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Published on October 16, 2018

17 Things You Need to Know to Achieve Career Success at Any Age

17 Things You Need to Know to Achieve Career Success at Any Age

“Success” is defined as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”

Ipso facto, as long as you have a purpose you can be a success. Being “successful” can occur at any age, from youth to the retirement home. It can be in any field of endeavor – just ask the folks doing triathlons in their late 80s. It can be as simple as running a foot race, and as complex as starting a new business, or as important as being a caregiver to the terminally ill.

Succeeding is the norm for many people. In my life, I was a high school track star, running the high hurdles despite being “vertically challenged”. I launched a successful semiconductor services company that was profitable from day one. I grew that startup into a publicly traded semiconductor company, that I ran for 37 years (36 profitably). I completed taking the company public shortly after going blind, and still led the company as its CEO for another 20 years. And now in my so-called retirement, I am writing books that are required reading in business schools.

And I’m nothing special. I just understood early on that “success” is a mindset, and that there are a few necessary tactics to being successful.

Interestingly, the same factors that tend to make you successful in one of those endeavors are the same factors that make you successful in all of them. Here are the attributes I find to be most enduring.

1. Learn to love doing the things you hate

Don’t you love to procrastinate? Sure. Everyone does. But procrastination is the #1 barrier to success, even more so than self-doubt.

We procrastinate most about the things we dislike – everything from doing the dishes to doing our taxes. But putting off the things we hate improves nothing and impregnates our minds with the dread of having to do it anyway.

When you learn to find amusement or joy in doing what you hate, you quit hating it and quit procrastinating too.

But how do you find joy in unlovable tasks? Two elements are important:

First, search for how the task adds to your overall connection. For example, many tech leaders have no love for accounting until they learn how those numbers help them to monitor the success of their operations or anticipate changes in their markets. Knowing how the unlovable fulfills the lovable is a large first step.

Secondly, find joy in the intricacy of the task itself. This is a bit Zen in nature, but focusing intently on the task at hand detaches you from other concerns. Consider focusing intently on unwelcome task as a vacation from other worries.

2. Start the day doing the “Tough Things First”

I published my first book – Tough Things First – in my late 70s. Writing a book, finding a publisher, doing speaking tours, signing what seems like millions of autographs was tough. But in 37 years of running the semiconductor company I founded and took public, I learned that the small problems largely solve themselves once the big, tough problem is completed.

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No matter what you are trying to accomplish, list what needs doing that day and put the hardest, most difficult task on the top of the list – or as I like to say, “eat the ugly frog first.” This makes you happier, more energized and about 20% more productive.

The easy way to achieve this is simply write down the ten most urgent and important things that need doing, then sort that list starting with the least enjoyable – the ugly frogs. Don’t even think about task #2 until task #1 is finished.

3. Watch your health

Good health and good success go hand-in-hand. Nobody does well when they don’t feel well, so get a good night’s rest, eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and don’t stress small stuff.

Many successful people I know like to exercise in the morning. By making this a priority, they build-in an activity that aids in good sleep and is known to help with stress reduction.

It is also a good time to mentally create your list of ten urgent and important tasks.

4. If you are young, think old; if you are old, think young

Youth may be wasted on the young, but old age is wasted on the elderly too. It is the intersection of wisdom and exuberance that makes really great things happen.

The young can learn the wisdom of their elders, and the old can always find something new to try. Embrace every facet of your journey, throughout your journey.

Thinking old when you are young is quite easy and starts by finding a mentor. Everyone needs a mentor, even if it is just calling “dear old dad” and asking for advice.

For entrepreneurs, you reach out to experienced business people, most of whom genuinely love helping.

For older folks, thinking young is a bit trickier. Foremost, keep your curiosity well fed. Youth is all about adventure, experience and learning, and none of that happens unless you are curious. A good way to stay curious starts with assuming you don’t know everything and unlearning old falsehoods. Start your day (after your morning exercise and ugly frog eating) challenging an assumption you are ready to speak and do so by asking a question.

5. Be a good listener

Success comes from learning, and you can’t learn when you are talking. Seek to understand before being understood, listen actively, ask questions and absorb. This will garner you all the information you need to make better decisions.

The right way to listen is to do so actively. Concentrate on every word the other person says, ignore your internal monologue, and suppress the natural desire to form your next statement in advance.

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These 13 Powerful Listening Skills will improve your work and life.

6. Dress one level better than required

Mark Twain allegedly once joked that:

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.”

It doesn’t matter if the occasion is a job interview, a date, a business meeting or a social gathering. People who underdress underwhelm.

Think about how you would want to perceive an interesting person at the occasion, then dress 10% better.

