“I’ve always been in the right place at the right time. Of course, I steered myself there.”
Getting in the Right Mindset
Arm yourself with knowledge.
You can learn any skill you want, or build your understanding of anything that is difficult, if you read about it. Reading doesn’t cost anything if you go to the public library, and you can also find great books at yard sales and thrift stores. The Internet is not made just for social networking either – there’s a wealth of knowledge out there, from The Economist, Forbes, or New York Times online to other popular sources such as Slate Magazine or TED talks.
Reading has the bonus of taking you out of your emotions and making your logical frontal cortex work.
Reading develops your knowledge of what’s going on around you so you can cope with it better. Reading develops your language skills so that you have more success in the job world and can better communicate with the people you care for.
Figure out your goals.
Write down what it is you are working for, and what you want to accomplish with your life energy. What are your efforts leading you towards – and what would you rather work on to build for your future? What is your vision of your future and what smaller goals can you achieve along the way to get the life you want? Though you may find out what you really want through trial and error, the firmer the picture you have of your goals, the better.
Higher order goals are more likely to lead to inner fulfillment. Consider goals based on more spiritual / less selfish values that you are drawn to, such as ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’, ‘make peace not war’, ‘protect the earth’, ‘help others’, ‘a safe neighborhood’ and ‘a happy family’. However, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to run your own business, be partner at your firm, or do whatever else will help you feel the most satisfied.
Good examples of higher order goals might be – ‘spend more time with my kids’, ‘stop fighting with my spouse’, ‘walk or bike to work’, ‘have dinner with my family’, ‘pray or meditate every day’, or ‘get to know my neighbors’.
Artistic and creative goals are also more healthy than temporary and selfish goals. Contributing your energy to creative or expressive arts, like music, dance, fine art, gardening, crafts, or even creating a beautiful home or business, can give your life focus and give your skills a chance to make a positive difference.
Make a to-do list.
Write down the two most important goals that you decided upon earlier, and make a plan for achieving them. Remember that, while your goals may be big, you may have to take relatively small measures to achieve them.
Want a better job? Baby steps might be to get career counseling, take a night/online training class, study the field (what’s available, what skills are needed…), write up a resume, practice interviewing skills, accept some failure, and so on.
Post your to-do list somewhere prominent, so you will see it often, or put the items on your calendar on the dates you want to try to accomplish them.
Let go of your past.
If you are holding on to your past in a limiting way, start working to let go of it. Do forgiveness work or make amends to those you have hurt (AA’s 4th step). Go to therapy or a self-help group if you get stuck or need help. If you need to, have some conversations for closure.
If your neighborhood or family keeps you stuck in blame dramas or unhealthy behaviors (alcohol, drugs), you may need to put distance between you and them until you get healthier.
If your job is demeaning or abusive, get career counseling (there’s free and low cost versions on the web) and work to get a better situation as soon as possible.
Develop a positive emotional outlook.
Nothing sabotages good work more than negative emotions, which zap your energy and destroy your hopes! Keep a positive feeling or gratitude journal where you describe at least three things positively each day. Become more aware of your negative mind frame and challenge it to think differently.
Eventually, we all need a balance, but if negative emotions are your habit, you have to overdo the positive ones to get back in control.
It’s okay to feel upset when you have a setback. But if you develop a positive attitude, you’ll be much more equipped to deal with setbacks because you won’t see them as being the end of the world.
Manage your stress.
You may be too stressed to think positively, or to focus on the bigger picture. If stress is out of control in your life, then working on managing it should be your #1 priority before you do anything else. Here are some ways you can begin to control your stress:
Cut down on your obligations.
Delegate your work to others (they may complain, but they’ll be glad in the end).
Schedule some down time to relax, chill out, or meditate.
Follow your path.
There may be a path that your parents want you to follow. There may be a path that all of your friends from high school or college are following, which can make you feel like it should be your path too. There may be a path that your significant other expects you to follow. All of this can be well and good, but in the end, if you want to get ahead in life, then you have to do whatever it is that makes you happy, not what you think everyone else will want. If you don’t know yet, that’s okay, but it should be your goal to figure out exactly what would make you happiest and what would make the most of your talents.
This doesn’t mean you should go out and try to make it as a rock star if you have no talent and a family of five to support. You should find a way to mix what is practical with what will bring you the most satisfaction. And if you’re okay with doing something completely impractical, then that’s fine, too.
Talk to someone who’s done it before.
If you want to get ahead in a certain field, whether you want to be an engineer, financial analyst, or an actor, one of the things that can help you the most is talking to someone who has been there and who knows the ropes. Whether this person is a family member, a kind supervisor in your company, a teacher, or a friend of a friend, if you have the opportunity to sit down with this person, keep your eyes and ears open and listen to what that person has to say about how to get ahead in your field, what kind of experience you should get, who you should know, and any other wisdom that you should have.
