There’s probably more written about achieving success than anything else these days. Considering how subjective and amorphous the concept is, that surprises me. Not only does success mean different things to different people, it even means different things at different times in your career.
Early on, you’re probably motivated by relatively short-term endeavors like being recognized as a rising star in your field, developing a hot product, or making enough money to enjoy life. But later in life, you may come to define success very differently – as financial security for you and your family and knowing that your life’s work has made a real difference.
Regardless of who you are, what you do for a living, where you are in your journey, or what your specific goals happen to be at any point in time, success is always about one thing: setting aggressive goals and accomplishing them. That’s the one common denominator. Successful people are those who set their sites pretty high and accomplish what they set out to do.
Over the decades I’ve worked with hundreds of executives and business leaders that meet that description. And I can tell you with absolute certainty that they have absolutely nothing in common that sets them apart from others except for how they go about accomplishing their extraordinary goals.
They make a real difference.
The problem with today’s “change the world” entrepreneurial meme is that it’s grandiose and, ironically, a sort of narrow viewpoint of what it means to make a real difference. The vast majority of successful people I’ve known are relatively unknown and so are their accomplishments – except to their customers, employees, investors, and families.
They don’t start conversations; they make things happen.
Yes, I have seen a number of relatively famous people talk about “starting a conversation.” All I can say is, that’s not what made them successful in the first place. To me, that phrase is synonymous with an unwillingness to be decisive, drive a stake into the ground, and commit to making things happen. Starting conversations will not make you successful. Making things happen will.
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They’re never satisfied with themselves.
When it comes to their work, highly accomplished people are never satisfied with their own performance. They’re always hungry. They always expect more of themselves. And that’s usually a self-fulfilling prophecy.
They stick with it.
They take their goals, priorities, and commitments very seriously. Once they’ve figured out what they want to accomplish, they’re disciplined about getting it done and not letting obstacles stand in their way. They don’t always succeed – nobody does – but they won’t let that stop them from trying again and again until they do.
They don’t follow others.
What distinguishes their behavior from the pack is that they’re leaders of the pack. They don’t care how things are done and they have no patience for those who tell them how things should be done. They do things their way. The main thing they do differently is that they do things differently.
They don’t balk at making hard choices.
You really can’t achieve great things without getting your hands dirty. What I mean by that is there will always be challenges and obstacles that require you to make tough decisions and painful tradeoffs. If you’re squeamish about that, you’re going to have a hard time making it in the rough-and-tumble business world.
When they see an opportunity, they act.
When presented with an opportunity, the vast majority of people will come up with all sorts of excuses not to act on it. I don’t know why that is, but I see it every day. That’s why they never accomplish anything extraordinary. If you want to be successful, you have to create and act on opportunities.
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They trust their gut and it’s a tough judge.
Most people are easily influenced. I suppose that’s always been the case but the lousy quality of user-generated content seems to have taken gullibility to a whole new level. When it comes to making important business, people, and life decisions, always trust your gut, not what someone else says.
They take their work seriously, not themselves.
Granted, I have known quite a few executives with bigger egos and thinner skin than they should have. But they were not nearly as successful as those who realize they’re made of flesh and blood, like everyone else, and that business is about business, not them. People pay for your work, not you.
They focus on what matters.
Successful people don’t just see the big picture; they’re usually the ones that come up with it in the first place. Since it’s their vision, that’s what captures their attention, that’s what matters to them, and that’s what they focus on. That’s why they’re not easily distracted by what doesn’t matter – all the nonsense most people spend much of their time doing, these days.
The great irony of today’s obsession with success is that it really has nothing to do with characteristics, habits, routines, or any of the other popular notions we always read about. It’s actually quite personal. If you want to be successful, just figure out what matters to you – what you want to accomplish more than anything – and do whatever it takes to make it happen. And forget about what everyone else says. That's really all there is to it.