Recently, I’ve gone through some interesting transitions in my life that have made me evaluate my ideas on how to achieve success.
My recent experiences have led me to discover 2 things about life and success that even this lover of all-things-personal-development had never really contemplated before.
I’ve concluded that the ability for one to be successful comes down to mastery of 2 broad categories of skillset:
1. The importance of relationships.
2. The importance of setting goals.
I think most people “know” that these are important, but either misunderstand them (as I did).
These 2 attributes are, in fact, a precursor to The Main Idea, wherein I write that the key to success is a thorough understanding of the proper mindset needed for success, and the corresponding actions that are influenced by that mindset. Being unable to master these likely means the inability to even aspire to accomplishing great or interesting things with our lives.
But I won’t bore you with anecdotes. Let me tell you how I came to this conclusion:
I recently moved to Hartford, Connecticut from Phoenix, Arizona, where I just received my Masters in Taxation degree from Arizona State University. I moved here for a number of reasons. For one, I wanted to be with family who lived out here. Second, I was interested in exploring the East Coast business climate (Hartford especially enables this possibility, given its close proximity to Boston and New York.
Third, and most important: I was getting the sense that life in Phoenix–where I grew up–was becoming too “simple”. I was becoming too contented with my surroundings, and I wasn’t pushing myself as hard as I needed to. I think living and staying in an environment that is overly comfortable and familiar can do that. In a sense, I was becoming a bit lazy–at least lazier than I wanted to be.
So I threw myself into a new environment, and decided to see what would happen.
I didn’t come out here cold-turkey. I had a place to stay, and I knew what I wanted to accomplish: I want to start a tech company by the end of the summer.
The 1st Key: The Importance of Relationships
While back in Phoenix, I could rely on the various resources and connections I had made throughout my high school and college days, out here in Hartford, I am a nobody. But I expected that, and it is something I resolved to change.
So I started doing what I do best: thinking, analyzing, and problem solving; trying to figure out how I could take my current situation. I’ve read 3 or 4 books since I’ve been out here (it’s been 2 weeks), namely Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferazzi. Keith’s book stresses the value of relationships in accomplishing goals and achieving success, and how lacking in that area will likely ensure one living an unsuccessful and unfulfilling career. He recommends a rigorous, methodological system for finding, befriending, and providing value to (and receiving value from) contacts.
Some people criticize this as being too manipulative or conniving with relationships. But think about it for a second: how do relationships help you? If you want to advance in your career, emotional support , or to be in on a new business opportunity: who’s going to help you: people you know and have relationships with, or strangers?
On reading Keith’s book, I realized two important things:
a.) Just how valuable relationships are, and
b.) I had never really spent any time developing them before.
This was especially apparent in Connecticut, where I know fewer than 5 people. It was clear something needed to change.
I’ve written consistently about how to reach out to others, how to network, how to use personal branding, how to build personal credibility. What I failed to realize, though, is just how important it is to actively and consistently use relationship-management techniques.
- Use Excel sheets to map out all of my contacts, including my priorities with them (do I want to befriend them? What value can I provide them? How can we work together?)
- Spend a significant amount of time researching contacts, and figuring out how to make a meaningful entrance into a community.
And it’s paid off. I’ve met some excellent people in Hartford; I’ve begun to make the business connections essential to starting a successful business.
One of my next articles will cover relationships and their importance in greater detail.
The 2nd Key: Setting Goals
We’ve all heard this one before. I’ve even written about setting goals here on RCSays. So saying “you should set goals” is hardly anything new.
But, in the past, I was contented with undefined and grandiloquent goals: “someday, I want to start a tech company”; “I’d really love to get involved in politics…it will happen in the future”; “it would be great to become involved in philanthropy”.
In his book, Ferrazzi writes a story about a young college-matriculating Bill Clinton, and how Clinton would always carry a black address book to write down information about every contact he met. Once, Clinton even pulled out the book and started writing down details about a new acquaintance as they were talking. When the acquaintance asked Clinton, “what are you doing?”, Clinton confidently replied, “I plan on running for Governor of Arkansas, and I’m meeting and remembering people now who will be important to know when I run”.
What struck me (as you know, Clinton did succeed–twice–in becoming Governor of Arkansas) was the specificity of his goal. I realized that’s what had been missing in the way I set goals. I realized: a goal that is not measurable or that does not point to a specific outcome isn’t a goal at all: it’s just a recipe for frustration and a feeling of failure.
