To be successful at something you need to be awesome at it first. If you’re not awesome at what you do, someday you will be found out, probably humiliated and likely hit a ceiling that will put a halt on your career.
There is some good news, though. As long as you’re willing to put in the work, it’s not too late. You can still become awesome and if you’ve already hit that ceiling I mentioned you’re in luck again because it’s breakable.
Here’s where to start:
Stop looking for the silver bullet: the journey to success starts at the bottom of a staircase, not an escalator. It’s not called climbing the corporate ladder for nothing. There is no magic potion for success. Insert as many (misquoted) clichés here as you like, bottom line is you need to start working harder!
Know what you want: it’s cool to be all like ‘I let my moral compass be my guide in a career that makes a difference’ but you still need goals. There is no career without them. Stop being a floater. Write down your goals and get at them!
Know your business, organisation and your job inside out: research your ass off until you’re an expert and you know all you can about your industry/sector!
Seek out and grab with two hands every learning opportunity you can: create your own personal and professional development plan. Show your boss if she’s interested and supportive. Make it happen even if work doesn’t support you!
Become T-shaped: if you’re a generalist, become an expert at something; if you’re an expert at something, start learning about everything else!
Surround yourself with people who are successful: success breeds success!
Don’t make your career your only measure of success: your personal life, health, fitness, hobbies and intellectual pursuits are important and achieving outside of work will make you better at work. Don’t just aim for a successful career, aim for a successful and happy life!
Without hard work and being great at what you do, a successful career will be nothing more than a pipe dream.
When you’re old and looking back on your life, what do you want to see? A loser who looked for the cheap, easy way to the top and didn’t reach their potential; or a winner who worked their ass off to achieve what they were destined to?
In 2011, a good friend and I coached a varsity boys basketball team at an international school in Myanmar (Burma). Leading into the pre-season, I created a rule book which outlined how the team was expected to conduct themselves during the season.
The rule book was inspired by thoughts and principles that were originally developed and used by legendary basketball player and coach, John Wooden. A former teacher and now member of the basketball hall of fame, John Wooden was an extraordinary basketball player and coach. As a player, he went All-American in college. As a coach, his high school and college teams won an extraordinary 80% of their games with him at the helm. He won 10 NCAA National Championships over 12 years as head coach at UCLA and was named National Coach of the Year 6 times. That’s a hell of a record.
Coach Wooden’s success came from his unique approach to basketball, to coaching and more pertinently to life. He believed that being a great player and a great team required more than just a well-drilled set of technical basketball skills.
He believed that to be a great player and a great team, you also need the right values. Values that, when translated into action embody, promote and facilitate altruism, fairness and humility.
I recently came across the rule book by accident, while trawling through some long forgotten folders on an old hard drive. Reading through it again, I couldn’t help but reminisce about how impressed my fellow coach and I were with the conduct and behaviour of our team that season.
How after winning the Myanmar national tournament, we travelled to Bangkok for the South East Asian Schools Athletics Conference (SEASAC). How at that conference, playing against bigger and more established schools from around South East Asia, we punched well above our weight, coming within 4 points with two minutes to go of beating the eventual division one tournament champions in a group-stage game.
How the boys personified sportsmanship, cheering for other teams during game breaks and being gracious in both victory and defeat, shaking hands and congratulating teams before and after every game. And, how after winning the division two championship, the boys were voted Best and Fairest by the other team’s coaches.
We may not have won it all, but I consider that season to have been a very successful one. When we arrived in Bangkok for SEASAC , it was clear that we were under-dogs. From what I could gather from the snarks and sneers of some of the other teams and even coaches, we were also widely considered a joke and an also-ran.
We were younger, shorter and nowhere near as resourced as the other richer and better connected international schools. While most students from the other schools came from comparatively privileged backgrounds, our boys were from a country widely recognised as third world/developing and that had been locked down by a military regime. A country that had shut out the rest of the world for the previous 20+ years (long before these boys were even born).
A country where until recently, most citizens weren’t allowed out and most foreigners weren’t allowed in. Where foreign journalist were banned and cameras and laptops were confiscated at the airport. A country where some of the world’s longest running civil wars have raged for decades. And, where military personnel with rifles stood posted at every intersection in the former capital, Yangon (Rangoon), the city where the team was from.
Despite these challenges, by the end of the tournament our boys were looked up to by everyone. Why? Because of their respectful conduct, their leadership on and off the court, their heart and courage, and their never give up attitude.
They were honoured as Best and Fairest because they practiced what Coach Wooden had taught them in that rule book. They were honoured because they behaved in a way that embodied, promoted and facilitated altruism, fairness and humility. Because despite not being crowned champions, they behaved like champions.
Today, those boys are following their dreams. Some are just finishing up high school while others are studying in their chosen field at universities around the world. Some are working in their family business back in Myanmar and others are blazing their own trail, making a difference in their community or building companies. Needless to say, I was and still am a super proud coach.
As I was reading through the rule book again, it occurred to me that the principles therein aren’t really about basketball or even sports, at all. They’re about how to conduct yourself in life. They’re a framework for success in any field you wish to apply them. They will never get old, outdated or irrelevant. And the best part — anyone can practice them.
So here it is. This is the exact rule book I gave those boys, with the exception that I’ve added links to some articles, blogs and videos to get you thinking and acting on each one. Work on establishing these behaviours and you can be successful at whatever you put your mind to.
Read right to the end to watch a TED Talk by the man himself Coach John Wooden, in which he talks about the difference between winning and being successful. It’s well worth your time!
“A player who makes a team great is more valuable than a great player. Losing yourself in the group, the good of the group, that’s team work.” – John Wooden
If you’ve got a few minutes (17 to be precise), watch this awesome TED talk by the legendary John Wooden about the difference between winning and success. With almost 4 million views, it’s one of the most watched TEDs in history. You’ll learn something, I promise.