I love the thought of “being successful”, but that doesn’t mean success will look exactly the same to everyone. Success means different things to different people. In other words, it comes in a variety of flavors, just like ice cream.
Even though success looks different to each of us, common techniques exist to get us there. Regardless of our college degrees or upbringing, “success” is achievable by virtually anyone who wants it…if you want it bad enough.
To an increasing number of Americans, we’re defining success not by the amount of money that we make, but by our happiness. I freaking love it. Happiness is more powerful than money. Than fame. Than…well, power and influence. Happiness is a huge element to being successful.
But, how do we get there?
The ultimate guide to being successful
Technique #1: Get your mind right
Forget what our society tells us about success. Success is virtually unattainable if we let our culture govern its definition. Simply put, it always changes. Magazines highlight the latest “hot buys” in the industry. Electronics publications give us new “must have” gadgetry that is in vogue this month. Car websites spill out the low-down on what cars the rich and famous are driving.
The funny thing is it’s all arbitrary and based to some degree on the highest bidder. Sponsored content drives popular opinion. If we base our level of success on the well-funded marketing efforts of corporate America, the “success target” will constantly move. We will spend tons of money on stupid landfill-bound items that may have represented success…last week.
At one point, all the cool people were driving Mercedes and BMWs. Now, it’s apparently Tesla. Who knows what it’ll be next year – stay tuned!
And, success demands context. It does not materialize from the accumulation of things. Rather, success is achieved. It begins with a goal – a personal goal. Through our own efforts of working smart and making the right decisions, we focus on achieving that goal. When we do, we become successful at those goals.
Success is internal. It is derived from our lives, our thoughts, and our fortunes. We make ourselves successful, not some arbitrary external force or governing body. It comes down to us.
I’m a strong believer that life is nothing more than a mind game. We create our version of reality in our heads, then blaze a trail through life as if our reality IS reality. We live it because we actively believe it to be true.
Technique #2: Ask for it
Hard work. It’s great in theory, but the years I spent meandering my way through corporate America taught me that success very rarely resembles the fluffy fairy-tale idea that success comes to those who “work hard”. Or even “smart“.
More times than not, being success comes to those who ask for it.
It’s remarkable. In fact, about half of my promotions and raises throughout my working career in corporate America have come as a result of me asking. Asking means you’re serious and confident. It shows your organization that you are a productive team player who wants to contribute more (or feels undervalued). Either way, it can be incredibly persuasive.
However! Before you ask, be sure to understand the following tips.
Know what you want
Before asking for success, know what success means to you. For example, do you really want a management position? If so, know what you’re getting yourself into – at least to the best of your ability. Picture yourself doing the job, not just enjoying the title. I fell into this trap, and trust me, it was a painful lesson! More on this tip below.
Believe you’re the baddest motherf-er in the room. Seriously, believe it. Those who exude confidence are natural leaders. It shows. Even if you’re wrong, the confidence to make a decision and pursue it full force is what separates followers from leaders. Remember: I’m talking about confidence, not arrogance. Don’t be a prick. This isn’t about talking over people or shutting down conversation or debate. In fact, it’s the opposite. Start the conversation and lead the debate with respect and honesty. Engage those around you and get them involved.
Basically, do what leaders [should] do, even if your official title doesn’t include “manager” or “director”…yet.
Act like the person you want to be
If you want to be the leader, act like the leader. Don’t ask for a promotion into management and then continue doing what you’ve always done. Take the initiative. Volunteer to help your coworkers. Brainstorm ideas. Offer your suggestions. Be upfront about your willingness and ability to lead. Help your manager in any way that you can. Most people are all talk and very little action. Make it obvious you’re about action by separating yourself from the pack.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received came at one of my former jobs. I asked for a promotion to a position that sat vacant, but the organization was not ready to make a change – yet. I asked what I can do NOW to better equip me for the promotion later. The answer I got was simple and direct: “Pretend you have the job“. I stepped up and accepted the responsibility of that position before I even had it. Within a couple of months, the position was mine. True story.
Do not fear failure
Those who are afraid of failing rarely get to where they want to be. The reason is simple: When people fear failure, they resist taking risks. They refuse to put themselves out there. They remain huddled in their comfort zone waiting for something to happen to them.
This natural but devastating habit keeps us from taking risks and going after what we want out of fear that things might not work out perfectly. I have a secret to tell you: Perfection is unattainable, so stop trying to get there. You WILL fail. It is a natural part of life. I’ve failed. My neighbor has failed. We ALL have failed. It happens. Get over that fear – fast.
If you want something bad enough, go-the-fuck-after-it. Make it happen. If you fail, you fail. Big deal. Try again next time.
Be prepared to back it up!
If you stroll into your manager’s office to ask for a raise, be ready to back up your argument with facts. Pick out the times where you went the extra mile to help on a project. Those 60-hour weeks should count for something. That uncompromising deadline that you met? The report you pulled out of your ass but knocked the socks off of that client? The new business you brought in? Yeah, this stuff.
Before meeting with your manager, know your facts. Rehearse. Play devil’s advocate and practice your answers to likely questions or concerns from your manager. Also, decide what you’re willing to compromise on. If you ask for a $10,000 raise but only get $5,000, is that good enough? Be direct, firm and confident.
