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Keys to Success

Here are the keys I have found for succeeding at work and in life.

Work Hard

This seems obvious, right? Actually, not so much. For the last 9 years, I have been asking my students what the primary key to success is. The answers have ranged from: connections, education, money, luck, personality, etc. Most of those are good to great answers. But none of them are as important as hard work. If you don’t work hard, then none of the other things matter overly much. But, if you do work hard enough, then you can overcome not having most, if not all, of the other criteria.

But, let me put some more objectivity on hard work: It’s not what you find hard. It is working harder than others. If you work just as hard as everyone else, then why would you expect to succeed more than them? You have to do one or all of these to be considered to be doing “hard work”: 1) Doing higher quality work than others, 2) Getting more done in the same amount of time, and/or 3) Working for a longer period of time but not getting paid more than others.

If you fit one or more of that criteria, then you are on your path to becoming more successful than others.

Persevere

Much has recently been written about grit and perseverance — and for good reason. No matter how smart, skilled, well-connected, well-educated, lucky, good looking, charming, or otherwise, everyone will experience obstacles. Who will succeed, then, is determined by who can remain strong and persevere. Don’t let irrational fears get the better of you. Evaluate situations logically: Are you in imminent danger? No? Ok, then everything is actually fine in the present. You will figure it out and, in any event, will be ok.

When I feel like life and/or business are getting out of control or overwhelming, I repeat these lines from T.S. Eliot: “In a minute there is time for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.” Although I think I am misapplying his message, it says this to me: “David, you have enough time to get everything done that needs to get done. Nothing of ultimate importance is so irrevocable that it cannot be done and undone. You can make mistakes. It’s ok.”

I can promise you two things: 1) Most things you work intensely at will at one or more times be more difficult than you could have foreseen, and 2) If you do not despair, you will succeed.

Focus on Skill Building

If you are primarily focused on how to get paid, you are likely to not make a large amount. If, however, you are focused on building your skills and becoming significantly better than others at something that can be monetized, then you will almost inevitably make significantly more than if you were focused on getting paid (as I wrote about more extensively here).

As was said, to get better results, your work has to be better than that of others. There is a saying: “Tough choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.” If you make tough choices to work hard and forego immediate gratification, your life will, in the long run, likely be much better. But, if you choose what’s easy, your life will likely be a constant struggle.

Or, as Abraham Lincoln said: “If you give me 6 hours to chop down a tree, I will spend the first 4 hours sharpening the ax.” Preparation makes your work later much more efficient, productive, and seemingly effortless.

Fail

When I talk to boys about the most important advice with girls, I tell them to practice rejection. The ability to get over rejection and the perception of failure is key to succeeding at most things, including getting a girlfriend. If someone gets so down on themselves over a rejection that they never try again, then they are doomed to never succeed. If, however, they can shake it off (and quickly) then their confidence will make them more likely to succeed in the first place and any failure will simply teach them what not to do and further their progress toward success.

I even have a hard time saying that almost anything is a failure. Every time I have “failed” (and, by the world’s standards, I have failed in epic scale many, many times) I have learned so much from my “failures” that I cannot see how I could have succeeded without those failures. When those failures brought me to success, can I even call them failures?

Learn to get rejected and not care. Learn to “fail” and see doing so in the positive light that it is. You cannot succeed unless you at some time (and probably often) fail.

Be Good

You can probably see the trend: focus on the long-term, not the short-term. Again, good people have a dramatic advantage in the long-term. Selfish or greedy people can often trick many people for quite some time into working and being in relationship with them. But, as another saying goes: “You can fool all the people some of the time, some of the people all the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.” In the long-run, people of low ethical standards ruin their brand, their relationships, and the trust of others. It is almost impossible to recover trust. Thus, if you feel like being good isn’t worth it, then fast forward 20 to 30 years and see who is doing well at work and in life — typically only good people can succeed at both.

Conclusion

A person’s success (at least up to their potential) is mostly within their control. For most, that choice to actively pursue success is too difficult or too intimidating. For the few, that choice is well-worth the end reward.

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