Perseverance must be part of your DNA. You must be willing to get up over and over again after defeat. Langley wasn't prepared for this. He wanted the fame and glory and when he couldn't be "first;" he abruptly gave up. Langley, if he had parked his pride and been willing to persevere, could have owned flight. He could have gone back and learned from the Wrights and build a far superior plane with a far superior engine. He had everything and every resource at his fingertips. If he had persevered, it might be him we talk about when we think about the first flights.
Instead, he gave up and died a few years later. Perseverance is tough. To potentially fail over and over again, at whatever it is you are passionate about succeeding in is not easy and can take it's toll. But nothing good ever is. If believe it's worth it, it's worth the sacrifice.
To reach the success you aspire - perseverance must become part of your DNA. It starts with overcoming one setback or failure and get's easier from there. Do it enough and you eventually become impervious to being hurt by failure and actually embrace everything it brings and the fact that you are that much closer to success...just as the Wrights did.
If you want to learn more detail about the Langley-Wright story, here is a good article that gives a great account.
Langley's Feat and Folly - Smithsonian