So I resolved to never again approach achieving success and accomplishing goals in the whimsical way I used to look at it. Today, I have very specific goals. My 3 professional goals are: 1. working as an entrepreneur in the tech sector, 2. working part time as a public speaker and writer (as I do here), and 3. working in philanthropy, specifically by using my public speaking abilities to promote important causes. And I have specific deliverables for each of those goals; I make To-Do lists on a daily basis outlining how my actions today will lead towards my long-term goal.
What can you take away with my story?
1.) Realize the importance of relationships and setting goals.
Look into your own life. Think of where you want to be, and the things that seemingly keep you from getting there. I daresay that those biggest things will be 1.) your perceived lack of connections, and 2.) “not knowing” how to get there. My advice is to immediately make specific goals for yourself. In a play off of mindset inspires action, your determination to get to a final end-point will lead to you naturally doing what is necessary to get there: just like me with my tech startup- I don’t know exactly how to achieve success, but my determination to meet people and set goals means that I’ll figure it out soon.
2.) Realize the importance of the things I’ve talked about on this blog: living a meaningful, exciting, interesting and fulfilling life.
It also means smartly approaching goals, and scaling your efforts so that you can maximize your upside potential, but mitigate the pains of failure.
3.) The value of constant learning and improvement, and keeping a disinterested attitude.
Keep living well, and pursuing nothing but the best for yourself in life!
Photo Credit: By Jorge Barrios (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
One of the great constants of our life, especially for those who seek to accomplish exceptional goals and lead exceptional lives, is no!
But should we really take “no!”–other people telling us that we will not succeed–for an answer?
I know some people who didn’t, and became enormously successful:
I just interviewed one of my close friends for my radio show; he is a successful, burgeoning entrepreneur (my age) who developed a product to use with the iPhone. So far, in less than a year, they have sold about $200,000 of their product, and raised over $1.5MM in venture capital from investors.
I asked him on my show: “How did you convince these people to give you so much money?” Clearly his product was exceptional. But then again, there’s plenty of exceptional products and ideas out there that don’t get a dime.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. People will all tell you that your idea won’t work. That was one of the first obstacles we hit when we made our prototype.
“But we proved them wrong. We satisfied their objections with success”
I kept pressing him on the issue. I didn’t really believe that the main reason he had raised so much money was just that he stuck in there long enough, over the objections and less-than-favorable prophecies of others.
I figured that it might have been through connections and the goodwill of acquantances that his team was able to get into TechStars (one of the elite startup incubators in the United States), raise a ton of money, and eventually wind up working with Tony Hsieh (the founder of Zappos.com) in Las Vegas.
But I couldn’t get him to change his answers. He just plain vanilla never gave up! He didn’t take “no” for an answer. And the determination paid off for him and his team.
My friend’s experience points out an interesting trend associated with the word “no”. Most people are used to taking it as an authoritative requirement that, whatever it was they were trying to do, it now can’t be done, just because someone else said so.
Sometimes, that person saying “no” is someone pretty important (as was the case with my friend, who was told “no” by some investors).
But does “no” reall have a reliable track record? Does “no” actually mean that you can’t be successful? How many other great women and men in history were told “no” and that they were not good enough, only to have eventually been successful?
What I recommend is a radical reassessment of what we were told by our mothers as children; “no means no!”. Sorry mom.
So when we are told “no!”, do these things before automatically agreeing:
- Consider the importance of the source.
The problem with “no” is that we tend to give everyone’s “no” equal weight. I used to belive that I could not be a successful entrepreneur because my friends said so. It used to depress me. But I thought about it: what do my friends actually know? They’re not trying to do it. I’m the one with the goals; I’m the one with the motivation; they may be sincere in their assessment, but misinformed and without basis to make this judgment.
So when you someone tell you “no”, how much does it actually matter? Being told “no” by someone who is sucessful or you intend to emulate might be another story. But even still, there’s no guarantee.
Rather than just taking their word for it, I recommend two things:
A. Actually try your idea to see if it will work (rather than just asking people), and
B. Find out the average response to your action.
Generally, what will actually prove your idea is what actually happens, not what people say will happen. If you have a product to sell, go try to sell it (like my entrepreneur friend mentioned above).
By training yourself to get your “yes” or “no” answer from nature, you will learn to better “read” markets or be in tune with those things that actually decide whether or not you will be successful. Then you can figure out for yourself is
the answer is “yes” or “no”.
This will lead to the average response to your action. It’s like a diverse investment in the stock market. If you are gaining overall positive traction, you can assess that your idea is valid, and vice versa.
