Recently I’ve seen a lot of articles related to Success, and how we define it. A lot of these are great thought-pieces, focusing on issues like success through good “work /life fits” over material wealth alone. And the concept isn’t new; I remember having these discussions all through high-school and college. More often than not though, I still see people chasing the traditional definitions of success, and doing what they have to in order to achieve it, all the while saying that “money isn’t everything.” Really, I was the same when I first entered the working force. I wanted to make money and have nice things, and you know, someday have a family. ]
But material wealth, or a work/life balance, isn’t what I think success actually is. Success is achieving or surpassing the intended results of an action or effort, sometimes considering the constraint of time. It’s specific to an intended result; so, of course, success will be different for everyone at different times of their lives. For example, my goal was to afford a 1-bedroom apartment in a particular neighborhood and still be able to live comfortably. Having that, I’ve achieved success! But that won’t be true forever. I’ve started to outgrow this level of success, and am not looking at what’s next – perhaps owning my own home? (Before that, it was living independently of my parents.)
Over the last 4 years, I’ve really redefined what I need out of life, and what it means to me to be successful. Don’t get me wrong; I am an ambitious person, and I want to lead projects, run businesses, and make a profit. But my point is, I’m no longer primarily motivated by the potential for copious amounts of money. I’m motivated by the image I hold of the person I want to be, the person I want to live like. And I think that’s something my generation has lost – role models of average people making the most out of their lives. Of course, there are athletes, and even self-help guru’s like John Maxwell or Robert Kiyosaki (both of whom I love). But, the exposure to those people vs. the exposure to your average person is slightly skewed. Not only is there a general shortage, but it typically takes more than one to really cultivate each individual.
So the question becomes, “how do you define for yourself who you want to be with a significant lack of role models available?”
First, Everything Starts with Goals, because realistically, if your ultimate goal is to be a salary-worker that sits in a cubical, versus to be a business owner that takes huge financial risks, different skills and behaviors are going to be necessary. So take the time to figure out what you need out of life, what will make you happy, and write down some goals.
Step 2, Look at the People Who Are Already What You Want to Be. There’s a fair chance that these people have already put the hours in and know what it takes to see the results you are looking for, so if you have a chance, talk to them. If that’s not an option because they are (border-line) celebrities, then learn about their lives and observe them. Pay attention to how they speak and behave, and even what topics are on their radar. Ok, so the celebrity gossip magazine probably isn’t a defining feature of what led to his or her success, but maybe the Fortune magazine is (unless you want to be an actor/actress, then I stand corrected).
Step 3 is Research the Position you want to be in. What skills are necessary to be the best? What qualifications are necessary to be the ideal candidate? There’s a saying, “shoot for the moon because if you miss you’ll land in the stars.” In this step, always look at the peak level of performance necessary because the reality is most people aren’t going to be the number one best, but I’d still take being the top 10% any day.
Finally, Consider Outside Perspectives. While I primarily adopt an attitude of doing what’s best for me and my happiness regardless of what anyone else thinks, I know that my life isn’t determined solely by me. Other people play a part in it on many different levels. For example, while I find sarcastic and dry humors hilarious, not everyone else does (not even a majority of people do). So when I’m selling, I tend to revert to the more commonly accepted corny humor initially, until I determine who I’m working with. So if you think the loner in the corner house is the most suave person you ever met once you get to know him, don’t be surprised if you’re shunned a bit once you start to emulate him. He probably had a harder path than someone that paid a bit more attention to social niceties.
Having a defined image of who you want to be and getting there are separate issues though. It’s easy to say, “I want to be a selfless person,” but it’s quite difficult to give your car to a poor family without a second thought because they need it more than you do. And to truly be in the position you want to fill, you have to be the right person for the job before it’s yours. There are three key aspects to this: Speech, Behavior, and Image.
1, Speak the Part. This requires you to first be informed on the topics that pertain to the position. If you want to be a CIA agent, for example, it would probably help to know what’s going on around the world. This isn’t to say go get a degree in engineering because you work in a technological industry, just have a working knowledge of the product and industry. If people are going to believe you’re the right person for the job, you should be able to convey this just through your general knowledge understanding.
Further still, slang probably won’t help you here. All slang is not acceptable in everyday business, and curse words are pretty unnecessary as well. Proper grammar and an expanded vocabulary add a lot of respect for very little investment. This extends to written communication as well. To be absolutely honest, I HATE it when people type like a gangsta: “wat u up 2? want 2 do something wit me?” I swear, it’s not the 90’s and cell phones have more than 12 buttons now! Take advantage of the qwerty keyboard installed and type out 90% of your words. An LOL or atm once in a while is fine, but keep it to a minimum. And absolutely do NOT extend this to an email or written document unless you’re making a point of it.
2, Act the Part. We’ve had a lot of bad things happen in the last decade, and the population is either shocked when someone they thought was a “bright, upstanding young person” was involved in something terrible like a bombing or shooting, or completely not surprised when the loner who had weird quirks and frightened other kids was. The same principle applies here – people are going to give opportunity to the people that come across like someone who can already fill the role. So, if you want to be a respected business person, do the little things: shake hands, be respectful, don’t lounge with your feet on your desk, etc.
3, Dress the Part. As much as we spout, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” ultimately humans are going to judge someone on whether or not they look like they fit the part or not. So if you want to be a manager at your company, and all the managers wear a full suit every day, wear a suit! Even if all your peers just wear a dress shirt and roll up the sleeves. If you can, do this from day one. But at the least, don’t only do it when an opening is being filled. If you always look the role, there will be no question when the time comes.
Ultimately, my generation faces a lot of obstacles that previous generations haven’t. The collapsed economy (I read it as called the Great Recession today), the instant-gratification attitude, being under a microscope even when you’re off the clock; it’s no wonder that so many of us get lost in the desire and hunt for money over that of actually achieving specific successes. In any area of your life, do your best to Speak, Act, and Dress, as the person you aspire to be. The reward will eventually come, but you have to put in the effort in the meantime. And knowing who you specifically want to be will get you there oh so much faster than someone that lets those around him to make the determination in his place.