Even if you’re on a tight budget, here’re still some tips for you to dress for success.

7. Be wise, not smart

There are a lot of people who are smart and can critically think, but often they think toward the wrong conclusion.

To be wise is to have experience, knowledge, and good judgment. You don’t need to first acquire a life time of wisdom – you can get that on the fly from mentors. But you do need to bow toward wisdom as much, and perhaps more so, than sly pondering.

One aspect of wisdom is anticipating all the effects a decision you make may have. Take a moment before making a decision to think about everyone and everything that will be affected, not only immediately but at least once removed (the echo effect).

8. Be trustworthy

My marketing director likes to say that “an untrusted brand is an unprofitable brand”. He is right, and since you have a personal brand, you cannot be successful in life if you are not trusted.

The only way to be worthy of trust is to always do the right thing. Trustworthy people never do these 10 things.

9. Have impeccable integrity

Integrity is the process of doing the right thing even when nobody is watching. Acts of integrity get noticed, especially in our modern era where it appears to be in short supply. When you display integrity, you earn trust (see the bullet above).

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Learn here How to Succeed with Integrity in a Competitive Workplace.

10. Start early and stay late

You need not be a workaholic. Despite founding and leading a public company, I rarely worked more than 50 hours a week. But you do have to put in sufficient time to get your job done, and you need to set good examples for others.

Get going before the day demands your attention, and stay as long as necessary to wrap up loose ends.

11. Work smarter not just harder

This meme sounds trite, but it is very important.

One mistake many people make is taking on personal responsibility for everything instead of delegating. A consultant I know refuses to clean his own house because he charges $100 an hour while a maid costs $20. It is smart of him to pay his maid in order to stay focused.

Knowing when you are working too hard is the goal. Some people thrive on working day and night, but then are surprised when their marriage falls apart. You know you are working too hard when the costs – poor health, bad relationships, grumpy employees – are higher than any benefit you might be acquiring.

12. Never give up

Everyone, including me and you, will face challenges big enough that we want to quit. But quitting is failing, the opposite of success.

If your goal was good enough to start working toward, it is good enough to keep working toward, despite setbacks, despite complications.

Stick to the project until it sticks to you. Giving up is not an option and this it how to stay motivated.

13. Be happy and friendly

Nobody likes helping a grump … and everybody needs help.

And there’re more reasons why you need to make friends at work.

14. Be passionate, not eager

Passion involves having strong feelings or beliefs, while being eager means wanting something.

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We all want things yet wanting is never enough. But being passionate about something provides you fuel for the journey, the desire to start, continue and finish.

Not quite sure about your passion? Leo Babauta has got you some advice to find your passion and live a fulfilling life.

15. Have a clear vision of your purpose and mission

Success is about going somewhere, achieving a goal. But you cannot get to where you want to be unless you know where that is.

If you cannot explain your vision to someone else clearly in a few words (what we call an “elevator pitch”) and make them understand it, then you don’t have a clear view of your destination, and you won’t get many people to follow you.

If in doubt, write down your mission, then share it with someone not involved with your project or business. If they cannot understand what the mission is, then you don’t yet have it firmly defined in your own mind.

16. Be a worthy servant leader

Being successful will likely involve more than just you. It may require employees, community members, family, a congregation, or voters. You succeed only when they do, and that means you have to serve them first.

When you adopt the mindset of “what do I need to do so that they can succeed in the mission I have set forth”, you change the way you and they work together.

17. Be meek, not weak

Meekness involves being quiet and gentle, not submissive. The key is to dispose of your ego and adopt constant humility, which will get you further than sheer drive.

People may obey a hard nosed boss, but they will love and follow a humble leader.

If you want to be an effective leader, don’t miss out this guide:

How to Be an Effective Leader (A Step-By-Step Guide to Upgrade Your Leadership Skills)

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

More by this author

Ray Zinn

Ray Zinn is an inventor, entrepreneur, investor, angel, bestselling author and the longest serving CEO of a publicly traded company in Silicon Valley.

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Last Updated on January 14, 2019

The Key to Finding Job Satisfaction and Having a Successful Career

The Key to Finding Job Satisfaction and Having a Successful Career

Regardless of whether you hold an entry-level administration role or regularly travel to the ends of the Earth as a hot-shot senior executive, you can still find yourself harboring an emptiness… a feeling that something is missing. A popular assumption that experiencing job satisfaction and a successful career should be underpinned by a well-rounded suite of tangible benefits, no longer holds true for many of us.

We’d never deny health care benefits, appropriate and fair remuneration, bonuses and travel perks in a job package. However, even if served to us on a silver platter, those features can only satiate us to a certain point.

