No matter what is going on in your career, chances are someone else before you had a similar situation.
I’ve been a journalist for the better part of two decades and during that time I’ve interviewed and written about thousands of people in various stages of success, from CEOs of multibillion companies to entrepreneurs launching startups, to entrepreneurs shutting down their startups to CEOs selling their startups for fantastic amounts of money.
All of that has led me to conclude that there are certain universal “business truths” – tips and tricks that work for nearly everyone in every business.
You don’t have to turn your favorite hobby or pastime into your full-time living, but you do need to have a passion for your work. If your work is meaningful to you, your work life will be a joy.If you can’t be passionate about the work itself, be passionate about the reason you do it. Maybe you don’t love your job or company, but the money and benefits are good for your family. Be passionate in your choice to do right by your family while also taking steps to find a role you do love.Surround yourself with positive people and you’ll have a positive outcome.
If you spend most of your time using your talents and doing things you are good at, you’re more likely to be happy. If you spend most of your time struggling to improve your weaknesses, you’re likely to be frustrated. Practice is the only true way to master a new skill. Be patient with yourself while you learn something new.The only way to stay fresh is to keep learning new things.To learn new things means being a beginner, and that means having a “beginner mind” and making mistakes.The more comfortable you grow with making beginner mistakes, the easier it is to learn new things.If you think something needs changing, be the one to lead the change. Start small and build from there.Do the obvious stuff first, then progress to the harder stuff. (Otherwise known as going for the low-hanging fruit.)Always try to get better at your craft, from the technical aspects of your job to your leadership skills. The hardest lesson to learn is when to keep going and when to quit. No one can teach you that. At some point, you have to choose.If you truly believe in what you’re doing and you have a strong vision for the outcome and the basic steps to get there, believe in yourself and don’t quit, even if (especially if), the world is telling you you’re crazy. The definition of crazy is to do the same thing the same way and expect a different result. If the result isn’t good, change something and then try again.No one succeeds alone. Ask for help. Be specific when asking. Be graceful and grateful when help comes. People experience the world differently. Two people can attend the same meeting and walk away with different impressions. Don’t fight that. Use it.Embrace diversity. The best way to compensate for your own weaknesses is to pick teammates who have different strengths.
You don’t have to like someone to treat that person with respect and courtesy.Don’t “should” all over someone, and don’t let someone else “should” all over you.No matter what you do or how much you achieve, there are always people who have more. There will always be people who have less, too.You will never have all the resources (time, money, people, etc.) that you want for your project or company. No one ever has all the resources they want. A lack of resources isn’t an excuse. It’s a blessing in disguise. You’ll have to get creative.Creativity and innovation are skills that can be learned and practiced by doing your usual things in a new way.In the early stages of a company, career, or project, you’ll have to say “yes” to a lot of things. In the later stages, you’ll have to say “no.”Negative feedback (aka criticism) is necessary. Don’t automatically reject it (or accept it as the absolute truth). Examine it for nuggets of truth, then disregard the rest.Ditto for positive feedback (aka praise). Don’t automatically accept it (or reject it). Examine it for nuggets of truth, and then disregard the rest.Don’t let other people’s opinions (good or bad) shape your opinion of yourself. Treat that sort of feedback as you would any other feedback, looking for the nuggets of insight, but deciding for yourself what you believe, especially about yourself.When its up to you to deliver the criticism, talk about the work, not the person. Think big. Dream big. (The alternative is to think small, dream small.)
Treat your dream as an ultimate road map. You don’t have to achieve your dream right away, but the only way to get there is to take many steps toward it.If you think big, you will hear “no” more than you hear “yes.” They don’t get to decide. You do.As you achieve successful outcomes, you will be pressured to do more and do it faster. Be prepared to grab that golden ring if it’s offered and trust you will learn how to handle the added responsibilities. (Some people call this “leaning in.”) If there is one secret to success, it’s this: communicate your plans with other people and keep communicating those plans in every way possible. The more others understand where you are going and why, the easier it will be to attract the ones who will help you and let go of those who hold you back. Grow your network. Make an effort to meet new people and to keep in contact with those you know. No matter what technology or service you are creating or inventing at your company, it’s not about the product; it’s always about the people and the lives you will improve. Stay focused on that, and the project is much more likely to be successful. No matter how successful you get, you can still fail and fail big.
Failure isn’t a bad thing. It’s part of the process. Take risks. Not wild risks. Calculated ones. Don’t expect failure, but do plan for it. The best way to always win the big game is to have alternate plans for losing various battles. Sometimes, you do have to throw caution to the wind and simply gamble everything on your vision. No one can tell you when to do this. If you feel strongly enough, just do it. Learn how to respectfully, but firmly, say “no.” Say “yes” as much as you can. In order to say “yes” often, attach boundaries or a scope of work around your “yes.” Getting what you want doesn’t mean you’ll be happy. Happiness is the art of being satisfied with what you already have. Working with difficult personalities will be a part of every job. Be respectful, do your job well, and cheerfully don’t let the difficult person derail your project. Focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want.If you truly want to change the world, you’ve got to earn a position of influence or power and use that influence to change your part of the world. Do it openly and as a role model and you will empower others to change, too.
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