Most people in today’s society spend the majority of their time working, which means that our career progression and satisfaction has a massive impact on our lives. People often learn the secrets to happiness and success at work later in life, and wish they had discovered them when they first started on the career ladder. To avoid this, you need to learn from the best. Take the advice of some of the most successful business people to achieve success and satisfaction not only in your career, but also in your life.
You may not have found your dream job yet, and in a world where technology and business are advancing rapidly, you might not even have heard of your ideal career yet. Stay open to new possibilities and opportunities, and be flexible in your approach to your career path. The dream job you thought you wanted in high school might not be the most fulfilling for your adult self – allow yourself to continue growing and developing, and never be afraid to try something new. As Tim Ferriss, angel investor/advisor and author of The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body and The 4-Hour Chef, hailed as one of Fast Company’s ‘Most Innovative Business People’, and one of Forbes Magazine’s ‘Names You Need to Know’, says, ‘it’s not the strongest who survive. It’s the most adaptable.’
Executive Chairman of Google Eric Schmidt’s advice for finding these new opportunities, and building and adapting your skills and experiences, is simple: ‘Say yes to things’. Saying yes will take you out of your comfort zone, allow you to meet new people, and help you to make a difference in your own life and the lives of others. Schmidt notes that when you say yes to an opportunity, to get the most out of it, you need to be prepared to do all the work required, but this will not only benefit the person or company you are working with, but will also help you to learn more and to build connections and relationships of trust with more people.
This doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t commit fully to what you are doing at any given moment. As Patricia Sellers points out, ‘If you spend your time thinking about what you want to do next, you’re not fully focused on your current assignment. And unless you focus, you won’t compete successfully with people who are “all in.”’ Her advice is to treat every job you take on as if you were going to do it for the rest of your life. That way, you will be completely invested, which will help you perform to the best of your ability in every job role.
Another important tip from Sellers is related to thinking outside the box; do the job you are meant to be doing, but also think about what isn’t getting done. Always think about how you can contribute to the bigger picture, and don’t be afraid to share your ideas.
‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ is a cliché for a reason – even for those of us who find it difficult, and would rather stay within our comfortable social circles, networking is key to success. The more people you know, the more potential doors can be opened for you, and the more you can learn from those with different experiences from you. So, perhaps, it would be more accurate to say that who you know comes first, and what you know will expand and develop with the new connections you make.
Be curious, and keep learning from other people and by seeking out new experiences. As Seller notes, studies have shown that when people stop learning new information, they stop progressing, or even regress, in their careers. Be curious, and be interested in new information and knowledge, as this will make you more valuable in the workplace, as well as stimulating your mind, making your work more fulfilling.
Shane Parrish, an entrepreneur, and the founder and CEO of Farnam Street, says that one of the most important career lessons he has learnt is knowing when to say ‘I don’t know’. Many people associate the words ‘I don’t know’ with a sense of inferiority, and avoid them for fear of revealing a lack of knowledge. But Parrish warns that blurting out a borrowed opinion to avoid saying those dreaded words often leads not to a person appearing knowledgeable, but rather defending a superficial opinion with no real thought or merit behind it. Saying ‘I don’t know doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation. If someone asks you a question that you don’t have, or even haven’t thought about, an answer to, a good way to handle it is to buy some time. Say that you haven’t given the matter much consideration, but that you are interested and plan to do some research into the question, so that you can follow up on the conversation when you are more informed. Ask the person who brought up the issue, and anyone else present, for their opinion on the matter, and really listen to them, engaging with what they are saying and considering their opinions without simply accepting them.
In the words of J. K. Rowling, ‘It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all. In which case, you fail by default.’ However, while failure is an inevitable part of learning, James Altucher, investor, writer, entrepreneur and author of Choose Yourself, reminds us not to dwell on failure and its supposed benefits. He argues that there are no benefits to be gained from failing ‘so hard you are scared and anxious for life, family, love, career…’ Dealing with failure is a balancing act. You have to take risks in order to learn, and you might fail, but one of the secrets to success is not failure itself, but overcoming it, and not letting it put you off the next new experience you want to pursue.
Altucher’s advice for success is this: ‘The key to wealth is to create wealth for others, whether you are an employee, an entrepreneur, or an entre-ployee.’ He suggests writing down 10 ideas every day. For Altucher, when he was starting out as an entrepreneur, these ideas included business ideas, ideas for books he could write, or ways companies could be improved. Then, he sent his ideas out to companies and people he thought would be interested in them, and eventually, he got responses, and got paid for his ideas. He points out that this can be done from inside a company, not just as an outside entrepreneur. Whether from an outside or an inside perspective, bringing new ideas makes you an asset, and as such, is key to your career success.
This one is particularly important for entrepreneurs – being able to effectively pitch your ideas and your brand is key to the success of your business, but what many people don’t realise is that effective pitching is key no matter what your job role. In business, you are always selling something, whether it is an idea, a product, a service, or even yourself in a job interview. Know the worth of what you are selling, and pitch with knowledge and confidence.
We have all experienced that sinking feeling of realisation that you have messed up, and it can be tempting to avoid mentioning it in the hope that no one will notice, and to avoid that conversation with your boss. However, trust us, this is not a good idea. Being caught out will be 10 times worse than being honest as soon as you realise your mistake. If you can, fix the problem quickly, then give all relevant team members an update, letting them know that there was a problem, but that you have resolved it – this will show that you are not only honest, but also proactive, and have taken responsibility for the error. If the mistake is not something you can resolve on your own, you need to ’fess up. Try to come up with a plan of action before you discuss the issue with your boss and any other relevant staff, then explain how the error happened, what you intend to do to fix it, and ask for the help that you need. Even if you can’t see a way to correct your mistake, honesty is always the best policy. We can’t promise that there wont be annoyance caused, but remember that everyone makes mistakes; it is how you deal with those mistakes that will make or break your career progression. Honesty is a quality highly valued by employers, and demonstrating problem-solving abilities will gain you bonus points, and might even make them forget that you caused the problem in the first place!
Tim Ferriss sums up his career (and life) advice in a sentence: ‘You are the average of the five people you associate with most.’ Think about who you want to be, as a person and in your career. Think about the five people that you spend the most time with. Do those people share or reflect your values and ambitions? Do you admire them, even aspire to be more like them in some way? If so, you are on the right track, but if not, think about people who do share those goals and ideas, and who you admire, and consciously seek them out. Ask them about themselves, or work with them on a project. The people you choose to surround yourself with have a massive impact on your outlook on life, including your career, and it is important to be conscious of this, and make sure that the friends, colleagues and contacts you associate most with are the ones who will bring out the best in you.
On a related note, remember to cherish your loved ones. Whether this is your biological family or the friends who become family, these are the most important people, and there is nothing worth sacrificing them for. Always make time for them, and let them know how much you care about them.
Patricia Sellers advises working with people who are smarter than you are, so that you stay stimulated and continue to learn. New skills and experiences and the job satisfaction that comes with them are much more valuable to you, both in terms of your personal happiness and your career progression, than the pay packet you get each month.
Finally, CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg’s advice is to trust yourself. ‘When you’re young, you hear that you don’t have experience to do things, that there are people that have more experience than you. But I started Facebook when I was 19.’ Zuckerberg’s success is an important reminder that you are never too young (or too old) to achieve something significant in your life. If you have a clear vision, and you know what it is that you are trying to achieve, listen to your instincts and have faith in yourself.