Sometimes, the only thing that makes a particular situation a good one, or a bad one, is simply how you choose to react to it. A career setback can be seen as something devastating, or a a chance for change and growth. Ultimately, the choice is yours. It’s all about having the right mindset.
This list will give you fifteen examples of the mindsets of 15 hugely successful or influential individuals.
1. Focus on what matters
Mark Zuckerberg has lived his life for the fulfilment of one single ambition: To make the world more connected. In Harvard, he founded Facebook, and once he realized he needed to focus entirely on the site, he left university.
To many, leaving such a prestigious university would be unthinkable. But the success of Facebook was what mattered to him.
By focusing entirely on this, and cutting away things which distracted, he has been able to achieve his life’s ambition.
2. No endless to-do-lists
It can be useful to organize your day according to a to-do list. After all, keeping track of your plans ensures they won’t be forgotten.
However, it is important to realize that there are surprises every day. If you plan every moment of your day according to a list, you won’t be able to adapt to surprises. The most successful people are those who are adaptable.
Take, the legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan as an example. If you listen from a song from each one of his albums in sequence, you can hear him adapting to the changing styles and interests of his listeners. Because of this, he has been able to remain relevant for over 50 years.
3. Bounce off ideas with other people
In 1999, when Stephen King was in hospital recovering from an injury, he began to reflect on his career, how he wrote, and the nature of creativity. He turned these thoughts into the book On Writing. There is a passage in it which I often think about. He says:
“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open..”
What this means is, once you have an idea for something and found an effective way to express it, you should be open to the thoughts of others.
It is easy to become precious and protective of your work and ideas. But other people may be able to see things you can’t.
So while focusing on your plans and ideas can important, you need to be open and receptive to the ideas of others.
4. Use the 80/20 rule
The 80/20 rule, otherwise known as the Pareto Principle came to be when Vilfredo Pareto, a hugely influential Italian economist noticed that 80% of the wealth of Italy belonged to only 20% of the population.
Over time, a similar distribution between wealth was noticed in other countries too. This suggested that this wealth distribution was a naturally occurring economic rule.
Eventually, this observation spread to business and management, where it still applied. So from it, we should understand that 80% of an outcome stems from only 20% of efforts towards it..
We’ve discussed the Pareto Principle before with this Interview with Tim Ferriss of The 4-Hour Workweek – Part 1
5. Learn to quiet the mind
In 1997, Steve Jobs was at a major developers conference. After he gave a brief talk, he decided to take some questions from the audience. One question inspired him to give some very wise advise on how to focus, he said:
“Focusing is about saying no”
It’s easy for your mind to fill with thoughts and ideas. Many of them, unfortunately are not very helpful. It’s impossible to pay attention to these thoughts, and if you ever tried to.
So, simply learn to say no to them. By doing this, you will remain focused.
6. Be grateful
Oprah Winfrey’s life is a story of true personal growth. She grew up in a small farm in Mississippi and a poor inner city Milwaukee Ghetto. Despite this difficult upbringing, she has become one of the most influential women on the planet.
I believe this stems from her eternal optimism and positivity. But how does someone get such optimism when faced with the hardship she has?
From an early age, she made herself “practice being grateful”. For ten years, she kept a journal where she kept a list of things she was grateful for. She credits this sense of gratitude for her success.
With such an attitude, she was able to limit the damage of negative influences, and strengthen the impact of positive ones.
7. Not afraid to be unconventional
Bill Gates has always been a person of exceptional intelligence. Even in Harvard, a university which is regularly placed in the top five best universities in the world, Bill Gates became known as someone particularly gifted. Yet he didn’t follow the path expected of him. In fact, when he left Harvard to start Microsoft, someone who knew him at the time remarked “Such a brilliant kid. What a waste.” 
The conventional route for someone like him would have been to stay in university, become a professor, and make a career in academia and science. The idea of going away to start a computer company was almost unknown.
But by going down an unconventional pathway, Gates was able to change the world.
8. Follow through
By the time Harper Lee died, she had only published one novel. That novel was To Kill A Mockingbird, it was a success on release and to this day remains influential and beloved.
To write it, Lee took one year off from work with the single goal of writing a novel. With only one year, she had no time to make mistakes, no time to second guess herself. She simply had an idea for a novel, and ensured it got written. It would have been a significant gamble to take a large amount of time from work. Yet her desire to see the novel through was so strong that she took the risk even if it would harm her career.
