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7 Important Lessons on Success That Your School Can’t Teach You

7 Important Lessons on Success That Your School Can’t Teach You

“Stay in school, work hard, get good grades, and go to college. Do these things, and some day you’ll be successful.”

This statement is the biggest lie told in the education system today. It invites a fixed mindset that can eventually result in crushing defeat and letdown. It’s a big fat sucker punch when you do all the things required and still end up scrubbing soup containers at Whole Foods for minimum wage.

Thankfully, everyone is capable of success. There are countless entrepreneurs and business leaders who have successfully put themselves through the ringer, learned things the hard way, and made it out alive to teach us what they learned. And, no, these aren’t things you learned in Mrs. Johnson’s 6th grade social studies class.

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1. Forget failure

Ah, yes, the dark side of academic judgement. In school we’re taught to avoid failure, and some people will stoop to nearly unspeakable levels to not fail. Cheating, copying, and other means of deception are used as a result of the unfair stigma put around failing. Contrary to popular belief, the act of failing is where the majority of growth occurs. Entrepreneurs and business people are well aware of and well acquainted with failure. They are not afraid to experience it, and they quickly learn and move on after they fall flat on their face. Arianna Huffington epitomizes this resolve. Her first major failure came when her second book was rejected by 36 publishing houses. Do you think those places wish they still had a chance to accept the work of someone who created one of America’s leading online news aggregates?

2. Take action despite fear

Everyone has fear. No matter how cocky, confident, or sure someone may seem, they are afraid. They are afraid of failure, rejection, and pain just like everyone else. How great leaders differ is the ability to take action despite that fear. Once they are in action, they are often too busy and occupied to worry anymore. Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strips, once perfectly summed this step up:

“I go into most risky projects (and those are the type I prefer) with two contradictory thoughts: one, this sort of thing is unlikely to succeed and two, this will totally succeed.”

3. Planning is great, but don’t overlook right now

A large part of our current education system relies on an unhealthy obsession with the future. Even if it’s not direct, like a high school senior looking for colleges to attend, each schoolgirl and boy is planning for the future with every test aced or every subject flunked. This breeds, again, a fixed mindset that’s detrimental to progress and applicable growth. Instead of worrying about getting into Yale, worry about getting one answer at a time correct on the next homework assignment. Value the journey over the destination. Businessman Peter Drucker teaches us the importance of not looking too deep into the future, and staying dedicated to taking the appropriate steps in the now:

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

4. Don’t be afraid to ask a question

There is always that one girl or guy in the front row who asks something every time there’s an opportunity, but they obviously have no issue with speaking in public.  Some people experience a paralysis when asking a question in class. For those who truly don’t understand something, speak up. This problem exists in the workplace, too. Far too many workers are confused or even under appreciated because of their inability to speak up and add input. The best in the business feel they deserve to be heard, and their questions are worthwhile and valid. So are yours. If you need help with public speaking, these are some fantastic tips from professionals that you can use.

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5. If you believe it’s worth doing, it is

Our schooling system dictates, for the most part, what you have to learn. This, sadly, leaves us unable to truly peruse the things we’re passionate about because we’re shackled to a curriculum dictated by the school. The most brilliant and successful people in this world focused and honed their passions. Thomas Edison, who failed countless times and was almost killed by scarlet fever at a young age, wouldn’t allow his passion and vision for inventions die. He went after it no matter what it took (1,000 some odd tries before the lightbulb). The same goes for you, who needn’t seek validation from anyone but you. If you think something is cool, or a career is interesting, or a project is engaging, go for it. Forget about those who won’t back you up. They don’t matter anyway.

6. Patience, Iago

A lot of teachers are really great at super responsive feedback, but that too can be a hindrance. It establishes an expectation for instant results, which isn’t conducive to success in the business world. Things happen slowly. They happen so slowly, that the main reason people give up on almost any endeavor in almost every aspect of life is because of the sluggish pace of dreams. They threw in the towel when they moved in inch in a year, when they expected a mile. To piggyback on the second point above, this, too, comes from fixating on the future. Successful people don’t focus only on the end, but also how far they’ve come. Jim Carrey and his family, for instance, were once so poor that they were living out of a van to keep food in their stomachs. If Jim didn’t have the patience and belief that one day he’d be a great comedian, we’d have never seen his genius shine.

7. See greatness in others, not just the mirror

In school we loathe working in groups, and are geared to focus only on our own performance. There might be a misconception that smart and successful business people are inherently selfish. While there my be a few examples of these in corporate offices across the nation, don’t let a few bad eggs spoil the whole carton. The most talented are also usually well liked because of their ability to help others shine brightly. They can easily recognize a hard worker, a hustler, and someone who lives life with a lot of passion. What’s more, successful people always help others look better than themselves. They don’t take all the credit, they do not steal the ideas of others, and they certainly do not back stab or step on others to get what they want. Dale Carnegie is the prime example of a successful entrepreneur who evokes and promotes camaraderie in the workplace through his best selling novel, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

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Our formal schooling taught us many beneficial things, but there’s always more to discover and sponge up in our journey to achieve greatness. With the steps listed above you will be well on your way to learning the essential things that were unfortunately skipped in school.

