This spring I was asked to give not one, but two, commencement speeches. While I will not be addressing graduates at Harvard, Yale, or MIT, I will be speaking to members of the next generation - our future. And as such, I plan on doing my part to inspire this group of leaders.
Commencement speakers look for nuggets of wisdom that graduates will take with them as they journey forward in their lives. Along the way, speakers hope to inspire a life or two and create reason for a cheer, a tear or evoke fear. My speech will be titled 10 Steps to Achieving Success in Life. The list is by no means all-inclusive. However, I think it provides a very good starting point from which to develop a road map for successful living. I think the graduates will find great value in this list. I only hope that I will be able to live up to my own advice and consistently follow these 10 steps.
10 STEPS TO ACHIEVING SUCCESS IN LIFE
1. Set Goals: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where,” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat. - dialogue between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
People who know what they want and have set a course for achieving their goals are generally happier than those that just let life happen to them. This wisdom is not new. Earl Nightingale once said, “Don't wait for something outside of yourself to make you happy in the future.” Ralph Waldo Emerson encouraged goal setting by stating that, ‘Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”
2. Don’t Fear Failure: “I failed my way to success.” - Thomas Edison
So often we are taught in our lives that failing is a bad thing. Failure is almost always placed at odds with success. Yet without failure few would know the way to success. No one ever did it right all the time. But most that have experienced some success have failed at some point.
3. Take Risks: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” - Helen Keller
Life is more fun and exciting when we take risks. At the end of the day there is truth to the statement, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” But be calculated - risk should not be taken for risk’s sake. Opportunity may knock, but it may not stand around very long. Be ready to go on an adventure at the knock of a door. A successful life includes not having regrets for not having taken enough risks.
4. Don’t Stop Learning: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” - Mahatma Gandhi
The more you know, the more you realize you do not know. Formal education just scratches the surface and is a drop of our capacity to learn. Knowledge, no matter how insignificant it may appear to be, gives us a reason to get out of bed every morning. Make it a habit to learn something new each day. Treat knowledge like a new friend. Life is so much more satisfying when we make a new friend every day.
5. Do Not Settle: “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” – Steve Jobs
Success is a process – not an event. Some goals may happen overnight. Others require more time, energy, and alignment of some planets. Do not get discouraged. Keep plotting forward with your plan. Evaluate your progress and make course corrections. Keep your goal top of mind and keep your feet moving. Michael Jordan once said, “If you're trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I've had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
6. Live a Balanced Life: “My point is, life is about balance. The good and the bad. The highs and the lows. The pina and the colada.” – Ellen DeGeneres
In life we are constantly be pulled in many different directions. Family, work, school, faith, community, etc. It is impossible to give attention to all things at once. There are not enough hours in a day to carve out time for each demand. However, over the intermediate- and long-term, we can achieve balance.
A balanced life should include doing a good job at work. Earning an honest pay for an honest day’s work. Balance means taking time to treat the body well and keeping it running properly with good foods, exercise, and rest. Balance means being present for the family. Few can give the family all the time it demands. But giving it “quality time” will keep the family healthy and happy. Balance means taking some time for oneself to recharge the batteries. Balance means being of service to the community and giving back. Balance means feeding the soul through religion and/or spirituality.
7. Seek a Mentor: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” - Benjamin Franklin
While there are advantages to failing, failure for failure’s sake is of limited use. Work towards success and deal with failure as a byproduct of a well developed plan. The best way to achieve success and limit failure is to work with someone that has already been down the same road. There is plenty that can go wrong as we travel down the road towards success. By eliminating the low hanging fruit on the tree of failure we improve the odds of success and ensure that we experience only the most worthy type of failure. And remember to thank your earliest mentors, your parents, teachers, and others, who inspired you to succeed and set you on your journey.
8. Shut Up and Listen: “I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway
Too often we spend our time doing all the talking and not doing any listening. Even when we’re listening, we’re thinking about the next thing we’re going to say. By truly listening we can fully understand what we are being told and properly engage in the conversation. If we do not listen we cannot provide what is needed. We cannot give the needed advice, solution, or shoulder to cry on.
9. Network: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” - Maya Angelou
No one in this world achieved success on their own. Success requires that you lean on someone for support. That’s where the network comes in. True networking means being of service to those in the network – and not expecting something in return. Then when needed, the network will find a way to return the favor.
10. Carry a Notebook: “Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.” – Will Self
Our lives are busy and getting busier. Over the course of a day we’ll have ideas, solutions, and epiphanies. If we do not have a way to capture them we risk losing them forever. A notebook, whether hardcopy or electronic, helps us record our thoughts, release the mental storage, and move on to the next great idea or solution.