It’s my birthday today. I can’t believe I’m 61 years old. It seems as if I were 31 just a couple of years ago. The best thing about getting older is that I’ve had lots of experience that has served me well when it comes to writing this career success blog.
I thought I’d share my story here today – and send a gift your way as I really do appreciate you taking the time to read my daily musings on life and career success.
Earlier this year I was reading an article about Robert Redford in the AARP Magazine – unfortunately, I’m more than ten years old enough to be a member. He said, “When I got into this business, I had this naïve idea that I would let my work speak for me.” That made me sit up and take notice because I’d heard something similar the week before.
I had been invited to do a talk for the Women’s Mentoring Group at one of my large corporate clients. I was speaking with the coordinator and she pulled out a list of things that often times are career success blockers for women. One of the things on the list was “thinking that your work will speak for itself.”
For many years I have been telling my career success coach clients that when it comes to creating your life and career success, there is one huge myth that can get in your way. That myth is, “Good performance is enough,” or “your work will speak for itself.”
Yes, you have to be a good performer to create your life and career success. But good performance alone will not result in the life and career success you want and deserve. I know this is true because I learned it the hard way. In today’s highly competitive world, good performance is merely the price of admission to the career success sweepstakes.
I was born a working class guy. My grandparents on my mother’s side emigrated from Poland. That grandfather worked in a factory in the town where I grew up near Pittsburgh. My father’s parents were born in the USA but never went to school. My grandmother started work as a domestic when she was ten. My grandfather went to work in the coal mines of Central Pennsylvania when he was eight.
My hometown was a company town called Ambridge PA, so named because the American Bridge Division of US Steel was headquartered there. My dad was an hourly worker for American Bridge for almost 40 years. My mom worked as a checkout person at a local supermarket and then as an office manager for a Kmart store.
Neither of my parents got anywhere near a college, but education was a big thing in our house. All I heard growing up was “go to college,” “go to college.” I worked hard and got good grades in high school. I graduated from Penn State in 1972. I did a year of service as a VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) Volunteer, and then began my career as a trainer – working for the government, training other people to become VISTA Volunteers.
I knew that I didn’t want to spend my career in government, so I went to school at night to get a Master’s degree in two years, working 5:30 – 10:30 for four nights a week. I worked full time and went to school full time, graduating with a 4.0.
Then I got my first job in business. It was in the training department of a large oil company. I worked hard, did a good job – and kept getting passed over for promotions. The reasons were vague: “you’ve only been here a little while,” “the hiring manager thought the other person was a better fit,” “you need to polish up some of those rough edges.”
So I found another job, this time with a large chemical company. I worked hard, did a good job, got good performance reviews – and no promotions. I was frustrated. In my heart of hearts, I knew I was as good as or better than people who were moving ahead while I was standing still.
I decided that maybe more school would be the answer. I quit my job, and enrolled in a PhD program in Adult Education and Organizational Behavior at Harvard. Once I got there though, I realized that the same thing happens in academia as happens in business. The hardest workers and best performers don’t always get rewarded and promoted.
I decided that I had an opportunity to use my situation as a lab. At Harvard, I was surrounded by high performers – people who had achieved a lot at an early age, and seemed destined to achieve even more. I decided that maybe I should pay some attention to these folks.
I got one of those marble-covered notebooks and made a list of all the people I admired at Harvard, all of the people in the companies where I had worked who’d got the promotions I didn’t, and the people who had been role models to me in my life. I started reading biographies of successful people; the list was varied, people like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, etc., etc., etc. I created a page in the notebook for each person. I started writing down the characteristics that I observed in these people. When I was finished, I had a notebook full of the characteristics I observed in successful people.
It was a long list. So I did kind of a human regression analysis on it. I started looking for patterns and groups of behaviors. When it was all said and done, I found seven distinct characteristics that the successful people I had studied had in common.
- Had a clearly defined purpose and direction for their lives.
- Were committed to succeeding. They faced obstacles and overcame them.
