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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 November 14, 2018

Have You Fallen Into the ‘Busy’ Trap? Here’s Your Way Out

Have You Fallen Into the ‘Busy’ Trap? Here’s Your Way Out

Do you find yourself constantly feeling busy? Or, maybe you feel like you have too much on your plate? Perhaps you have a to-do list with no end in sight, or many responsibilities to juggle on a daily basis at work. When you get home, you have household responsibilities to take care of, too, and it just seems like you never have much time for a breather.

Being busy is good, it’s better than not having anything to do and letting time slip away. But, what many people don’t realize is, being busy doesn’t always mean you’re being productive. The more time you take to complete something does not equal to more success. Many people end up falling into this trap as they pack their day with tasks and errands that may sometimes produce little outcome or output for the effort that they’ve put in.

For example, let’s say that your washing machine at home broke down and you need to fix it. Instead of calling the handyman to come, your husband decides he’s going to fix the machine. He ends up spending half a day figuring out the machine, and does eventually fix it. He did however have to make a trip to the tool shop to buy some extra tools and parts for the machine. Now, if you had called the handy man, it would probably have taken the handyman much less time, and he would have all the necessary tools and parts already, because that is his job. So in this instance, was your husband’s time and effort worth it? Oh, and because he took half the day fixing the machine, you now had to take over his duties of dropping the kids off at soccer and swim practice.

We Need Not Be That Busy

I hope you would agree, that it would have been ideal to delegate this task to the handyman. That would have saved you time and effort, so that you and your husband could focus on doing other things that were more important to you, like being there for your kids or spending time with each other. This is just one example of how we often impose busyness on ourselves without us even realizing it.

But, I’m going to show you just how you can gain quality time from external sources. Whatever big goals or ambitions that you may have, it’s normal for them to involve a lot more of your time than you first expect. I’m talking about things like starting a new business, changing careers, perhaps even moving to a new city. New challenges often involve things that are outside of our experience and expertise, so covering all the bases ourselves is sometimes not feasible as it takes too much time to learn and do everything.

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You Are Just One Person

At the end of the day, you are just one person, and you have a limited amount of time. So, you have to do things that are meaningful to you. While an overall goal may be meaningful, not all of the milestones needed to get there may be meaningful. Because we all have our strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, not every task will be enjoyable or all fun & games. Some simply require pure willpower and discipline to grind through. And that is where delegation comes in.

What is Delegation?

You may hear this term a lot in the business or corporate world; it’s an effective way for managers to distribute (or sometimes avoid!) work. But, that’s not what I’m referring to. Instead, delegation means leveraging time from an outside source to give you opportunities to increase your quality time. By outside source, we simply mean that it’s not your own time that you’re spending.

What Should You Delegate?

To delegate effectively, it has to be done with deliberate intention. So the aim of delegation is to create more quality time for yourself. There are 3 types of tasks that you should generally delegate, called the Delegation Triangle.

The first are tasks you don’t enjoy doing. These are things that you know how to do, but don’t enjoy. Second, are tasks you shouldn’t do. These are things you know how to do and may even enjoy, but may not be the best use of your time. Third, are tasks you can’t do. These are things that need doing, but you don’t have the skills or expertise to follow through with them at this moment.

Have a look through your daily tasks and responsibilities, and see if you can fit them under these 3 categories.

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Pitfalls of Delegation

Using the Delegation Triangle, you can decide which tasks are worth delegating. In theory, it might look easy to sort actions at first glance; but often, it’s actually harder than you think! 

One such example, is diverting time on tasks you shouldn’t do. Let’s go back to the washing machine example. Your husband decides to fix it on his own instead of simply getting an expert to fix it. Why? Because it’s probably a challenge he enjoys, and it’s an accomplishment that would bring him satisfaction. However, if the value of the task is too low, you really ought to delegate it to others.

Sometimes, when you have a larger goal in mind, you might have to sacrifice some actions in return for making progress. Always think about the bigger picture! One thing that can help you avoid this pitfall is to keep your deadlines in mind whenever you set milestones for a project or task.

Deadlines are a commitment to yourself, and every bit of time is precious. So if an activity you’re focusing on is taking time away from progress towards your goal, it may be time to let go of it for now. You can always decide to pick it up again later.

Then there’s the other extreme of delegation. And that’s when you start delegating everything you dislike doing to external sources.Sometimes it’s tempting to abuse delegation and get carried away outsourcing everything on your “don’t like doing” list.

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Some people are too picky on what they’re going to do. But sometimes, if you don’t like doing so but you’re the only one who can do it, you still need to finish the job. At the end of the day, it does take your own hard work and effort to achieve the success you want.

So if you find that you’re constantly running into this problem of over delegating, then it may be time to re-evaluate your motivation, or reason for doing whatever it is that you’re doing.

Ask yourself, “Is this task contributing towards a meaningful objective that I want to achieve?” and “what kind of progress do I make each time I carry out the task myself?” If the task is both meaningful and creates progress, then the next step is to ask yourself questions that can help you create actions.

What obstacles are causing you to avoid this task? Is it because of low confidence in your ability? Do you think someone else can do a better job? Is it your level of focus? Or is there an alternative action you can take that can produce the same results?

Take Action Now

Take a look at your current tasks or to-do’s that you have planned this week. Which tasks are possible candidates that fall under the Delegation Triangle? Are there any that fall under the pitfalls mentioned above? Which tasks can you immediately identify that should be delegated out right now?

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I hope this exercise helps declutter your tasks and responsibilities a little and allows you to see how much more time you can be saving for more important things. But, this is not the end of delegation. After you’ve sorted out the tasks that can be delegated, the next step is to determine who it should be delegated to. Besides people like your co workers, or spouse/family members, did you know that there is a whole delegating industry out there?

If you’re keen to learn more about this delegating industry, and find out how you can decide who’s the best fit to do your delegated tasks, subscribe to our newsletter today. We will help you discover many more skills that will boost your productivity by leaps and bounds!

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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