You will pay good money for books and workshops on how to be a success — in business, in life, in everything. For the benefit of my children, and anyone else who is interested, I distill here a century of self-help books, and 40+ years of experience, into the following 5 “secrets of success”.
1. Be lucky.
I’m sorry to have to break it to you, but most of the “success” advice out there misses one key ingredient: luck. Luck is extremely important (see Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, and my Win More Grants blog). People who consider themselves successful usually downplay the role of luck, and up-play the role of their talents and actions in achieving success. They then write books and give talks, on the assumption that if you follow their advice, you too will be a success like them. Of course, “luck favours the prepared”, which is why there are four more items on this list. You can also improve your luck (see “The Luck Factor”, by Richard Wiseman, for instance). And certainly, if you want to win the lottery, you need to buy a ticket. To double your chances of winning, buy two tickets. If you want that dream job, you need to apply. And keep applying. If you want to run a successful charity, you need to start one. And so on….
Unfortunately, the one luck factor that has an enormous impact on your likelihood of success (at least by some criteria) is the socio-economic status of your parents. I’m afraid I can’t offer advice on how to change that, other than to encourage everyone to remember this fact when voting at the next election.
2. Know yourself
You are your own eternal life partner. Your own business partner. You are always there, with you, all the time. So, make sure you know who you are working with. Spend time finding out about who you are. Explore all the possible ways to discover yourself — meditation, counselling, coaching, just talking with friends, or writing things down, etc. Find the one that works for you. If you want to steer a path through life that suits you, the more you know about you, the better.
3. Be good
I don’t mean Mother-Theresa-style good. I simply mean be true to your own values (and if you did (2) properly, you will know what that means). Be tolerant of others, and of yourself. Be generous. Be courteous and polite. Behave. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Help others succeed, especially when they haven’t had as much of (1) as you. Always look for a win-win — if you live your life thinking that everything is a zero-sum game, someone will always lose. On your path to success, the least you can do is leave positive ripples behind you.
4. Define your success
Once in a while, someone finds their success by accident (see (1)). But for the rest of us, we need to work at it. We are more likely to achieve “success” if we actually know what that means. Ask yourself this: if I wake up tomorrow morning and I have achieved “success”, then what would it look like? What would be different? Success means different things to different people. Do you know what success means to you?
All of the above only happens if you make it happen. Act. By all means wait for life to happen to you. But you increase your chances of achieving your own idea of success if you actually get on and “do”. Besides, it is the “doing” of all of the above that makes the journey much more fun.