A friend once told me sometimes it takes the right person in the right context, saying something in just the right way, to adjust the lens through which you view the world and inspire you to change for the better. An acquaintance of this independent, business owner friend of mine visited her office one day and brought her teenage son. While the three of them were talking, the son blatantly engaged with his cell phone. My friend said to him, “Put your damn phone away now! Don’t you realize how F%&$’ing rude it is to play on your phone during a conversation?” All expletives aside, it took this direct and abrupt confrontation, from a complete stranger, to cause a behavior change in this young man while prior efforts from his parents failed.
If you’re a self-improvement aficionado like me, you’ve probably heard your share of the “maxims and truths” below. But let’s be realistic – how much of the content you read, videos you watched, podcasts you listened to, have you actually applied to your life? A lot of it was initially in one ear and out the other for me too. Over the years, I’ve started to internalize some of this material and put it into practice. The summary below is my handpicked advice gleaned from written texts, audios, videos, and conversations of highly influential authors, CEOs, athletes, acquaintances, and friends that are at the top of their game. I am sharing the parts that have most impacted my life and career, so that I can save you time, energy, and needless agony. I will have achieved my goal for this article if at least one of the following tenets leaves a positive imprint on you this year.
1. Connect to Your Mission or Purpose
Become aware of a mission that you are devoted to that is larger than yourself. This awareness will help propel you forward in anything that you do. Some people call this “your sentence.” Entire books have been written on the very subject of defining your life’s mission, and several free online worksheets are available. However, if you can honestly answer the following questions, you’re far along into crafting your sentence.
Who am I? Why am I here? What do I do and why do I do it? Who am I here for?
Many circumstances in life are entirely outside of your control. Regarding your mission, you are in control of the meaning you give to it, which transcends anything you do.
A purpose is a means to an end. Your mission or purpose serves as the fuel needed to endure life’s challenges and disappointments. Regardless of what happens in your work, always remember that your organization is also a means to an end, that is broader than the bottom line.
2. Bring Your Best Self Daily
Throw yourself into your work wholeheartedly, and in all matters, have unrelenting enthusiasm.
It’s so easy to compare yourself to others. If you get caught up in this, you can lose yourself and start chasing unrealistic ideals. It’s far more achievable to focus on becoming a better version of your current self. You have a unique set of skills, strengths, and experiences that positively define you, and which can be built upon to achieve great things through your mission. What is in your control is the ability to put forth your best effort and infuse energy into every situation that you encounter. Doing so will indeed set you apart, help ensure career success, cause others to gravitate toward you, and help you flourish.
3. Focus on Personal Growth – Learn Daily, Be Patient, Open your Mind, and Surprise Yourself
- Learn Daily. Be a lifelong student. Having an impressive college degree or set of certifications doesn’t exempt you from continuous learning. Make it a habit to learn something new every day, even if it’s one new word in the language of your choosing, a history lesson, or pondering a classical work of art. On a yearly basis, learn and improve skills that add value to your professional career.
- Open your Mind. Sometimes, silence really is golden. Educate yourself on both sides of a story or controversy before articulating an opinion. Be willing to listen to someone that is more proficient than you at something, internalize it and don’t take it personally. Try new ways of doing things, even if you don’t initially agree, as long as it won’t negatively affect anyone and it doesn’t conflict with your values.
- Surprise Yourself. Throw yourself into uncomfortable and awkward situations to stretch yourself, test your limits and confront your fears. You may find that you like those things. Do the job on your to-do list that you dread first. The odds are that this is what you needed to do most, and you’ll thank yourself later.
- Be Patient. Benjamin Disraeli said, “The secret to success is being ready for an opportunity when it presents itself.” Until then, pay your dues. In your career, if you have the discipline and perseverance to put in the work, you will eventually see an ROI through opportunities that come to you. Realize this may not happen how you expect or according to your timeline.
4. Figure Out How You Reset
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, ask:
Am I presenting my best self?
If not, ask why, and figure out how to reset in a way that works for you.
A 10-minute walk outside for some fresh air can be incredibly helpful. Step away, breathe, and “reboot” to gain clarity. With a clear mind, take a look at your calendar and commitments and figure out what can be changed to improve the situation.
Which one or two balls that I’m juggling can I set down so I can free up my time?
Of course, you want to do this in a way that is respectful of the stakeholders of those tasks or projects (family, coworkers, boss, etc.). If explained sincerely, they will almost always understand and help you re-prioritize in a non-guilt-laden way. The respect that you gave will likely be reciprocated to you later on.
Going forward, leave open a free day each week, to allow for contingencies and for yourself to get caught up in your life. And frequently scan your workload, so that you can prevent this feeling from happening again.
5. Adopt a Positive Mindset
When things don’t go your way, ask:
What’s great about this situation that I do not see right now?
That can be hard to do when overcome with disappointment after you were rejected or betrayed, went bankrupt, failed a class, lost a race, passed over for a promotion, or missed a launch date.
You’ve heard the phrase, “positivity begets positivity.” Well, empowering questions elicit empowering answers. Bring forth a moment from your past when you failed at something that was important to you. How would you have answered the following questions?
(A) How did I screw up this badly? (Negative outlook)
(B) What did I learn from this mess? (Positive outlook)
Question A focuses on the past and what you did wrong, and answering it could trigger negative, self-deprecating statements, and self-doubt, while Question B is more forward thinking and suggests continuous improvement and personal growth. The latter question also encourages the virtue of humility and the chance to share your experience with others.
Optimism is contagious, and it can quickly spread to others. For example, by asking a simple, empowering question, you can instantly transform negative, complaining talk in your office into constructive, solution-oriented discussions, which will then start to positively change the workplace environment.
6. Surround Yourself with Inspiring, Creative, and On-Purpose People
There’s the familiar adage,
“You are the average of the five people you spend time with the most.”
Surround yourself with people who align with your values, lift you up, and accept you for who you are, but who also challenge you, provide a different perspective, and are not afraid to tell you the truth.
Figure out who deserves your energy.
Find a mentor or someone you admire (living or departed), and start to emulate critical behaviors and characteristics and practice their advice or writings. Conversely, find a gentle way to let go of the toxic people that are bringing you down.
Bringing it All Together
In closing, this is what has resonated with me and has worked in my life and career condensed and filtered just for you to digest in under six minutes, sparing you the countless hours and struggles I endured before appreciating these tips.
What helpful principles, maxims or truths would you add to this list?