The closing bell may signify the end of a scheduled school day, but not the end of your learning.

Really, it’s only the beginning.

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Last Updated on May 21, 2019

How to Be More Creative and Come up with Incredible Ideas

How to Be More Creative and Come up with Incredible Ideas

Regardless of how creative you already consider yourself to be, there’s a good chance you would like to level up your creative abilities.

You might want to write a better song, think of better solutions to problems at work or around the home or maybe paint a picture.

In any case, the good news is that creativity is not born: it’s made, and each one of us has the potential to be more creative and come up with incredible ideas.

“Creativity is any act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one.” — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The definition of creativity is broad, and reminds us that creativity is not limited to artists or musicians. It does however require that we have some kind of impact on the domain in which we create.

Creativity also emphasizes values.

“The process of having original ideas that have value” — Ken Robinson

This makes up for what Csikszentmihalyi misses out. For instance, we can make a change in the world without adding significant value. Any destructive act, like smashing a window, creates change, but it doesn’t necessarily create valuable change.

In short, there isn’t one single definition of creativity It’s up to us to find a definition that feels true and useful. When you know what your standard is, It’s much easier to embrace creativity and start to cultivate it.

And in this article, you will learn how to be more creative and take a good look at what goes into the creative skill:

1. Cultivate Focus

In order to create, there needs to be a focus on creating something, whether it’s a song, a theory, a product, or a sculpture.

You could also call this “drive” – it’s the initial spark that drives the solution to a problem, or the will to get on your laptop and start typing.

However, it’s worth noting there are different stages to the creative process: the divergent stage and the convergent stage.

In the divergent stage, we want a broad focus – we want to be willing to let in lots of different inputs, ideas and insights. This is the time for brainstorming all possible ideas and solutions.

In the convergent stage, we start to narrow our focus, like a camera lens. At this stage, we start to drill down to a handful of ideas or solutions, discriminating throughout the process.

How to cultivate focus?

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Take a 20 Minute Walk

Walking away and getting your heart rate up is the best free tool you have in regaining your focus.

I know it might seem counterintuitive to take a break right when you’re at your busiest, and especially when you’re drowning in your massive to do list, but the effects it will have on your clarity and ability to focus are undeniable.

Walking is physiologically proven to release stress, and clear your mind. In fact, most of my most brilliant ideas (and some pretty terrible ones too) have occurred on my daily walks.

If you give this technique a try, what you’ll find is that you’re much more productive than you were before you took a breather.

Over time, if you do these walks daily, you’ll quickly find that your to-do list starts to feel a lot less significant, and a lot more doable. It’s all about keeping razor focused, and that’s what short daily walks will gift you.

2. Build a Structure

When I wake up in the morning, I start the day with a structure in mind. I know that 15 minutes will be dedicated to meditation, 30 minutes to coffee and reading, 20 minutes to yoga and so on.

The structure of this morning routine might be boring, but the act of each task in itself has the potential to be, on some level, “creative.”

The point of structure is that it gives you the space to make time for something you want to do. It helps you carve out the time to do your creative work. Once you begin that thing in itself, you are free to go about it however you’d like.

Without structure, we can lose focus and can feel overwhelmed with possibility. If you’ve ever looked at a blank page and felt too overwhelmed with possibility to make a mark on it, you’ll know what I mean. How much easier it gets when you are given some guidelines or a deadline?

The trick is finding the right amount of structure for you and your creative needs. Too little structure and we feel overwhelmed. Too much structure, and we risk feeling limited and stifled.

Again, it’s worth thinking about creating in those two stages: divergent (less structure) and convergent (more structure.)

How to build a structure?

Create a Morning Routine

Your morning routine doesn’t have to be rigid or so arduous you dread waking up. In fact, it should feel like the opposite. When you get a routine that works for you, you’ll look forward to starting the day.

We all have different needs and preferences which can shape our ideal routine. In the book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, you can be inspired over 160 different creators’ daily routines, from Charles Darwin to Pablo Picasso.

Experiment with any that take your fancy, and see how you feel with a bit more structure to start your day.

You can also take a look at this article about morning routine for inspirations: The Ultimate Morning Routine to Make You Happy And Productive All Day

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3. Find Motivation

There is a theory that suggests: people will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself — not by external pressures. This is also known as intrinsic motivation; a drive that comes from within.

Think of a time when you did some of your best work — chances are you were totally absorbed in what you were doing, to the exclusion of everything else. You were completely focused on the work itself, barely noticing time flying by.

Now think of a time when you felt under pressure to perform. Maybe it was an exam, or a commission for an important client, or maybe your boss had told you “there’s a lot riding on this.”

