Tips For Success

The following are tips for success I used to share with my students (edited for brevity). Because I’m no longer teaching, I’ll share them with you, Vera, at the beginning of this school year.

  • Don’t expect anyone to hold your hand. That said, if life throws you a curve ball, don’t be shy about asking for (and accepting) help.
  • Take charge of your own education. Own your learning. It comes down to what is happening in your head, and you’re the one who controls that.
  • If you don’t love reading and learning about the subject, find something else to study. Learning should be fun. If it isn’t, something isn’t right. Try something else.
  • If you don’t have a strong work ethic, get one. It will serve you well in life.
  • Always arrive to class and work prepared and ready to contribute. People who succeed don’t merely show up – they contribute.
  • Participate. Ask questions and offer ideas (but don’t ask questions as a substitute for adequate preparation). Some people say there is no such thing as a stupid question. Don’t believe them. There is.
  • Don’t fear being wrong. If you’re never wrong and never make mistakes, then you’re probably not trying hard enough.
  • Don’t be distracted by the chatter or trivial. Know what’s truly important. Prioritize.
  • If you’re uncertain about a concept, term, or situation, do your own research. Don’t expect to be spoon fed. People who take the initiative are the kind of people successful organizations want.
  • Make sure you understand. Short-term memorization doesn’t cut it. There are terms, concepts, and principles your clients, customers, bosses, and co-workers will expect you to know. You won’t be given an opportunity to go look everything up. Moreover, you can’t count on being given second chances. There is no substitute for actually knowing something.
  • Practice. Deep learning comes from doing. So do skills. The old saying has merit: practice makes perfect. Practice.
  • From time to time, ask yourself, what do I want to accomplish with my life? What contribution do I want to make? Be mindful. Intentional. Don’t merely float through life, going wherever the current happens to take you. But don’t live in your head. Do something.
  • Don’t be a liar. And accept responsibility for your own errors, failures, and decisions. Integrity is the hallmark of a true professional. If your colleagues, customers, or clients can’t trust you, then you won’t have a secure future, no matter how good you are at your job.
  • Learn the fundamentals of accounting. It will come in handy in more ways than you can imagine.
  • Be computer savvy. We live in the age of digital technology. Learn to write code even if your main career interests are elsewhere to be found.
  • Don’t put anything in writing or post photos online, including emails and social media postings, that would embarrass you (or worse) if published on the front page of your local newspaper or New York Times. And don’t allow anyone to take your photo with a drink or joint in your hand.
  • Keep up with current events. If you don’t know what’s going on in the world, you won’t be valuable to your employer, customers, or clients. Consider subscribing to the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Economist. Alternatively, become acquainted with your library and visit it often.
  • Don’t fib on your résumé. Ever.
  • Become culturally savvy. Globalization has changed everything: Never before in our history have national and tribal boundaries, and distance, meant so little as they do now. Learn about other cultures and how to relate to people who are different from you. If you can, travel outside the U.S., perhaps even a semester or year abroad in a non-English speaking country when you’re in college.
  • Learn to distinguish fact from fiction and to spot the plethora of crap that’s constantly seeking our attention. There are a lot of myths, ideological gobbledygook, propaganda, lame opinions, and outright lies floating around masquerading as fact. Learn how to tell the difference.
  • Be aware of what you don’t know. The illusion of knowledge is alluring but deceptive.
  • Understand probabilities, and understand the difference between correlation and causation. Then be alert to the fact that many people either don’t know the difference or don’t mind misleading others.
  • Learn to recognize your biases (we all have them), prejudices, assumptions, and misconceptions that might be standing in the way of learning and understanding.
  • Don’t blindly accept conventional wisdom. Question everything. Beware of the herd. It’s frequently wrong.
  • Don’t neglect relationships. They matter – a lot. Build and nurture a strong network of friends, family, and acquaintances. Connections are often more important than résumés, grades, or degrees. Don’t take people for granted. Stay in touch. Help others when you have the opportunity. Be a giver, not a taker. But don’t give because you expect to receive.
  • Remember that your most valuable asset is you. Don’t neglect yourself. Take care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and developmentally. Stay healthy. Stay relevant. Build your knowledge and skills and keep them current. Ask yourself, what can I offer that is unique and valuable and can’t be replaced with a computer or cheap labor from abroad? Make sure you’re valuable to your employer, customers, or clients, which, in the end, is your only source of security. Don’t ever become complacent and think your company, firm, or institution owes you anything. Financial security comes from possessing valuable knowledge and skills, good judgment, and a robust, well-nurtured personal network, and by building an adequate base of financial assets.
  • Don’t be reckless but don’t be afraid to take risks, particularly early in your career when there is plenty of time to recover should things not turn out as you had planned.
  • Fear is the most powerful and destructive force in the world. Don’t allow it to dominate your life. Be courageous. Sounds easy. It isn’t.
  • Save. And avoid unnecessary and excessive debt (including student loans). Build your assets. Set financial independence as a primary goal. It’s more important to be free than to be a “success.”
  • Beware of inertia and complacency. They’re insidious. They can turn people into toads before they know it. The world has enough toads; we don’t need more.
  • Have a can-do attitude. The world is full of people who are quick to tell you why something can’t be done. Be someone who gets things done and can solve problems for others and make their lives better. If you’re good at what you do and have a can-do attitude, you’ll go far.
  • Honor your commitments and keep your word.
  • Be kind to yourself and others. Don’t judge either harshly. Extend grace. To others. And to yourself.
  • Never stop learning. Ever.

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