I like writing about timeless lessons for success or key behaviors that lead to success. I’ve even written about famous failures that will inspire you to success. But nothing has spurned a more introspective look at achieving success than my having another birthday, the second one since turning a half-century old. (I put it that way because I have a hard time writing the number 52– whew, that was hard). I now realize how much I’ve learned compared to when I was half my age.
So, this column is addressed to the 25-year-old me to whom I say, “Hey! Turn off your Sony Walkman and shift your attention from the Counting Crows to this success advice!”
1. You own your career.
When I joined a big company shortly after turning 25, I believed that the Great Career Planner in the sky would simply move me from job to job until my career dreams were fully realized.
I was doing too much assuming and not enough asserting.
Don’t fall into this trap. Yes, you’ll get help along the way, but you’re in the driver’s seat. Be clear on what you want and proactive in making it so. Regarding being clear on what you want, see the next point.
2. Meaning starts with “me.”
You’re the only one who can ascribe meaning (or not) to what you spend your time on. Pursue the life and career that you want, not that someone else expects of you. The word “meaning” starts with “me” for a reason. This is the key to having a truly meaningful, fulfilling career–and life.
Bronnie Ware (a palliative nurse) captured the misgivings of the dying in her book The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. Number one on the list of regrets? “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
3. Seek authenticity, not approval.
This directly relates to number two. When we seek approval we’re seeking external validation, which is an empty victory at best and elusive and confidence eroding at worst. If approval equals success for you, know it’s a never-ending quest. Instead, let a desire to serve your authentic self drive your actions.
4. Know that your definition of success will change.
25 years ago it was all about getting promoted as often and fast as possible. Now, it’s about serving something greater than myself as broadly and deeply as possible. I didn’t see that coming.
5. Zap, don’t sap.
Success is drawn to those who zap energy into a workplace with their enthusiasm, passion, and optimism and repelled by those who sap energy with their pessimism, gossip, and negative attitude. Don’t get sucked into the vortex of energy-sucking vampires.
6. Character reveals itself in times of crisis.
So use such times to show yours.
Success is forged in times of adversity and crisis. It’s easy to be awesome when things are going great. But when the chips are down, how will you show up? And people will remember how you acted in such times, one way or another. One of my greatest career regrets came from an impression I left during a time of crisis where I was lashing out and blaming co-workers. They didn’t forget my reaction, and I never will either.
7. Lift as you climb.
Rising up the chain is nice. Lifting others up as you do so, with the intent to go beyond success to significance (for the impact you have on others), is better. The position you gain should be used not just to further your own, but to help others improve theirs.
And by the way, success comes back to you when you focus on helping others achieve it.
8. The only comparison that matters is to who you were yesterday.
Constant comparison to others is the surest way to undermine your success (and make you miserable). Relatedly, will you go from being to becoming–becoming a better version of yourself–versus just living “as-is” in your life?
To do so, place learning and growth on a pedestal. I think back now to the times in my career when I was least happy and I can tell you with great clarity, it was when I wasn’t learning and growing.
9. The biggest risk you can take is not taking any risk.
The Navy’s first female Rear Admiral, Grace Murray Hopper, once said “Ships in port are safe. But that’s not what ships are made for.” I’ve so often seen that success depends on the willingness to take risks, learn from them, and keep moving forward.
10. Actually, there is a substitute for hard work.
And that substitute is consistent, relentless, hard work (sorry I tricked you there). There’s no other way to success. Period. And when you throw in dashes of patience and resilience and cook it all in the oven of life, you get fresh-baked fortitude.
I’ll place my bet on someone with fortitude over a “quick-path-to-success-plan” every single time.
11. Leave politics for the politicians.
Do your job to the best of your ability and leave the politics for those with less ability. Sometimes, yes, politics will pay off for someone else in their career. But not over the long run–karma is a you-know-what. And do you want to advance in that fashion anyway?
12. Leave a legacy.
I’ve been successful in many roles in my career because I started with the mindset of, “How am I going to leave a legacy in my time during this role? What will be my immutable impact?” So before you dive in and start executing in your next role, ask this of yourself first.
My hope is that each of these lessons looking back helps you moving forward.
Now, where did I put my vinyl of Pearl Jam’s Ten?