- Were self-confident. They knew they were going to succeed and continue to succeed as they went through life.
- Were outstanding performers.
- Knew how to present themselves in a favorable light. Other people were attracted to them and wanted to be around them.
- Were dynamic communicators.
- Were good at building relationships.
Once I finished my degree, I took a job with a very large pharmaceutical company in New York. I started applying the lessons I’d learned from observing successful people – and I began getting promotions and good assignments. I became the confidant of several senior executives and I began coaching “up and comers” in the company – teaching them the basic principles I had discovered by writing my observations in that marble-covered notebook.
I also kept refining my ideas, making them easier for others to understand and apply. You never learn something as well as when you teach it. I became the most sought-after internal career success coach in that company.
In 1988, I was faced with a decision: accept a big promotion to Vice President, or strike out on my own. I decided that I have an entrepreneurial bent and chose the latter. I opened up a small career success coaching and speaking business. The idea was to reach an even greater number of people with what I knew about creating their life and career success.
For many years, I thrived as a corporate consultant. Then I got cancer – and survived. I realized that there was more to life than working as a highly paid consultant. I realized that I had an opportunity to reach even more people with my common sense message about life and career success, people I would never get a chance to meet working one on one with executives in very large companies.
That’s why I decided to make everything I know about life and career success widely available. That’s why I am launching a career success membership site in September. I want to help as many people as I can create the life and career success they want and deserve. I survived cancer, and now I want to give as much as I can, to as many people as I can.
1. Clarity of purpose and direction
2. Commitment to taking personal responsibility for your life and career
3. Unshakeable self-confidence
4. Outstanding performance
5. Positive personal impact
6. Dynamic communication
7. Relationship building
These seven principles have guided me on my career success journey. I’m shaing them here to give you an idea of what you can do to create the life and career success you want and deserve. Let’s look at them in a little more detail.
There are three keys to developing your clarity of purpose and direction. You have to…
- Define what career success means to you personally.
- Create a vivid mental picture of yourself as a career success.
- Clarify your personal values.
There are three keys to committing to your career success. You have to…
- Take personal responsibility for your career success.
• Set high goals – and do whatever it takes to achieve them.
• Choose to respond positively to people and events.
There are three keys to becoming self-confident. You have to…
- Choose optimism. Believe in your heart of hearts that today will be better than yesterday and that tomorrow will be better than today.
- Face your fears and act. Don’t let your fears paralyze you into inaction. Self-confident people act.
- Surround yourself with positive people. Jettison the nay-sayers in your life.
There are four keys to becoming an outstanding performer. You have to…
- Keep your skills up to date by becoming a lifelong learner.
- Understand the numbers. Business runs on numbers. Get to know the finances of your company and your industry.
- Manage your time, life and stress well.
- Live a healthy lifestyle.
There are three keys to creating positive personal impact. You have to…
- Create and nurture your unique personal brand.
- Be impeccable in your presentation of self – in person and on line.
- Know and follow the basic rules of business etiquette.
There are three keys to becoming a dynamic communicator. You have to…
- Communicate well in conversation.
- Communicate well in writing.
- Communicate well in presentations.
There are three keys to building strong relationships. You have to…
- Understand yourself. Use this self understanding to better understand others.
- Pay it forward. Give with no expectation of return.
- Resolve conflict in a manner that strengthens, not destroys, the relationships you’ve worked hard to build.
That’s an overview of what I’ve learned in close to forty years of helping myself and others create the life and career success they want and deserve. And it’s my gift to you on my birthday.
As always thanks for reading my daily musings on life and career success. I value you and I appreciate you.
Now that I’ve posted this, I’m going for a bike ride to celebrate my birthday.
PS: If you haven’t already done so, you can download a free copy of my latest career success book Success Tweets Explained. It’s a whopping 390 + pages of career advice explaining each of the common sense tweets in Success Tweets in detail. Go to http://budurl.com/STExp to claim your free copy. You’ll also start receiving my daily life and career success quotes.