This person may not be able to offer the perfect advice that can help you achieve your dreams, but you should be able to take something helpful from the experience.
Get into the mental game at work.
Sure, you can opt out of office politics because you think it’s petty and meaningless and that you can get by on your talent alone. This is a nice and idealistic viewpoint, but the fact of the matter is, if you want to get ahead, you have to play ball. See who is really in charge at your workplace and try to win that person over without sucking up too much. Know which skills are really necessary for getting ahead at work and try to develop them. Know which person should not be crossed, even if you do disagree with his ideas.
It can feel ugly or unnatural to try to get in to office politics, but remind yourself that you’re doing it to achieve your higher goals. Just don’t sacrifice your integrity to get there.
Make friends who make you happy.
Good, caring friendships are one of the foundations of a healthy life! Friends are the source of strength and knowledge when you are down. Friends can get you connected to opportunities and help you brainstorm ways to solve your problems.
If your friendships are based in superficial things, like alcohol, drugs or materialism, look for new friends. Go to places that represent your deeper interests.
If you feel your friendships are out of balance because you give more than they take, try to work on communicating better with the negotiable ones, and dump the selfish ones (if you can’t avoid them, try to limit contact with them and say ‘no’ more often).
Spending time with people who are driven and work hard can be a positive influence on you. You can still be friends with slackers, but try to cultivate friendships with people who are as driven as you are, too.
Network as much as you can.
No matter what industry you’re in, it’s all about who you know. Be friendly with your supervisors – without creeping them out by trying to be actual friends. Go to conferences and lectures and meet as many people in your field as you can. Whenever you do meet someone, have a business card ready to hand over, a firm handshake, and a steady gaze. Flatter people without sucking up. Learn to summarize what you do in a sentence and make an impression so people remember you. Don’t feel sleazy about it; it’s all part of the game.
You never know who can be helpful to you in the future. Don’t embarrass yourself by sucking up to all of your superiors and ignoring anyone who is below you.
Do the grunt work.
Getting ahead does not mean starting at the top. It means starting the race in the back, near the nervous, inexperienced runners, and working your way to the front of the line at a steady pace. This means that you will have to prepare to do a lot of work for not a lot of money, at first. Don’t think that being a leader, a boss, an executive, etc, is your birthright – it’s not. You have to put in your hours, even if you feel like you’re too smart for your job or like you would be able to use your creative abilities you were given a higher position; use your creativity when you can, work as hard as you can, and eventually, the right people will notice.
This is not to say that you should put in long, painful hours in a job that means absolutely nothing to you if it’s not a means – or a stepping stone – to an end. But if you do know that putting in some time at a less-than-ideal position will in fact give you what you want, then suck it up and give it your all.
If you thought that doing grunt work was hard enough, then try doing it with a smile on your face. People will respect you more if you seem happy with your job instead of acting like you deserve so much better.
Become an expert.
Whether you become your company’s expert on using Google Docs, or you’re the leading graphic designer at your start up, it’s important to have something that you can do better than anyone at your company. This will make people respect you, come to you when they need help, and to think of you as indispensable. If you’re the only one at the office who knows how to do something, then your job is pretty secure.
Find something that interests you and spend extra time learning how to really master it. You may not be paid for this extra time, but the effort you put in will pay off in the future.
Don’t be afraid of taking on outside projects or engagements that have to do with your expertise outside of work. If you have the right boss, then he will be impressed by your enthusiasm and drive (as long as it doesn’t interfere with your actual work).
Have more face time.
Studies show that 66% of managers and higher ups actually prefer meeting face to face instead of talking over Skype, on the phone, or over email. Though the millennials prefer email as a form of contact, you can make yourself stand out from the bunch by taking the time to talk to your supervisor and other people in your company face-to-face when the opportunity presents itself. This will help you be remembered more, develop a stronger bond, and look like you’re willing to put in the extra effort.
Of course, you have to fit the culture of the company. If you’re at a super trendy start up where people only communicate on Skype, you don’t want to freak someone out with a face-to-face meeting.
Don’t sacrifice all of your present fulfillment for future happiness.
Putting in some grunt work is inevitable, but you should never feel like what you are doing is 100% horrible, depressing, and just filling you with self-loathing. You should get some benefit and satisfaction out of what you do. You never know if it will really help you in the future, and you may be spending years doing something that makes you completely miserable. Even if there’s a bucket of gold waiting at the other end of the rainbow, it’s not worth it if it’s covered in barbed wire.
Stop waiting for the perfect time.
