“Success” is defined as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”
Ipso facto, as long as you have a purpose you can be a success. Being “successful” can occur at any age, from youth to the retirement home. It can be in any field of endeavor – just ask the folks doing triathlons in their late 80s. It can be as simple as running a foot race, and as complex as starting a new business, or as important as being a caregiver to the terminally ill.
Succeeding is the norm for many people. In my life I was a high school track star, running the high hurdles despite being “vertically challenged”. I launched a successful semiconductor services company that was profitable from day one. I grew that startup into a publicly traded semiconductor company, that I ran for 37 years (36 profitably). I completed taking the company public shortly after going blind, and still led the company as its CEO for another 20 years. And now in my so-called retirement, I am writing books that are required reading in business schools.
And I’m nothing special. I just understood early on that “success” is a mindset, and that there are a few necessary tactics to being successful.
Interestingly, the same factors that tend to make you successful in one of those endeavors are the same factors that make you successful in all of them. Here are the attributes I find to be most enduring.
Learn to love doing the things you hate: Don’t you love to procrastinate? Sure. Everyone does. But procrastination is the #1 barrier to success, even more so than self-doubt. We procrastinate most about the things we dislike – everything from doing the dishes to doing our taxes. But putting off the things we hate improves nothing and impregnates our minds with the dread of having to do it anyway. When you learn to find amusement or joy in doing what you hate, you quit hating it and quit procrastinating too.
But how do you find joy in unlovable tasks? Two elements are important. First, search for how the task adds to your overall connection. For example, many tech leaders have no love for accounting until they learn how those numbers help them to monitor the success of their operations or anticipate changes in their markets. Knowing how the unlovable fulfills the lovable is a large first step.
You can also find joy in the intricacy of the task itself. This is a bit Zen in nature, but focusing intently on the task at hand detaches you from other concerns. Consider focusing intently on unwelcome task as a vacation from other worries.
Start the day doing the “Tough Things First”: I published my first book – Tough Things First – in my late 70s. Writing a book, finding a publisher, doing speaking tours, signing what seems like millions of autographs was tough. But in 37 years of running the semiconductor company I founded and took public, I learned that the small problems largely solve themselves once the big, tough problem is completed. No matter what you are trying to accomplish, list what needs doing that day and put the hardest, most difficult task on the top of the list – or as I like to say, “eat the ugly frog first.” This makes you happier, more energized and about 20% more productive.
The easy way to achieve this is simply write down the ten most urgent and important things that need doing, then sort that list starting with the least enjoyable – the ugly frogs. Don’t even think about task #2 until task #1 is finished.
Watch your health: Good health and good success go hand-in-hand. Nobody does well when they don’t feel well, so get a good night’s rest, eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and don’t stress small stuff. Many successful people I know like to exercise in the morning. By making this a priority, they build-in an activity that aids in good sleep and is known to help with stress reduction. It is also a good time to mentally create your list of ten urgent and important tasks …
If you are young; think old, if you are old, think young: Youth may be wasted on the young, but old age is wasted on the elderly too. It is the intersection of wisdom and exuberance that makes really great things happen. The young can learn the wisdom of their elders, and the old can always find something new to try. Embrace every facet of your journey, throughout your journey.
Thinking old when you are young is quite easy and starts by finding a mentor. Everyone needs a mentor, even if it is just calling “dear old dad” and asking for advice. For entrepreneurs, you reach out to experienced business people, most of whom genuinely love helping.
For older folks, thinking young is a bit trickier. Foremost, keep your curiosity well fed. Youth is all about adventure, experience and learning, and none of that happens unless you are curious. A good way to stay curious starts with assuming you don’t know everything and unlearning old falsehoods. Start your day (after your morning exercise and ugly frog eating) challenging an assumption you are ready to speak and do so by asking a question.
Be a good listener: Success comes from learning, and you can’t learn when you are talking. Seek to understand before being understood, listen actively, ask questions and absorb. This will garner you all the information you need to make better decisions.
The right way to listen is to do so actively. Concentrate on every word the other person says, ignore your internal monologue, and suppress the natural desire to form your next statement in advance.
Dress one level better than required: Mark Twain allegedly once joked that “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.” It doesn’t matter if the occasion is a job interview, a date, a business meeting or a social gathering. People who underdress underwhelm. Think about how you would want to perceive an interesting person at the occasion, then dress 10% better.
Be wise not smart: There are a lot of people who are smart and can critically think, but often they think toward the wrong conclusion. To be wise is to have experience, knowledge, and good judgment. You don’t need to first acquire a life time of wisdom – you can get that on the fly from mentors. But you do need to bow toward wisdom as much, and perhaps more so, than sly pondering.
One aspect of wisdom is anticipating all the effects a decision you make may have. Take a moment before making a decision to think about everyone and everything that will be affected, not only immediately but at least once removed (the echo effect).
Be trustworthy: My marketing director likes to say that “an untrusted brand is an unprofitable brand”. He is right, and since you have a personal brand, you cannot be successful in life if you are not trusted. The only way to be worthy of trust is to always do the right thing.
Have impeccable integrity: Integrity is the process of doing the right thing even when nobody is watching. Acts of integrity get noticed, especially in our modern era where it appears to be in short supply. When you display integrity, you earn trust (see the bullet above).
Start early and stay late: You need not be a workaholic. Despite founding and leading a public company, I rarely worked more than 50 hours a week. But you do have to put in sufficient time to get your job done, and you need to set good examples for others. Get going before the day demands your attention, and stay as long as necessary to wrap up loose ends.
Work smarter not just harder: This meme sounds trite, but it is very important. One mistake many people make is taking on personal responsibility for everything instead of delegating. A consultant I know refuses to clean his own house because he charges $100 an hour while a maid costs $20. It is smart of him to pay his maid in order to stay focused.
Knowing when you are working too hard is the goal. Some people thrive on working day and night, but then are surprised when their marriage falls apart. You know you are working too hard when the costs – poor health, bad relationships, grumpy employees – are higher than any benefit you might be acquiring.
Never give up: Everyone, including me and including you, will face challenges big enough that we want to quit. But quitting is failing, the opposite of success. If your goal was good enough to start working toward, it is good enough to keep working toward, despite setbacks, despite complications. Stick to the project until it sticks to you.
Be happy and friendly: Nobody likes helping a grump … and everybody needs help.
Be passionate not eager: Passion involves having strong feelings or beliefs, while being eager means wanting something. We all want things yet wanting is never enough. But being passionate about something provides you fuel for the journey, the desire to start, continue and finish.
Have a clear vision of your purpose and mission: Success is about going somewhere, achieving a goal. But you cannot get to where you want to be unless you know where that is. If you cannot explain your vision to someone else clearly, in a few words (what we call an “elevator pitch”) and make them understand it, then you don’t have a clear view of your destination, and you won’t get many people to follow you.
If in doubt, write down your mission, then share it with someone not involved with your project or business. If they cannot understand what the mission is, then you don’t yet have it firmly defined in your own mind.
Be a worthy servant leader: Being successful will likely involve more than just you. It may require employees, community members, family, a congregation, or voters. You succeed only when they do, and that means you have to serve them first. When you adopt the mindset of “what do I need to do so that they can succeed in the mission I have set forth”, you change the way you and they work together.
Be meek not weak: Meekness involves being quiet and gentle, not submissive. The key is to dispose of your ego and adopt constant humility, which will get you further than sheer drive. People may obey a hardnosed boss, but they will love and follow a humble leader.