- Understand why people tell you “no”. It’s not necessarily because your idea is undoable.
When we ask people for honest appraisals and predictions, we generally approach it in a master-to-apprentice sense, with us as the young apprentice, and ther peson we are asking for advive as the wise sage. But this approach is suboptimal, because:
* We automatically assume that they have a strong, well-rounded perspective on the issue from which to give a valid opinion in the first place,
*We assume that they are truly passionate about helping us out, and
*Their advice is unbiased by their own opinions or inclinations.
We probably think these things simply because we are unsure of ourselves. We have a natural inclination to believe that, for the sole reason that other people say something is a good idea, it is a good idea. I think we all know that these assumptions listed above that we make are not necessarily correct. And believing them by default distorts the true value we would receive by asking people for their advice.
I’ve found that many people, when they give advice, are well-intentioned but not well informed, and their perspective is shaped by their stereotypes and predispositions rather than from a truly well-rounded, neutral platform (such a netural platform is necessary to provide objective, usable advice). If you ask your risk-adverse friend if your high-tech invention will work, what do you expect that they will say?
So, upon asking for advice, it’s absolutely essential to try to understand the other person’s predispositions and biases. This will give you light to help decide whether their opinion is valid or not, and will keep you from making decisions on not-useful information.
- Be dissinterested about your idea, and figure out if people tell you “no” because it is actually a bad idea, or are just saying “yes” to be nice. See what criticism can actually be helpful towards your goal.
The problem with most of us is that our idea is “our baby”. And that makes sense: of anyone, we have put the most time into it, and are probably the people that care about it the most (with our moms being in second place…I write this in apology for my earlier comments). So we have the usual dispositions to beam with happiness upon being complimented, and seethe with anger when being told it isn’t good enough.
This means that it is tough to sort out compliments and criticism of our ideas and goals. We are too emotionally motivated. But what if we are dissinterested about our idea? That is, what if we don’t have either a positive or a negative disposition about it? So we approach it logically, and think candidly about the compliments and criticism of others.
I think this piece of advice is a bit idealistic. As I was writing it, I thought “R.C., even you don’t find it easy to think this way and be dissinterested with your work”.
Such is the case. But that doesn’t change the point I am trying to make. The most useful frame of reference for you to take is a neutral one. The better you are able to do that, the better you can assess the feedback you gain from your idea.
- Don’t see another person’s rejection of your idea as an implication that your idea is actually undoable.
A rejection ought to be seen for what it is: another individual or group not finding what you have to offer to be sufficient to meet their needs.
Notice the narrow interpretation here of rejection: it inovlves only another specific person or group of people, and that you were unable to meet their needs. I learned this lesson well through a grant contest that I applied for with a startup company. Our company was unsuccessful in the contest. Luckily, the contest managers gave all contestants their feedback from the judges.
When I read ours, I could not help but be amused. We were graded by two judges, who both had the exact opposite opinion of our work. One judge thought that we had done well, and recommended that we advance into the final round of contest for the funding. The other judge thought that our idea was poor and had no clearly defined market, and recommended that we not proceed to the next round.
How could two different people look at the same proposal and have completely opposite reactions? This was a good lesson for me, because it confirmed that the negative opinions of others don’t imply that an idea is actually not feasable, and doesn’t imply that others will think the same thing. If this is the case, why would we grant so much weight to any given person’s “no”?
So change the way you understand “no”! If you are sincere in your efforts and long for accomplishment and success, understand “no” for what it really is, and continue to fight on in spite of the disapproval of others.
Photo Credit: © Ooi Hong Kiong | Dreamstime.com
Curls for the girls?
I recently read about The Law of Attraction.
I’m not talking about what it takes to be a babe magnet.
The Law of Attraction
The Law of Attraction is the idea that our thoughts bring about our reality (Wikipedia’s article explains it very well). Steve Pavlina put it concisely: “The law of attraction simply states that you bring into your life what you think about”.
In other words, the idea is that the thoughts in your mind will always manifest themselves in reality.
As one author wrote, if you believe that you will receive a check in the mail, you will; if you believe you will get a bill, then it will be a bill.
The Law of Attraction has been around since at least the early 1900s, but was recently pushed into the popular spotlight in 2007 by the movie The Secret, wherein the secret, as it turned out, was The Law of Attraction.
The Law of Attraction is a popular theory.
The Law of Attraction gets a lot of attention. Oprah talked about it. Steve Pavlina wrote an article talking about its intricacies, and some of the apparent contradictions in the theory (e.g. if a child is abused, is it because the child wanted to be abused?). I saw countless YouTube videos on the topic, this one among them.
