Success – how do we achieve it? In all my years of working with successful people, I’ve never had anyone scratch their head in amazement and tell me: “I have no clue how I got here! I just woke up today and I was a complete success! I guess I must just be one of the lucky ones, huh? It sure does feel good to bask in the glow of my non-achievements.”
Doesn’t that sound preposterous?
We may laugh thinking about the absurdity of this hypothetical conversation. However, the truth is that many people fail to recognize the steps a successful person has taken in order to make those tremendous gains. Or we may minimize the importance of what they did to get where they ended up. We only see the success or influence or the positive reputation that person enjoys that comes with their success. We didn’t see the growth that took place in secret, behind closed doors, within the battlefield of the mind.
I often speak at conferences on the topic of how to rise to the executive suite. Many people who attend those meetings are looking for career advancement or increased influence; they want to be experienced as a “cut above.” They come looking to discover the “magic bullet” that will help them get where they want to go—faster.
Success – true success – doesn’t just happen to those who are “lucky”. True success is intentional, designed, planned, focused, and worked hard at with grit and commitment to achieve goals and fulfill on a personal vision. Dr. Ruth Shaw, retired CEO of Duke Energy and one of twelve top leaders I interviewed for my book, The Unstoppables, knew that there was much she wanted to accomplish in her life. With only so many hours in the day to get things done, she knew she needed to monitor what she did and when. She learned to prioritize, self-manage, carefully select role models and mentors. She clarified what was most important to her and focused her efforts on achieving tangible results in those areas of priority.
Successful people, like Dr. Shaw, often talk about their journey to personal fulfillment with fondness, sharing how they persevered and benefited from the help and counsel of others, as well as from a stroke of wisdom. They speak more to the tune of “I was clear about what I wanted, expected the best from myself, focused, worked hard, sought good advice, learned from my mistakes, spent time in quiet contemplation, and followed my own ‘True North’. It’s been a long journey, but well worth it. I have no regrets.”
Let’s hit rewind and go back to the beginning of a successful person’s journey. This person may be successful in their career, marriage, parenting, personal development, spiritual growth or any combination of areas.
Believe it or not, people that you would label “successful” in any area never started out that way. Everyone who made it to the top once started out at the bottom. I once heard someone say, “The master was once a disaster.” Everyone made mistakes, had failures. Most who rise to the top in their profession, started out a little rougher around the edges. They may have been a bit less refined, skilled, poised, and confident.
Even though it might seem foreign to you to see a successful person you know in this light, we all know that nobody is born successful. With potential? Yes. But successful? No. Each took personal responsibility for their own success.
Ruth Shaw talked about this very thing, and noted the difference between personal and positional power. She had this to say:
You really have to take responsibility for yourself. The personal
competence, confidence, skills and connections that you develop
are yours; they belong to you, all of them. When you leave a job
and go to another one, or you leave that job to stay home, you will
take those skill sets, those relationships, that history of what you
did with you….
A lot goes with the position itself, and is it NOT about you. It is about
the authority, the power, and the connections that that position holds.
So, try to stay clear in your own mind about the difference. Nurture
those things that are all about you and respect those things that go
with the position itself.
If you truly want to be successful, be your own best coach. Begin my asking yourself these questions:
• What do I want to do?
• What steps do I need to take to get where I want to go?
• What kind of character will I need to develop?
• What knowledge and skill sets do I need to attain?
• What sacrifices will I need to make?
• What did other successful people do that I can replicate?
• How can I learn from those who are successful and whom I admire for their integrity?
These are big questions that no one else can answer for you. Furthermore, each person’s success journey is unique to them, but, many times, we can learn from the individual stories of others.
What I can say, however, is that all the successful people I have ever spoken with all started with the same thing, and they grew from there.
They had a vision of what was possible.
They saw what could be rather than what was.
So, for instance:
• Their career was slow to start and they envisioned a thriving business.
• Their marriage was struggling and they envisioned a healthy relationship.
• Their kids were rebellious and they envisioned a healthy family.
• They felt the weight of their personal development rut and they envisioned themselves with the personal traits they desired.
• Spiritually they were stagnant, and they envisioned the fullness they desired.
Their first step was all the same: they had in their mind a clear picture – or vision – of what they wanted, and they applied focus and concentration. From that starting point, the steps required to achieve success in any arena tend to be similar. Each step to success could fill a book on its own, but none of those steps can ever be realized without the crucial first one.
Wherever you are, your starting point simply is what it is. Your potential lies in your ability to see beyond what is in front of you, and your ultimate success will depend upon your willingness to do what it takes to see your vision come to fruition.
Walt Disney summed it up beautifully: All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.