A friend of mine asked me a question yesterday that had no simple answer and provoked a perfect excuse to write an article on a meaty subject.
What would you say is the secret to success?
Since the dawn of time, this has been a thought-provoking question, and it essentially comes down to a unsatisfying answer: there is no secret – you just have to hustle until your eyes fall out.
You have to live, eat, and breath your goals. You have to be a walking embodiment of what you believe in, and one day, after years of failure and temptation of giving up, you will make it.
Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, hustle – while undoubtedly imperative to success – isn’t the only thing you need.
Breaking it down.
Humility and Respect
One of the very first books you should read on your pathway to success is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. It is an incredible piece of work which has sold 15 million copies worldwide since it was published in 1936.
In the book, Carnegie examines some of the most influential people who have ever walked the Earth – everyone from Zoroaster and Buddha, to Jesus and Abraham Lincoln. Carnegie finds that the underlying trait among these charismatic giants is that they treat people with the utmost respect. Carnegie also mentions that, in addition to being respectful, influential leaders are:
- Genuinely interested in others
- Consistently smiling
- Always listening
- Always avoiding arguments
- Admitting their faults
- Relatively quiet, giving others the platform to talk
- Always praising others
- Dramatizing their ideas
- Challenging others in a manner that motivates them
- Letting others save face
The last point is an interesting one which requires a true shedding of ego. Carnegie mentions that one underlying trait among leaders is that they don’t correct others in public, as being right at the expense of someone’s humiliation is not worth the trade-off. It’s a lose-lose.
“A true genius admits that he/she knows nothing.”
– Albert Einstein
Humility is something you need to embrace – don’t look at it as a sign of weakness.
“In the course of my life, I have often had to eat my words, and I must confess that I have always found it a wholesome diet.”
― Winston S. Churchill
Don’t be a risk taker – rather, be a calculated risk taker.
Having one idea is great – but it won’t get you very far. Having an idea with a long-term plan and setting quarterly goals to innovate to fight off competitors – now that’s more appealing.
Successful people know it’s a marathon. A sprint or burst of energy will only get you so far. Once the initial excitement is over, there is a crucial period where successful people distinguish themselves from frauds.
Integral to calculated risk taking is having the awareness that you can never do something alone. Once you realize this, it’s easier to implement long-term plans knowing you have a team to back you. Paramount to this is knowing when to expand your team. Don’t be afraid to set a goal to bring in a strategic partner to accelerate growth when the time is right.
Additionally, don’t be a carbon copy of the company you’re striving to reach. You may want to be the next Google (who doesn’t?), but a common mistake entrepreneurs make is copying Google’s policies just because it works for them.
Example: Don’t put a ping pong table in your office just because Google has one. This would be counter intuitive to a calculated risk. Guy Kawasaki, former chief evangelist at Apple and founder of Canva, has some amazing insight on this.
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
– Dale Carnegie
Before I write anything about this subject, it’s important to note – and to reiterate – that confidence does not combat humility, nor do any of the points below. Confidence is a key trait among successful people, and it’s not a stretch to say that overconfidence is even more important.
Confidence can be self-taught, and requires a bit of practice if you don’t already possess it. Nevertheless, you need to push yourself outside of your comfort zone daily in order to truly succeed at being confident and being able to articulate your ideas and thoughts to others.
These are exercises that should be practiced daily:
- Speak loudly, and with conviction
- Walk into every room with a smile, your head up, and your posture straight
- Speak with certainty about every subject, and avoid the words ‘I think’
- Listen attentively and be responsive
- Force yourself to speak in front of large audiences regularly, and be prepared in the material you’re presenting
Just to offer one more tip: Don’t be one of those people who thinks about past moments of embarrassment – eliminate those from your train of thought completely. We all have moments of embarrassment, but thinking about those moments doesn’t do us any good. Chose your own highlight reel – remember your proud moments and keep adding to them.
Just remember – being confident doesn’t lead to superiority. As soon as a feeling of preeminence trickles in, you’ve lost the first trait in this article – humility.
“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”
– Helen Keller
“When you take risks you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important.” – Ellen DeGeneres
Embrace failure, because not only will it make you grow, but it’s also a common trait among successful people.
Oprah Winfrey was first fired from her TV job. She now has a net-worth of $2.9 billion.
Steven Spielberg is one of those most successful directors of all time. He was rejected by the University of Southern Carolina School of Cinematic Arts multiple times.
Before writing the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling was living off of welfare.
We’re not even at the tip of the iceberg.
Harrison Ford was told by an executive that he’d never succeed in the movie business, Dr. Seuss had his first book rejected by 27 different publishers, Henry Ford had two failed automotive businesses before founding Ford, Thomas Edison was told by his teachers that he was ‘too stupid to learn anything’, and Walt freakin’ Disney was told that he lacked imagination.
It’s important to note why failure is important – it dramatically induces change. But it needs to be dealt with correctly. For every Walt Disney, there’s someone who turns failure into despair. There is not enough people embracing failure, and too many people submitting to it.
Failure is like a battle wound which makes you stronger in the long run. Imagine if life were a perfect stroll – what would be the point? You would never grow. With each failure, you get a fresh perspective, a chance to step back and reexamine your decisions, and make a change in your life for the better. While you may not fully understand it at the time, you will have your ‘a-ha’ moment which will lead you to a door which previously didn’t exist.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
– Thomas A. Edison
“The mark of a good conversationalist is not that you can talk a lot. The mark is that you can get others to talk a lot. Thus, good schmoozer’s are good listeners, not good talkers.”
– Guy Kawasaki
Successful people are natural networkers – a walking embodiment of what they stand for. But they don’t monopolize the conversation with their own ideas, rather they focus 80% of the conversation geared towards asking open-ended questions of the other person.
Take advantage of networking events, or just constantly connect with people whenever the opportunity presents itself. Prosperous people always make sure of two things: That people know their name, and that they know the names of others. At networking events, spend your time and energy on just a few people you deem important for longer periods of time; as oppose to hopping around to 20 different people for two minutes each.
But while it’s important to network strategically, it’s also important to diversify your circle rather than confining to only people you’re comfortable with.
“Giving connects two people, the giver and the receiver, and this connection gives birth to a new sense of belonging.”
– Deepak Chopra
Start with why
I’m going to leave you with this great Ted Talk by Simon Sinek. If you haven’t already, you should read his book Start with Why. It’s a life-changing piece of work.
What do you think? What other habits are found in some of the most successful people?