It’s that time of year when we’re all thinking about what we’d like to achieve in the New Year.

Whether it’s improving an area of our lives (health or finance for example), taking a life-changing trip or embarking on a new career, chances are we have an idea of what we want to achieve, but not exactly how to achieve it.

Even if we do have a rough plan of sorts, seeking advice from others who’ve been there before you can only help, and saves from trying to figure everything out on our own.

During my tenure as a journalist, I interviewed a number of high profile names who had achieved great success in their chosen field.

Whenever I did so, my final question, though worded differently, was always pretty much the same:

“What advice would you give to those looking to follow in your footsteps?”

Though I asked partly to get a good quote for an article, my motives were mostly selfish; I really respected what my interviewees had achieved, longed to reach the same level of success and desperately wanted to know how they did it. Though I couldn’t always find away to apply everything I was told directly to my life, wherever I could, I did.

On standing out from the crowd when approaching editors in my writing career for example, a former editor of Marvel Comics once told me:

“Don’t be an envelope, be a face, be a name.”

I employed that line as my own personal mantra when seeking out bigger and better opportunities and certainly found that I’ve achieved more success ever since.

Who to ask

In his best-selling book, The 4-Hour Work Week, author Tim Ferriss discusses setting university students the challenge of seeking out high-profile successful people (the guys who created Google, for example) and asking for advice.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, and if you feel confident enough to call up Bill Gates and ask how to run a multi-billion dollar empire (or if you’re a journalist with access to the rich and famous!), then by all means go right ahead, though you’ll usually find plenty of people right on your doorstep who are happy to help.

Look around you

Whatever your goals are for the New Year, achieving them on your own is going to be hard work, and there’s likely to be somebody in your network who’ll be able to help.

If your goal is to run a marathon in 2012, tracking down Paula Radcliffe for training tips might not be necessary if you, or someone in your network, is already a seasoned athlete.

If you plan to get on top of your finances, who do you know who’s already good with money? What can you learn from them?

What to ask

If there’s one thing my time in journalism taught me, it’s that, when it comes to advice, if you simply ask ‘What do I need to do to follow in your footsteps?” you’re likely to be met with little more than an enthusiastic “Go for it!” Whilst this can do wonders for your motivation, it’s hardly practical and still leaves you scratching your head thinking “Yeah, but how?”

Instead, think about exactly what it is you want to know, and ask specific questions. To go back to our marathon example, think about specific areas you’re struggling with; how to maintain stamina, what to eat, or even which running shoes to buy. The more specific you can be with your questions, the more useful the advice will be.

To surmise then, think about your goals for the coming year, think about not only those who could advise you, but also what you need advice on, and make contact. Then, when you find yourself being approached for advice by others, be sure to remember all the times you were in their shoes, and help them out.

(Photo credit: Hot Keys for Advice and Support via Shutterstock)

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