You might wonder what governs entrepreneurs and start-up business owners to quit their lucrative jobs, essentially look the gift horse in the mouth and kiss such benefits goodbye! There can be an irresistible pull to mastermind a business with products and/or services that serve the greater good of community wider than that constituting their daily existence.

Even with research showing entrepreneurship to pose greater threats to their mental and physical health, this unique breed of individuals choose to go against the grain in chasing their dreams of being their own boss. Why? Why would anyone risk this type of career suicide?

Whether you’re an employee, have recently taken the leap to being a business owner or been in business for a while, the commonality is a congenital condition we all share as human beings; to feel a sense of purpose, value and contribution to our community. Despite it being harder to find this for ourselves in today’s world, these approaches will help you achieve ultimate satisfaction through the twists, turns and joyrides that are essential features of shaping a successful career.

1. Search for Opportunities That Feed Your Passion, Not Temporary Excitement

Even though well-intended, the ‘feel good now’ compass that career coaches and consultants often recommend you use to create career satisfaction can actually do you more harm than good. Excitement is transient. It doesn’t last. Passion is the compass you need.

Passion and excitement are two different things. The resounding career legacy that still draws you to turn up on the job regardless of the sunshine or storm that awaits you…that’s passion. It’s like a mental and/or emotional itch you can’t shrug off. Staying attuned to that calling will breed success for you sooner or later. Patience is key.

You’re also likely to have more than one key passion. Beware of getting caught in the notion you have to find your one true purpose. In fact, run immediately from any coach who tells you there is only one. There isn’t.

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Your passion is a journey that can take multiple forms so forget thinking there is the single dream job out there that will give you satisfaction in every way you can imagine. It simply doesn’t exist.

Consider embracing different roles and projects to help you fuel your passion or fuel your pursuits in finding it. Job satisfaction and your career success will be all the more sweeter from a wider range of enriching experiences.

2. Don’t Position Job and Career Satisfaction Assessments as Pivotal Guides to Your Success

Despite their popular use for vocational guidance, assessment tools such as Gallup’s Clifton Strengths and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator have come under fire[1] as being limited to the amount of true value and direction they can offer partakers.[2] These and many other guidance assessment tools (e.g. VIA Character Strengths , DISC ) are self-report questionnaires that don’t have normative population data against which to compare your results.

Simply remember these tools help you develop a stronger sense of what you identify as strengths and weaknesses within yourself, not in comparison with other people. They will still add insight around what sorts of career opportunities, tasks and projects are going to light your fire, what ones are going to extinguish it and what will prod and keep the coals steadily smoldering.

3. Be Clear on Your Personal Values, Ethics and Principles and Choose Relationships That Support You Honoring Them

Teamwork, collaboration, open communication and trust are commonplace for any flourishing work environment. However, whether or not your personal values can be honored in your work can make or break your job satisfaction.

How committed do you want to be to an organization that expects an average of 10 unpaid overtime hours every week under the guise of ‘reasonable overtime’? Are you willing to accept their construing this expectation as ‘strong commitment’ at the expense of your partner and children waiting at home for you? What are your boundaries concerning when you clock on to their time and when you clock off to yours?

Being very in tune with what your personal values, principles and ethics are will bid you well in the job satisfaction stakes. Spending time to reflect on experiences and working relationships you’ve had – the good, the bad and the ugly – will help you make well-informed searches and grounded decisions that will propel your career success.

Finding and nurturing relationships with associates and colleagues who share similar values doesn’t just make your day-to-day pursuits more enjoyable. You become fortunate to work with like-minded people who will support, understand and appreciate you like a second family.

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Being able to honor your personal values in your work means you will still be able to sleep at night when you have to tread where others fear to, and make extremely difficult decisions others would never ever dream of having to make as you forge success in your career.

4. Be Clear on Your Own Definition of What Having a Successful Career Means for You

It’s tempting to get caught up in the ideals and projections of success expressed by those we love, admire and respect. Underneath, we all want on some level to belong to a successful club of some sort.

With research reporting how much money we feel we need to be truly happy,[3] many of us try to subscribe to the notion that having the car of our dreams or taking a European holiday annually will not bring us happiness. The truth, however, for many of us is these tangible rewards are congratulatory reminders of our persistent efforts to chase our career pursuits.

If those are things you aspire to, don’t let anyone steal your desire and want to feel deserving of these things, that those are some parameters by which you define your career success.

Despite consistently being the top revenue earner for two years running, you may not wish to become the sales manager. You may not wish to step out into running your own business even though you consistently excel as an employee, delighting clients and repeatedly receiving glowing testimonials.

