There has been much written about how to be successful; how to build a résumé that will knock the socks off a prospective employer, how to manage conflict, how to “dress for success”, how to develop amazing interpersonal skills, and how to make yourself indispensable are examples of the angles the experts present as the ingredients to a rewarding future.
The problem is there are too many slices of success advocated by too many pundits; an individual looking for help and guidance doesn’t know which expert to listen to one and how to prioritize the many opportunities to improve they have in front of them.
And they’re all looking for that ONE slice that will make them successful; the silver bullet that explains why one person succeeds and another doesn’t.
The other problem I see is that everyone wants to spend a lot of time studying the slices of the success pie. They want to be absolutely sure that when they decide to act on any specific course of action, it is the right course of action for them in terms of their future.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “How do I know this opportunity is consistent with my long term career goals?” from a young professional asking for career guidance.
They want a guarantee that if they take a particular action that it will end up being the exact ingredient they need to be successful in the long term success.
And of course while they ponder the answer to the question, precious time passes and others take the opportunity.
In my experience, there is one thing that has a major influence on whether someone succeeds or not, and it’s pretty simple.
Do something, learn from it, do something else (and repeat).
First of all, pondering and intellectualizing the possibilities in front of you doesn’t accomplish anything other than burn precious time and energy cycles that you can ill afford to waste.
Performing detailed analyses and trade-off assessments on the number of options you have available may make you feel like you’re making progress, but you’re not.
All you’re doing is trying to make a perfect decision which is pretty well impossible in today’s environment of rapid change, uncertainty and unpredictability.
The best way to see if a course of action is right for you is to take it (if it feels right for you) and find out.
If, for example, it seems right to take a lateral move into sales for the experience, then do it. Sooner or later you’ll discover if it was the right call — you will never be able to predict the outcome if you don’t.
Or, if you’re wondering whether or not taking a course in the environmental sciences will help you, take it; eventually the wisdom of your decision will reveal itself to you.
Learn from it
If you don’t learn from every experience you have, you’re depriving yourself of what is needed to move forward.
I have observed throughout my career many people who were exposed to opportunities never learned from them.
They accepted a temporary assignment as a member of a new product introduction team, for example, and failed to take away any new insights on how to manage conflict.
Or they were enrolled against their will in a finance course (as part of their personal development plan) and got buried in how to construct an income statement rather than see how the elements of it could be used to diagnose organizational problems and therefore help improve performance.
In my experience I have never found an adventure that didn’t teach me something; there is always some redeeming value in anything we are exposed to.
We just need to be open to the possibilities and absorb them when you discover them.
Do something else
Learning must inform action.
The secret is to figure out what the new found knowledge means in terms of the next step you take.
To be meaningful learning must either reinforce that you are on the right track, or cause you to change your course in some way.
But learning needs to force something to happen, not linger as an emotion and then evaporate leaving no trace that it occurred — learning must leave a trail; an imprint on your journey’s pathway.
“What are the implications of what I have learned in terms of my next steps?” must be asked at the end of every new adventure if learning is to have a productive role to play in your success.
Do something, learn from it, do something else (and repeat) — the one thing you need to know about success.