WHAT'S REALLY IMPORTANT
You go around the track only once in life. Since you do not get a second chance to do so, you have an important choice to make. You can start out being determined to make the most of your life, to have a full and successful personal and professional career, and to be the best at what you do. Or you can elect, usually by default, to go around the track as a passive participant letting others decide the course of most of your life.
Those who take the first path soon realize that what they do and how they conduct themselves have a major impact on their destinies. Yes, everyone faces lots of challenges, problems (often opportunities in disguise) and setbacks. What really counts is how you respond to these obstacles and what you learn from dealing with them.
Absolutely everyone has personal strengths and weaknesses. These obviously vary considerably from individual to individual. It is important not to confuse what are personal strengths and weaknesses with what are so-called “advantages and disadvantages”. The latter are usually temporary factors that become less relevant over time.
For example, a recent research study by two widely acknowledged experts in the field of leadership, Warren G. Bennis and Robert J. Thomas, found that there is a tremendous variance from one leader to the next in intelligence, order of birth, family background and means, education level, gender, race and ethnicity. Yet none of these factors proved to be decisive in the determination of leadership position.
This study also indicated that every leader, however, has invariably gone through at least one defining, intense, transforming experience that acted as a crucible in forming that individual’s character and providing key lessons for use in the future. Often such experiences are highly negative in nature, such as a major business setback or personal family tragedy, which cause the individual to reassess his or her entire approach to life and career.
What this means is that you have to take responsibility for your own success in life. There is no point in blaming the absence or existence of one of these personal background factors (cited in the above study) as an excuse for failure or for not even attempting to accomplish something. This study gives numerous examples of individuals who have overcome these “personal disadvantages” to attain positions of leadership in all types of organizations. While doing so may not be easy, it definitely can be done. Since you cannot change something in the past, you have to concentrate on making the most of the present and the future.
It is hard to exaggerate the importance in life of having a positive mind-set. This is the decisive starting point in determining your future destiny and success. To have a winning frame of mind:
- Maintain a truly positive attitude about yourself and in dealing with all people and situations. Yes, there are always going to be some bad apples, but they represent at best only a small minority of any group. Taking a positive approach always gives you an advantage while being negative almost always ensures a negative outcome.
- Recognize the need for lifelong formal and informal education, possess a high sense of comprehensive curiosity and have a hunger for knowledge. In a fast-changing world, the need for relearning, retraining and acquiring new skills is a constant requirement for everyone.
- Understand that you can accomplish almost anything if you totally concentrate your undivided attention on it, persevere and truly apply yourself. You will be surprised at how much your luck improves when you apply yourself in this manner. As Louis Pasteur said, “Luck or chance comes to the prepared mind.”
- Be courageous and willing to take risks without being foolhardy. As the saying goes, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Making a mistake or failing at something is never a sin, it is always a learning experience. In many cases, it is better to attempt something and fail than not to have tried at all.
- Guard against being a constant complainer or “whiner”. Instead of harping on what is wrong, keep yourself focused on what is right. Look for the best in people and situations. There are always going to be times when you lose in contests of all types. No matter how disappointed you are, pick yourself up and be gracious about it with the winner. You will usually get another opportunity to prove yourself.
- Take ownership of your own decisions, including those to do nothing. Yes, you do have the ability and free will to choose differently. Blaming something that happened in the past, adverse circumstances or the actions of others are not acceptable excuses for making poor decisions or failing to act responsibly. Similarly, do not let anyone push you in a direction that you know you should avoid. If you think you may require professional counseling to help you deal with personal problems or negative behavior, then arrange for such counseling as soon as possible.
- Be determined to make the most of your life and be resilient in overcoming major obstacles. Accept the reality that life is not always fair, bad and unjust things happen, and it is impossible to avoid encountering unpleasant people and situations from time to time. In 1940 when Hitler had conquered almost all of Europe and England was left alone in fighting Nazi Germany, a journalist asked Prime Minister Winston Churchill, “How can you always be so upbeat and enthusiastically positive about England’s future given its current hopeless predicament?” Churchill answered, “What is the point of the alternative?”
Other keys points for maintaining a positive mind-set are:
- Accept the fact that everyone makes mistakes, personally and professionally. Rather than denying you have made a mistake when it becomes obvious you have, try to be honest with yourself and take responsibility for your mistake. When appropriate, apologize sincerely for the mistake and move on to the next “chapter” in what you are doing.
- Try your best to avoid letting problems or a crisis in one important part of your life spill over to the rest of your life. Make every effort to keep your professional and personal lives in separate compartments of your mind. When you are encountering difficulties at work, do not take it out on your loved ones at home. Similarly, if your principal personal relationship is breaking up, try your hardest not to think, worry or talk about it when you are at work.
- Avoid taking yourself too seriously. Sorry, but no one is the center of the world. Unless it is a life-and-death situation, do not treat it like one. Keep things in perspective. Do not allow yourself to get worked up by something small or not truly important in the grand scheme of things. This is an error that perfectionists frequently make.
- Keep an open mind and your antennae always up and revolving, so you are always “receiving” messages, signals and signs about what is going on both around you and elsewhere in the world. This is the best way to put yourself in a position to recognize opportunities before others do. Richard Branson built the Virgin business empire by doing so.
- Challenge yourself to achieve your full potential by being creative and seeking new ways of dealing with situations. Unlock your mind and let yourself be free, crazy and “foolish” in discovering unique solutions and answers. Strive to develop a reputation as an Innovator.
- Resist being too hard on yourself or overly self-critical. Everyone experiences sub-par days and performances. If you feel in a slump, take a break and engage in something entirely different of a more positive nature. Ask for help. Nothing was ever accomplished by someone in a negative frame of mind, feeling sorry for oneself.
- Realize that the only constant in life is change. As A.G. Lafley, former chairman of Procter & Gamble, said in a speech:
Change is inevitable, pervasive, accelerating and increasingly unpredictable. Those who resist change will not survive. Those who only adapt to change may only survive. Those who embrace change, who shape it and turn it to their advantage will win decisively and disproportionately.
Hardwire your mind-set with these elements and you will possess a significant competitive edge over most others in the journey of life. The mega-bestselling author John Grisham had his first book rejected by 26 publishers before it was finally accepted by one. Another of the U.S.’s leading mystery authors, James Lee Burke, had his book The Lost Get-Back Boogie rejected 111 times over a nine-year period before it was finally published. The book ended up being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Both authors just refused to give up and lose faith in themselves. Nor should you.