It’s a risk many probably wouldn’t take. But by following through with her idea, she was able to produce a piece of work that has inspired millions.
9. Collaborate with others
Miles Davis’s album Kind of Blue is considered by many to be the greatest Jazz recording of all time. The music is simple, yet complex and endlessly intricate. Though it was recorded over 60 years ago, it feels fresh and timeless.
Do you know it is wrong to consider it a Miles Davis album? Although he led the project and his name is credited for it, the album would have been not nearly as influential if Davis didn’t trust the skill, knowledge and experience of the other great musicians in it. Miles Davis wouldn’t be the icon he is today if he only worked alone.
Like with any great musical icon, the ideas behind the pieces are meaningless if other musicians don’t contribute. For some ideas and projects to work, the input of others is vital.
10. Know you can do it
Picture this, you’re running for the president of the United States. Your opponents at the moment, is a war hero who has been a respected politician for decades and the wife of a former president, herself a political icon.
You’re Barack Obama, at the moment you’ve had no real impact on national politics aside from a few years in the US Senate. Nobody really expects you to win. What do you do?
What Obama did was remain focused. He didn’t listen to the many thousands who said he probably couldn’t or shouldn’t. Instead, he kept working, sticking to his political campaign and he won. Four years later, he won again.
What we can learn is that if you truly believe in yourself and your cause, you can’t be stopped.
11. Develop your thoughts
The famous poet TS Eliot worked on his most famous work The Waste Land for well over a year. What makes this poet interesting is that we know a great deal of the poem’s drafting history. The earlier drafts were far longer than the finished piece, some of the poem’s most famous lines were removed. The style of some sections was different.
Comparing the different drafts, it is possible to see his idea truly takes shape.
It can be easy to think that once you have first finished a piece, the process is over. However if you continue to expand and develop your ideas, you might come up with something truly special.
When The Waste Land was released, it has a huge impact and is now regarded as one of the greatest poems of the 20th century.
12. Be different
Alan Turing was without a doubt one of the most brilliant scientists of the 20th century, perhaps of all time.
Though he died in the 1950s, many of his ideas and texts continue to influence us. He was a pioneer of computing and artificial intelligence (he invented The Turing Test). During the Second World War, he was instrumental in cracking the supposedly unbreakable Nazi enigma code which almost certainly changed the course of the war. His ideas were utterly revolutionary at the time.
Were he to take the safe route, the expected route, the world we live in today would be a very different place indeed.
13. Stand for what you believe in no matter what
Nelson Mandela was probably one of the most inspiring leaders of the 20th century. Yet for most of his adult life he was a wanted criminal. He, and many like him, stood against the racist apartheid system in South Africa. For this, he was considered a terrorist and was sent to prison for twenty five years.
While in prison, he became an icon. Upon release, apartheid ended. Mandela became the president of South Africa and led it into an era of peace.
You can truly learn the character of Nelson Mandela from a speech he gave just before going to prison when he spoke of his dream of a South Africa at peace:
“It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
The world is a far better place because Nelson Mandela believed from the very beginning that what he was doing was right.
14. Go all in
It is probable you have come across the website Humans of New York. In 2010, Brandon Stanton moved to the city with the idea of starting a photo blog. Before this, he had worked as a bond trader in Chicago but soon quit and wanted to follow his passion of photography instead.
In New York, he took photos of people who he came across and started uploading them to a blog, working minimum wage jobs to pay the rent. The popularity of Humans of New York took off. Now several books of photos from the site has been published, he’s continued his work all over the world, interviewed world leaders and major celebrities and his success continues to grow.
None of this would have happened if he decided to stay in Chicago as a bond tradesman and didn’t fully invest in his passion.
15. Learn from failures
The idea of the Disney company going bankrupt is almost unthinkable now. However, Walt Disney’s first studio Laugh-O-Grams, went bankrupt in 1923. It was forced to close, many of his animators and designers left to find work elsewhere.
For many people, the story would end here, few would dust themselves off as Disney did and started another studio. Walt Disney kept to his idea, and started again in Los Angeles. A few years later, he founded Disney Brothers Studio with his brother. This became the Walt Disney Company.
What we can learn from this, is to see each failure, each rejection as merely another obstacle to overcome on the pathway to success.
One thing that connects all the people above is that they didn’t do the normal or expected thing.
But if you think about it, this makes sense. The norm, is the regular, the conventional standard.
To truly stand out, to truly become a success, you need to do things differently.
Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com