Where do superstars come from?
What takes some people from “pretty great” to “truly amazing”?
Superstars are born when smart people who know their strengths find the right place to apply those strengths to maximum impact.
It sounds kind of like a math equation, right?
Well, a lot of being successful comes down to putting the right pieces together in the right way.
A lot of successful people attribute their success to luck. Which can be kind of annoying to hear — after all, nobody really becomes incredibly successful through luck alone, and we all know that.
But what I think these people mean by luck is a little bit more than being in the right place at the right time.
Successful people are those who put themselves in the right place so that when the right moment presented itself, they can step up. They take notice of what is needed or valued, and they don’t wait to be asked or wait for the next job or when they “finally have the time” — they take action to do the most important work and add the most value right then.
Being in the right place at the right time can happen through luck, but it can also happen through deep awareness and understanding of a few elements:
- what success looks like in your field
- what steps are needed to achieve that success
- how to take advantage of the right opportunities
You can think of this as your success equation. No matter what industry you’re in, if you can understand and master these elements, you will have everything you need to become successful.
What does it mean to be successful in your job and in your industry?
There are a lot of ways to approach this question and answer it correctly. But one wrong way to answer it is to just take the shortcut of correlating job title or salary with success. Those things can be indicators of success, but chasing titles or salaries won’t necessarily make you important or successful.
A great title and a great salary at one company does not necessarily mean you have a great reputation or great skills; and those are the things that could get you hired at a similar level at another company or promoted to a different team within your current company.
You want success that transcends where you are right now. You want success that doesn’t depend on a boss who loves you or a team where you’ve been there the longest — you want to be someone who, when you walk in the room, people know to listen, because they know you matter.
So you have to know what matters to the people who are around you now, and in the future. How does your company measure success? How does your industry measure success?
Here are some good barometers to check to find out:
What awards are available in my field?
Getting an award is a public symbol that other people think something you’ve done is worth talking about and rewarding. So if you’re goal is to have a successful career, then it’s worth thinking about how you can align your accomplishments with the things your community finds award-worthy.
Whether or not you actually pursue an award or not doesn’t really matter. What’s more important is that awards can represent a kind of focus for your career path. Would it mean more to you to win a leadership award within your industry, or would you rather be applauded for technical achievement by a technical organization?
Figuring out what awards are available also tell you what people in your industry or company think is important. The closer you can align your work with the things that are most highly valued by your industry, the more successful you’ll be — since you’ll be doing the things the people around you think are really important.
What achievements or discoveries have happened in your work in the last year?
Think about the biggest groundbreaking moments in your industry or company this year. What had everyone talking? What got published in blogs or news? Who became a breakout person that everyone knew?
This is another great way to stay on top of what is currently valued by the community you’re in.
You can also look back over 5 years and 10 years too. What accomplishments are still relevant or talked about? Look for themes. Over the last decade, have the big accomplishments or news stories occurred around the same space, people, or companies?
If you could have the life of someone in your field, whose would you want?
One of the best ways to set goals and plot out an ambitious career path is to look at people who you admire right now.
I actually love this as a strategy for goal-setting. Think about someone you admire — they can be anyone. In my career, I’ve admired people from my direct manager at a huge corporation, to startup CEOs I know I’ll never meet, to consultants I’ve just met once who had some magic quality I always wished I could emulate.
What makes you admire someone? Well, part of it is wanting what they have. But breaking down what makes another person successful is a great way to create a personal to-do list of things you want to do to increase your success and value.
Let’s say you admire a startup executive who travels the world speaking at conferences, blogs on popular industry sites, and hires amazing people. Now you have targets. You can create a checklist and start to position yourself to begin doing some of the same things.
How will you know when you’ve leveled up?
The best way to start thinking about this is to ask the question: what makes someone on my team or in my company get promoted? How do you know when other people consider you worthy of recognition, praise, or opportunities?
At some companies, promotions require not just hard work but also a significant amount of networking and publicly putting it out there that you’re seeking a certain position. Does yours?
Think about the last person who got promoted on your team or who you know. What did they do that got them promoted? How did they change their behavior? Did they change their behavior? What was given as the reason for their promotion when it was announced? Who was responsible for the promotion — was it just a manager, or did they have to meet or connect with a string of people?
Another way to think about this issue is: who can get away with anything on your team? Who are the people who, when they call in sick, no one raises an eyebrow or grumbles about them being out?
You want to be someone who is so good, so respected, so trusted, and so clearly adding value that when you need time off or need more leeway, that everyone knows you’ll come back better than ever.
Think about the people who are the leaders on your team today, who have that kind of trust and respect. What makes them different from the other people on your team? If they are ranked a 10, on a scale of 1-10, where are you on that scale? What would it take for you to become a 10 like them?
What would you need to start doing? What would you need to stop doing?
Now think about the people in your network or immediate community who could get a job anywhere. Is there someone on your team who is constantly fielding job offers, or who seems to just know everyone? Again, think about what makes you different from that person.
And by the way — while we’re doing all this comparing to other people — this isn’t a matter of who is better than who. It’s really more a matter of who is understanding the industry, the community, the unspoken rules better. Who is doing the things that are valued and who is known to be doing the important work by other people? These things matter — we all work with other people, and we need those other people to value us in order to be successful.
And the best way to be valued by other people isn’t to convince them why you are already so valuable, but it is to start doing the things that they find valuable, better, smarter, and in the way you know is best.
So let’s walk this thought process out one step forward: think about your industry as a whole.
- Who are the thought leaders in your field?
- Who are the people who are wanted to speak at every conference?
- What do they do that is so unique? Why are they so valued?
This is thinking big. Find common themes, and think broadly about what the thought leaders in your space have in common. What’s their work life like? Where and how do they spend their time? What’s the first word that pops into people’s head when they hear this person’s name?
You don’t have to have every single quality the person you look up to has, but it does behoove you to study what the best of the best have, do, say, and spend their time on if you want to be successful.
Not just so you can become like them or become an executive or earn a high salary. Don’t get distracted by the finish line — what you’re looking for are the things that are valued, the things which, when put together, add up to a career that is undeniably valuable and important.
This week, I want you to write down how success is defined by the company you work at and the industry you work in.
If you could do only one thing to improve your career, what do you think that thing is — for *you*. For your job, your company, your field. What is the one thing that would have the maximum impact on your success?
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