Recently, I was asked the question—“If I am not successful by the time I’m 25,will I be able to be successful later in my life?” I was stunned. Who at 25, considers themselves a failure or a success? I thought to myself, “You have so far to go and you’vebarely gotten started.”
The question is asked by a young workforce that has had to live up to the expectations of doting, “empowering” parents who neglected to teach the value of failure and protected them from its real and daily existence. These Millennials witnessmedia-saturated examples of young entrepreneurs who have made billions with their tech companies and start-ups. This,seemingly, is a common definition of success. But there is so much more to true success and real failure–you cannot have real success without true failure.
The Secret of My Real Success: True Failure
At 25, I was in my first job as an international conference planner for a non-profit. I traveled to London, Paris and Prague; when it was still in Czechoslovakia. I served high level executives and met Shirley Temple Black, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger and Anita Roddick. I stayed in 5-star hotels and traveled alone for pleasure after each conference. In the late eighties, I made $16,500 annually. I was clueless, wet-behind-the ears,inexperiencedand naive. When a new Executive Director was hired in 1992, I was let go. To be precise, I was fired. At that period in my life, would you have considered me a success or a failure?Back then, I never thought about success or failure. I simply knew I had to get another equally amazing job.
Fast forward to 2016. I am 50. I have had sevenjobs since. I have started three businesses—shut one down, turned another into a non-profit and now working furiously on the third. I have had five different professions. I reinvent myself when I have had a great idea, want to challenge myself or when mycareer has gone off course. Have these careers made me a millionaire?Nope. Do I consider myself successful? Heck, yea!
As a corporate image consultant, with a specialty in “on-boarding” programs and a focus on millennials, it’s my job to ask young professionals embarking on their careers, what lasting imprint they want to make? They all understand the importance of first impressions, but at the end of their work-day, in their career, or their life, what do they want to be known for?Their answers are consistent. They want to be known as problem-solvers, generous, great collaborators, humanitarians, flexible and valuable— all very impressive and honorable core values. So I advise them—be that for which you want to be known! But there is great disappointment and dissatisfaction when their actions and work are not commended, rewarded or recognized quickly.
As I have contemplated my successes and failures there are a handful of truisms that resonate with me.
- You don’t know squat. I’m paraphrasing Socrates here. Once you realize there is so much more to learn than what you already think you know, you are that much closer to understanding and experiencing the contentment of success. Ask for the hard work!Show your passion for learning and growing. Companies cultivate and groom those who show leadership abilities. Being coachable and teachable is one of those early signs of leadership.
- Success and failure are a state of mind. Practice a successful mindset every day by practicing gratitude. That’s also known as positive thinking. Research shows over and over that people who perceive the glass is half full (rather than half empty) are happier, more content, more confident and love their job—no matter their position or salary.
- You will fail–so allow yourself to fail. You are probably your own worst critic.Take risks outside of your comfort zone. Failed attempts do not make you a failure—they actually they make you brilliant. They add to your knowledge base and put you that much closer to getting something right.
- It’s not either / or. Do not assume your options are either success orfailure. Most of life is the process in-between. Set your goals, work hard, and believe you will achieve your goals. Your trajectory must always be toward gaining knowledge and sharing it, growing emotionally and behaving with kindness and generosity, communicating truthfully and authentically from your core values. Be that for which you want to be known!What can be more satisfying than that?
- Wait for it. There is a sense of urgency in this generation of achieving “success” without the understanding that it is a lifelong accomplishment measurable in many ways. Ultimately, the only way to measure your success is to do your personal best—everyday. You cannot measure success by using someone else’s standard. Keep your focus on your goal, improve your technique and work hard to beat your personal best. I think your swim coach said the same thing to you when you were 10.
Imagine your life and career as a long curvy line with apexes (successes) and downturns (failures). When you are in the valley you only see the hard climb ahead—when you are at the peak and experiencing the euphoria of success,all you want is to avoid the slippery slope down. You don’t have the perspective of standing far enough back to recognize that these peaks and valleys make a rich and well-traveled life that give you experience and knowledge—that someday make you a truly wise man or woman. Only when you step away to gain that perspective does the line appear simply like one straight constant—that is a successful life. I hope you don’t have to wait to know this until you are 50.