Your definition of career success might be enjoying the predictability of a regular workplace routine. You get to leave – without feeling guilty – at the same time each day, love the people you work with and get to spend a good, uninterrupted amount of work-stress free quality time with your family. That picture is also blissful job satisfaction and complete career success.

5. Identify the Sorts of Challenges and Problems You Want to Learn to Overcome

Standard advice you might receive from a career coach might be to look for opportunities where you get to capitalize on exercising your strengths and career-related activities you enjoy.

However, to become a success at anything involves improvement. To excel at anything often involves stepping outside boundaries and comfort zones where others wouldn’t. This means dedicating focus and attention to things you’re not so good at and things you don’t like.

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Here’s where working with a coach can be particularly helpful. Map out the experiences that were unsavory in your working history. Were there challenges you opted out of, projects you failed at or toxic relationships that blasted your sense of purpose and self-worth into oblivion? It’s within these experiences that you might just find the most valuable lessons and guiding lights for your trajectory to achieve greater job satisfaction.

If your natural leadership style is to be a collaborator, finding opportunities that require you to apply a more dictatorial style might be needed. Discussing a secondment or short-term project where you get to develop and test your skills can be a step further in earning contention to lead a larger project down the track.

With several of the company’s boldest personality types penciled to roll out the operation, you’ll not only develop skills that earn your right to throw your hat in the ring; those key players have an opportunity to see your competence. You can then work on building relationships with those stakeholders before you need to hit the ground running should you win the lead.

Greater job satisfaction comes with planning and choosing the lessons and opportunities you want to learn, not desperately flailing, floundering and hoping for the best.

6. Keep Reviewing Your Goal Posts and Be Amenable to Change

The word ‘career’ is indicative of a longer-term pathway of change, growth and development. The journey is dynamic.

You will accumulate new skills and let those you no longer need, become rusty. Your intrigue will be stimulated by new experiences, knowledge and people you meet. Your thinking will continue to expand, not shrink. As a result, your goalposts are likely to change.

A major part of enjoying a successful career is not just setting goals effectively, but regularly reviewing and readjusting them where necessary. However, moving the posts or the target still needs to take place by applying the same processes by which you originally created them. The strength of your emotional connection to those revised goals needs to be the same, if not stronger.

By asking yourself the following questions, you can assure your developmental and growth trajectory is still on course:

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  • Would working toward these goals still allow me to honor my personal values, principles and ethics at the same capacity if not greater?
  • Do the activities I need to undertake to meet these goals honor my highest priorities?
  • Does this feel right for me and those who are nearest and dearest to me?
  • Is this aligned with my passion?
  • Is chasing this goal a right step for me to take now or is this a detour or distraction which could delay my greater plan?

Each of your career goals should have different review periods. Whatever you do, stick to the review schedule you set. It will not only keep you focused but help you see your progress (or lack thereof) and allow you to timely re-chart your course before you get too far down the track. You don’t want to waste time haphazardly heading in the wrong direction.

7. Be Prepared to Let Go

It can be unfathomable to us as to why others risk leaping into the unknown when everything truly appears fine and dandy in the career realm. The company provided stability, recognition, financial success, interesting projects and the promise of a promotion…what was wrong? Why now jump sideways to run a café or train in another field altogether?

Nothing may have been wrong at all. It was all going right. It was just the end of a chapter. Perhaps the yearning for the next step is actually taking a different trajectory entirely. You may want to simply experience a different rhythm. Perhaps it’s time to pursue a different passion.

If you have leaped from employee-land to freelancing or have made the reverse-jump (or you know someone who has), you will have quickly grown a different appreciation for pros and cons each work lifestyle brings. Working for yourself can bring the greater realization of your creativity, whether or not it can be monetized to earn you a living.

When your customers are buying you or a product you designed and fashioned, there is a direct level of appreciation and gratitude that can elevate your confidence in the way you have never experienced as an employee, regardless of your rank.

Similarly, there are times where we need to recognize our business ventures were adventures, not long-term life-changing empires. There are times we need to recognize that time is what provides the clearest limitation of how long we persist for in such pursuits.

We have to recognize the absence of enough financial, mental, emotional and physical breadcrumbs that tells us we’re no longer meant to push in that direction. At least, not for the present time.

The Bottom Line

Above all, keep the momentum. As long as you remain committed to pursuing work opportunities that allow you to honor your highest priorities, the truth of who you are and what you stand for, achieving ultimate job satisfaction and a successful career will never be too far away.

More Resources to Help Advance Your Career

Featured photo credit: Csaba Balazs via unsplash.com

Reference

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