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Blazing your own path to success

Did you ever look around in amazement at people around you who have achieved extraordinary things, yet don’t appear to be all that extraordinary?

These are people who have greatly succeeded in business, in politics, in the arts, in sports, or in some other space, but in many respects seem pretty much on par with you (or even inferior) in terms of core abilities and talents. How is it, you wonder, that they “made it” in such a robust manner while you continue to move along in relative obscurity, earning a pedestrian income and feeling somewhat unfulfilled?

Without question, there are many factors that maybe at play. Perhaps these individuals in fact possess special qualities and were able to leverage them to achieve success. Maybe they benefited from favorable timing, connections, family wealth or other advantages that helped propel them onto a higher plateau.

Those are the easy answers. Others have succeeded more than me because of their superior tools and/or their good fortune.

However, this can’t be the full explanation. We are all aware of “rags to riches” stories — accounts of individuals who began their lives and careers with much larger decks stacked against them than we did yet still managed to do great things. Even if you were to argue that these people are rare exceptions, the “one in a million” who defy the cruel odds of life, their successes remind us that us that greater attainment is possible if we learn to approach things correctly.

It’s also a cop-out. There will always be people out there who are smarter, more talented, more fortuitous, etc. Especially nowadays, when international talent can be easily identified and accessed, we cannot even rely on our “home field advantage” in order to advance. If you wish to occupy a different plane within your respective occupational or career space, you have to focus more on what you can do to get there.

Of course, there is no clear, straightforward path to success, but there are some steps that can help to clear the straightest pathway to your personal success.

  1. Believe in yourself. It is extremely difficult to get anywhere if you don’t believe deeply in yourself and your abilities. Sometimes, you can use an injection of positivity and support from others to get you started. But at some point you have to be able to sustain your efforts with a profound sense of capacity, especially when you start to experience inevitable setbacks.
  2. Align objectives with abilities. Obviously, we are not all good at everything, and belief alone won’t open most doors. That’s why it’s important to take the time to think about what you are really good at or can become very good at. This includes assessing your existing skills and knowledge as well as your ability to learn new and master new things. It also includes your passion, which is the engine that will ultimately drive your process forward. Seek to align your abilities (current and projected) with your goals so that you can likelier achieve what you want.
  3. Learn, learn and learn some more. Do as much research as possible about your goals and how best to achieve them. Speak to others who have gone down that path to learn from their experiences, mistakes and triumphs. Read related articles. Attend courses and seminars. Seek out apprenticeships for low-risk, on-the-job experience. All of these can help you build efficacy, shorten your learning curve, and strengthen your inner resolve and confidence.
  4. Set goals. Effort without a clear plan is likely to not produce the desired outcome. Take the time (alone or, better yet, with a coach or colleague) to set clear, actionable goals with clear deadlines and deliverables. This will help you focus your time and energies and motivate you to stay the course.
  5. Take measured risks. Every new endeavor carries some degree of risk. This particularly true when you seek to rise from good (or not-so-good) to great. So many people never pursue their dreams because they are unwilling to upset their existing apple carts and stretch beyond their comfort zones. Of course, all risk-taking should be measured and responsible in nature.
  6. Work hard. There is no substitute for hard work. It sounds so simple, but this frequently gets overlooked. So often, we observe successful people and focus on the here and now while losing sight of the many years of labor and toil that it took for them to break through. Once you identify your goal, be willing to put in the requisite time and effort to make your dreams a reality.
  7. Learn how to get unstuck. A primary obstacle to growth and success is our propensity to get stuck. Something happens that prevents us from moving forward and we fail to figure out how to get past it and come to accept it as fact. Think of ways around the problem so that you can maintain your progress.
  8. Take rejection standing up. Just because someone says “no” doesn’t mean that you’re incapable or that your idea is flawed. Sure, there may be some things that you need to tighten up. It would also be a good idea to get as much information as you can as to why your application or proposal was rejected. Still, countless success stories began with multiple rejections and setbacks at the outset.
  9. Refine your people skills. This is perhaps the most important quality in the list. Belief, self-efficacy and perseverance are hugely important qualities in a person’s success, but each can be undermined by poor or even average interpersonal skills. Despite our increased use of technology, our ability to interact with and gain the support and trust of others remains critical. Learn how to speak so that others will listen. At the end, all things being equal, people will hire or select those whom they like and relate best to. Consider it the human side of doing business. And that side isn’t going anywhere fast.

This post first appeared in SmartBlog on Leadership.

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