Notice the difference? In the first memory, you were driven by intrinsic motivation, which made it relatively easy, even enjoyable, to be highly creative.

In the second memory however, extrinsic motivation was breathing down your neck, distracting you by whispering about the rewards for success and the horrible consequences of failure: likely making it harder to focus on the task at hand.

For this reason, intrinsic motivation, if you can find it, is what separates the good from great creative work.

This isn’t to say only internal motivators help. I personally get motivated by luring myself to work with a good cappuccino at my favourite cafe. That will get me ready to write or edit or whatever I’ve been avoiding.

How to find motivation?

Connect to Your “Why”

Your “Why” is your fuel: the thing that drives you forward, that gives you a reason to do what you’re doing.

‘He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.’ — Friedrich Nietzche

When you have a reason to do something, a purpose or a goal that matters to you, you can connect your daily actions to it. Then, each act becomes infused with meaning and you find that intrinsic motivation comes naturally.

The trick is to remember your “why” and connect with it on a regular basis.

Think about how you want to feel on a daily basis. What would you like to accomplish in the next year? What would you like for yourself in the next five years? How about in your lifetime?

Ultimately, the tasks you face on a daily basis, or at least some of them, will connect to a greater purpose if you follow this path and you will find you feel more motivated to create and less resistance.

If you aren’t sure where to start looking for motivation, this will help: How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

4. Be an Expert in a Chosen Domain

Research has shown that just as expertise in one domain does not predict expertise in other unrelated domains; creativity in one domain does not predict creativity in other unrelated domains.[1]

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So just because you can paint a pretty picture, doesn’t mean you can creatively solve a mathematical problem.

If you’ve taken one of those tests like the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, which will ask you to think of a bazillion uses for a pencil, and scored well, unfortunately this is only an indicator of divergent thinking skills. It is not a predictor for creativity all round.

The good news is, you can train your creativity in your chosen domain. Much like a muscle, you can isolate exercises to strengthen it.

Of course you can still do a total body workout – or atotal creativity workout – but it means your creativity-training exercises need to come from a wide variety of domains; not just thinking up uses for a pencil.

How to become an expert?

Make a Mastery Training Plan

Following our physical workout analogy, it’s worth applying the habits of great athletes to your chosen creative domain. For example:

1. Decide what area/s you want to work on

Much like a tennis player who decides they need to improve their serving technique, you can decide what area within your creative domain you want to improve at. Get specific.

2. Decide how much time you can dedicate

Most of us don’t have all day to train like a pro tennis player might, but you can likely squeeze 20 to 30 minutes in a day, if you want to. Whatever the time you can allow is, decide to dedicate yourself to it.

3. Review your progress

Finally, in order to check your progress, you can take regular reviews. Decide what your metrics are, and take time each week to check in with yourself.

How many days did you practice? How did you compare to the previous week? This kind of review can help you stay on track, and actually creates more intrinsic motivation as you see yourself develop.

5. Create a Conducive Environment

A psychologist in 1943 proposed that behaviour is:[2]

“a function of both the person as well as the physical environment they are in.”

I would suggest that the act of creating is a behaviour and that, even though it begins as an internal process, it’s very much affected by and even dependent on the environment we are in.

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I started noticing how environment affects me when I worked in an office. Over time, I realized that the more people who were in or who were talking, the more distracted I was. If I got to the office early before my coworkers arrived, I was twice as effective.

I was even more effective if I was at home. Now that I work from home, I know I’m even more effective when in certain coffee shops. Ideally, places that have high ceilings, gentle lighting, some barely noticeable background music – and excellent coffee.

It’s these little variations in our environment that can really shape our creative output.

If you’re an introvert, you probably do your best work alone. If you’re an extrovert, you probably do your best work in the company of others.

This isn’t to say you should find one way of doing things and stick to it: in fact, varying your environment from time to time is a great way to stoke the creative fire too, which we’ll touch on more later.

How to create a conducive environment?

Add or Subtract Stimuli

Novelty in our environment has been shown to stimulate the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that increases our desire to seek out reward.[3]

If you’re looking for creative motivation, adding some novelty into your environment can be just what you need.

On the other hand, some people are highly sensitive and when it comes to having too much stimulation in their environment, they find it difficult to focus.

Experiment with working in different environments. Note how you feel. Note whether you do better creative work or have more interesting ideas when you’re alone or with others.

Try listening to music, people chatting or try being in complete silence. Try a dimly lit room, try working in bright sunlight.

In each case, note how you feel before, during and afterwards and rate the quality of your work.

The Bottom Line

Creativity is not one particular skill or talent one can have. It comes in as many broad and unique flavors as there are people on this earth.

To be more creative, take little steps each day. Acknowledge where and when you feel most inspired, motivated and original and spend more energy in those areas.

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Featured photo credit: Sticker Mule via unsplash.com

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