One of our young teenage sons is struggling at school. His grades aren’t very good. There are incomplete assignments and lots of wrong answers on quizzes. His desires are good. His heart and attitude are in the right place. But his effort is totally lacking.

Recently, my wife and I sat down with him to discuss severely limiting his time on screens. We told him we were convinced he needed our help prioritizing his time. As we talked tears began to stream down his cheeks. What teenage boy wants even more limits from his parents on his cell phone or video game time? 

After I gave a long “lecture” on why this step was needed our son looked up and said to us, “I think you’re right. I need the limits.”

I about fell over. Wait, did he really just say that? What happened next was even more stunning. He walked over to me and took off the old Apple Watch he had recently purchased from his older brother and handed it to me. 

“Dad, I don’t think I should have this right now.”

I knew how excited he was to get the watch. Was he really volunteering to give it up? In shock I asked, “why are you giving it to me?” He responded, “Because the notifications on it are distracting me and I think I shouldn’t have it right now.”

Now, I was the one fighting back tears. 

I was so proud of the humility and maturity we had just witnessed in one of our kids.

Why am I sharing this in a post about leadership and success? Because, what our son demonstrated in that moment is all too rare in all of us. Success requires sacrifice. It doesn’t come free. There is a price we must pay to learn and grow. Advancing in our career doesn’t come without making hard choices of where we spend our time and what we’re willing to temporarily give up.

A few weeks ago I was at a conference with two thousand self-described “influencers.” Speaker after speaker ran onto the stage to loud, pounding music. The crowd danced and cheered as these social media celebrities with hundreds of thousands, or millions, of followers waved and smiled. The energy was incredible. 

Most of the talks were about never giving up and believing in yourself. The crowd roared. They were eating it up. And yet, I felt like everyone deserved a refund.

Believing in yourself is essential. But, it’s not the reason any of us have achieved any meaningful success. After hearing more than half a dozen speeches about having confidence I wondered when someone was going to talk about how success requires hard work, effort, grinding it out, making choices, and sacrificing.

I wanted someone to say “if you really want to achieve your dreams you need to realize something: you have to put in the time, energy, effort, and sacrifice necessary. It’s going to take longer than you think and be harder than you can imagine but in the end you’ll be so glad you did it when you achieve your goals.” The audience at this conference never heard that speech. 

My son’s grades are going to go up as he spends less time on his phone and video games and works harder on school work. 

He desperately wants that Apple Watch. But, for now he’s chosen not to wear it on his wrist. 

Those are the decisions successful people make. They realize that to get that promotion, have more financial freedom, improve their quality of life, grow their company, or whatever it is they’re pursuing will require hard work and hard choices about where to prioritize their time. 

Most people dream big but end up stuck in the same place with the same dreams for years because they’re unwilling to sacrifice now to achieve something tomorrow.

Russ Hill is host of the Decide to Lead podcast and a senior partner at Partners In Leadership. He is a Fortune 500 executive coach helping leaders manage their culture to build accountability for results. Russ is also on Instagram and Twitter.

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  • Helping leaders manage culture, Fortune 500 Executive Coach & Partner at PIL