Don’t look stumped.
Technique #3: Show up
If you can somehow muster up the incredible energy to get up in the morning, get dressed, start your car, drive to work and meander your way through the office in search of your cubicle or office (and find it!), you’ve more or less found half of the secret to success.
Sad, isn’t it? The mere presence of your ass in that seat means you’re already ahead of so many of your peers. The bar really is that low, isn’t it?
As a child, my dad preached to me how important just showing up for work truly is, and my experience has shown that he was absolutely right. The fact is in many areas of corporate America, it is not hard to look good. Showing up seems so simple. As a child, I took for granted that people who have jobs actually do them, but in reality, it’s not so simple. Believe it or not, just being there – with your butt in the chair contributing whatever you can along with your co-workers, is more than 50% of what makes up success in American industry.
Showing up also helps you to establish a network. The phrase “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is spot on accurate in corporate America. And now that I think about it, I have only worked for companies whom I was personally referred to by a respected member already within that organization. Yup, every time – to include my FIRST job straight out of college with the help of my dad. The opportunities you get through your network will likely far outweigh those directly from your knowledge or experience, or by applying for a job “cold” at another organization. Job referrals are more important than ever before.
And, showing up for work enables the learning process. Over the course of my career, I have worked with some amazingly talented people, folks who could code me under the table, solve complex math quickly and accurately (the first time), design incredibly innovative solutions and answer almost any question – even questions that they did not truly have the answer to, with confidence. I soaked up as much as I could from these people; observed how they acted, how they spoke, how their mind worked when pondering something complex. I asked them questions – lots of them. Instead of fighting it, I indebted myself to their experience and influence within the organization. I’ve learned a ton this way.
Technique #4: Don’t be a jerk
While it is true that some successful people are unholy jerks, most aren’t. Most worked their way up by observing the world around them in a clever and determined way…without stepping on any (many?) heads in the process.
For example: smile once in a while. Help out your fellow co-workers rather than let them fail (or worse, actively work against them). Be someone that others genuinely look up to, not someone your business professor in college would use as an example of what not to be.
Going the extra mile with your work pays dividends well beyond the additional effort involved in taking that step. With each step, you’re demonstrating to your coworkers and boss that being a productive member of the staff is actually important to you.
Which, by the way, isn’t as common as you might think.
Most of your coworkers don’t harbor any intentional ill-will towards the organization. But, they probably don’t care, either. A paycheck is a paycheck. Unfortunately, I fell into this trap during my career working in the information technology industry.
Technique #5: Be sure you want it
I wrote about my high-level IT directorship position before, but it is appropriate to rehash here. At the time that I was promoted to Director, I spent the last eight years of my working career as a follower. I was ready for the additional responsibility, and there was a sea change in the organization. The position was mine because I asked for it.
That’s right, I wanted the job. I wanted to be the boss, and I quickly realized that management isn’t for me. The crap that managers deal with is ten times as frustrating as before. As a regular staff member, you need to impress a couple people to get promoted. But as a manager, the number of those people tends to increase, and they are at higher positions within the company, demanding more progress, more efficiency, more production.
And not only do senior managers need to be impressed, staff members demand attention. Conflict resolution. Priorities. Missed deadline. Employee A said something that hurt Employee B’s feelings. Employee C didn’t show up for work yesterday, which made Employee D late on her assignment.
Also, the performance reviews were mind-numbing. My staff didn’t care because it was a check in the box. I didn’t care because it was a check in the box. Human Resources didn’t care because it was a check in the box. Management nonsense, day after day. Paperwork. Problems. Meetings. Coercion.
I was blinded by the title. I wanted to try my hand at being “the guy”. To call the shots. To make the decisions. Finally, to be the guy that everyone else smiled around and tried to impress.
Management isn’t for me. I tried it. But, I could not get on-board with doing that job for the rest of my life. I left my position and pursued a work-from-home job that paid better and ushered me straight into retirement. I decided what I wanted and I went after it. To me, demoting myself represented incredible success.
Unfortunately, being the “Director” is what society considers to be successful. Thus, I went full-bore after it without truly knowing what I was getting myself into.
Lyndon Johnson’s 10 keys to success
I leave you with an excerpt from a previous article about former president Lyndon Johnson’s 10 keys to success. I learned about Johnson’s 10 keys to success from the book “The Magic of Thinking Big“. Good book. It was written back in the late 1950s, so references to salaries and other numbers are, in a word, downright hilarious.
- Remember names. Inefficiency at this point may indicate that your interest is not sufficiently outgoing.
- Maintain a comfortable persona so there is no strain in being with you. Be an old-show, old-hat kind of individual.
- Acquire the quality of relaxed easy-going so that things do not ruffle you.
- Don’t be egotistical. Guard against the impression that you know it all.
- Be interesting so people will get something of value from their association with you.
- Get the “scratchy” elements out of your personality, even those of which you may be unconscious.
- Sincerely attempt to heal every misunderstanding you have had or now have. Drain off your grievances.
- Practice liking people until you learn to do so genuinely.
- Never miss an opportunity to congratulate anyone’s achievement, or express sympathy in sorry or disappointment.
- Give spiritual strength to people and they will give genuine affection to you.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.