If you have big dreams, whether it’s starting your own business, writing a novel, or running a non-profit, then yeah, unfortunately, you can’t just drop everything you’re doing and achieve your dreams in one day. However, you also shouldn’t feel like you have to wait for the perfect time to even begin achieving those goals. You may be waiting to start after something big happens – the wedding you’ve been planning all year, the college loans you’re finally going to pay off this summer – and that’s all well and good, but you can’t keep waiting for the perfect moment when nothing else stands in your way or you’ll be waiting forever.
If you always have a reason for not starting what you really want to do, then you’re just making excuses.
Start small. Okay, so you probably can’t quit your job and start painting full time until you’ve saved enough money. But what’s stopping you from spending an hour a day working on your craft? That’s seven hours a week and it does add up.
Take care of yourself.
Don’t let your mental and physical well-being fall by the wayside just because you want to start your own business. If you really want to get ahead in life, then your health should always be your priority, not the amount of money in your bank account. No matter how busy you are, there are a few things that you can make sure to do if you want to stay sane and healthy:
Make time for relaxation every day. If something is bothering you, talk about it instead of bottling it up inside.
Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night, and try to go to bed and wake up at around the same time. Sleeping for only 4 hours a night to get a project done will only lead you to crash and burn.
Eat three balanced and healthy meals each day, and don’t just scarf them down at your desk.
Check in with yourself every day. How have you been feeling mentally and physically? What was troubling you the most? How can you avoid the problem the next day?
Don’t forget about other parts of your life.
Sure, your career may feel like the most important thing in the world right now, but that doesn’t mean you should completely ignore your family, your friends, your relationship, or any of your other obligations. You have to be able to keep all of those balls in the air, or your life will come crashing down on you. You may think that you should put all of your efforts into your new project at work, but when your girlfriend leaves you and you feel too upset to function, you’ll wish you left time for more balance in your life.
Keep a schedule and make sure you “block out” time for your friends and family and loved ones, too. Sure, scheduling date night with your girlfriend or quality time with your kids may not feel like the most romantic or the most organic thing in the world, but it will keep you from having tunnel vision.
Look at failure as a learning opportunity.
Don’t spend your life being terrified of making mistakes and hating yourself whenever you do make them. Failure is a part of life, and in the end, it will only make you stronger and give you the skills to tackle challenges down the line. If all you’ve ever had is success, then how will you react when you have an unexpectedly bad situation on your hands? This goes back to having a positive attitude – you don’t have to jump for joy after you’ve screwed up, but you don’t have to hate yourself over it, either.
Instead of saying, “I’m such an idiot. I can’t believe I let that happen,” ask yourself, “Okay, what could I have done differently? How can I avoid having this happen in the future?”
Sometimes, something will happen that just isn’t your fault at all. You gave it your all and you still failed. Maybe there’s nothing you would have done differently. If that’s the case, then be proud of yourself for working hard and move on.
Okay, so let’s say you spent five years working your butt off on a novel and nobody wants to publish it. An optimistic person doesn’t look at this as a failure; he thinks, “Well, spending five years working on a novel has certainly made me a better writer. Even if it hasn’t found critical success, I can still be proud of the hard work I’ve put in, while knowing that it will help me write an even better second novel in the future.”
Know which advice to take.
In the beginning, when you knew nothing about your field, you might have taken the advice of absolutely anyone who had more experience than you. But as you grow older and wiser, you’ll start to see that hey, maybe not all of those people knew what they were talking about. Or that they did know what they were talking about, but that their ideas of success didn’t always match up with yours. You’ll have to know what to take and leave the rest behind.
It takes practice to understanding whose views really align with yours, and character to not follow the advice of someone with really impressive credentials if you know it’s not the best thing to do.
Don’t forget to have fun.
Though achieving your goals, seeing your dreams fulfilled, etc, is pretty important stuff, so is laughing with your friends, having a watergun fight, or cooking an amazing Italian meal. It’s important to take time out of your life to just be completely silly, try something new, or to laugh and be around the people you love the most. Sure, it won’t directly help you become the CEO of your company, but it will help you face life with a fresh perspective, make you relax a bit instead of thinking that your career completely defines you, and will help you relax instead of working so darn hard 24/7.
Having fun will actually help you get ahead in life, if you do it in moderation, just like anything else. Block out a time every day to not thinking about working, projects, networking, or career goals, and focus on living in the moment. Being able to have fun while having a demanding career – now that’s the real definition of getting ahead.
Regardless of what else is happening, get exercise (get outdoors, and move!) and eat as healthily as you can! You can’t go in much of any direction with your life if you are unhealthy, overweight, and/or constantly getting sick!
Exercise is also an important and effective method for fighting depression and restoring internal neurochemical balances .
Alcohol and/or drugs will always hold you back by distorting your judgment and depleting your energy. Get your control back so you can have a chance of succeeding at these steps. Otherwise, you’ll keep heading for that hole!Resources