How does it work?
The Law of Attraction is generally presented as a spiritual or pseudoscience phenomenon: it’s the supernatural interaction between your mind and other forces of nature. Since this interaction exists, you can essentially “think” your way into any outcome that you want.
Is it real?
Yes and no.
The “law” itself exists, but the explanations for The Law of Attraction are completely off.
Explaining the Law of Attraction as a supernatural or magical phenomenon does it no justice.
The Law of Attraction is true for natural and specifically discernible reasons. Understanding those reasons allows you to actually control the Law of Attraction, and make wise and informed decisions about your conduct and attitude.
Why explanations of The Law of Attraction make me very uncomfortable
The problem with the Law of Attraction, as usually defined, is that it’s supernatural.
And something that is supernatural is, by definition, beyond the ability of science or studies to understand. That means it’s magic.
Would you hang your hat on magic?
Let’s say I was an investment adviser. What if I told you that if you gave me $10,000, I would give you back $15,000 in a year…but I couldn’t explain how the money would be invested, because it was magic. Would you be interested?
I sure hope not. That explanation is complete crap. You’d probably think I was crazy.
You wouldn’t allow the supernatural to be your standard for investing money. Why would you let it be your standard for living your life? Why would you settle for an explanation that essentially devoid of reasoning?
I think the real reason the Law of Attraction is actually much more clear cut.
The Law of Attraction is simply a tangible embodiment of common sense.
Think about what the Law of Attraction says: what you think will become your reality.
But in reality, it’s just common sense. It’s really nothing different than what I’ve said all along: your mindset inspires your actions! If you actually want something, won’t you work towards it? Isn’t that just plain obvious?:
-If you spent every day trying to start a business, isn’t it likely you’ll probably start a business?
-If your goal is to get out of debt, and you actually spend your time and effort figuring out how to do so–and then actually trying to do so–isn’t that the likely outcome?
-If you want to start a successful blog, and you spend 40 hours per week working on it, don’t you think you’ll probably be successful?
The usual Law of Attraction explanation would say that you were able to start a business, get out of debt or start a blog because supernatural forces took your thoughts and made them come to life.
I say you’re able to do these things because you wanted to do them, actually did it, and were successful.
And that’s really what the Law of Attraction is: if you think of things in a certain way (such as priorities and values), you will probably spend the majority of your time acting in a way that reflects those priorities. And because you act in a way that reflect those priorities, those priorities become your reality. So it’s not magic: it’s just common sense.
The Real Law of Attraction:
1. You desire a certain outcome. (to start a successful business)
2. You naturally (both consciously and subconsciously) put effort into getting that outcome. (writing a business plan, becoming more interested in reading CNN Money or Entrepreneur.com).
3. Because you spend your time pursuing that outcome, it has a higher chance of happening. (since you tried to start a business, it may actually succeed).
So it works because you work towards an outcome, and over a long period of time, that outcome becomes reality. Doesn’t that make a lot more sense than the “magical” explanation for the Law of Attraction?
Knowledge, rather than supernatural explanations, is the key to success. Mindset is the key to action. By actually understanding why the Law of Attraction works, rather than ascribing its power to a supernatural realm, you can see how to put The Law of Attraction to work in your life.
Doing something nice for others is an art form rather than a simple act of goodwill???
What is this world coming to!!
Unfortunately, that’s the way it is!
You’re just a nice person. But think about who you’re competing against.
People say or do nice things all of the time with the intent of securing an outcome in their advantage: seeming “very interested” in the girl we walked across the bar to talk to when she talks about her pet dog; small talk with the person at the DMV to get our license approved faster; acting jovial and outgoing during an interview to give the right impression.
So your competition is all of these other folks who compliment others for dubious reasons (or at least the impression that they do). Odds are you do / have done this too.
I’m not saying doing those things is “wrong”, or that complimenting others to incentivize them is in poor form. In fact, using praise to incentivize is an excellent idea. The point I’m trying to make is that everyone’s radars are already on overdrive: everyone’s on the lookout for insincere praise, and they’ll hate it if they get it.
But knowing how to praise others in a sincere and meaningful manner is a powerful tool that:
- Makes the world a better place.
- Inspires people to do better.
- Lets others feel good about themselves.
- Makes others happy to work with you and be around you.
- Gives you leverage in social and professional situations.
By understanding the elements of a sincere compliment, you can compliment in a way that truly makes others grateful for your praise.
What defines a sincere compliment?
In general, the more specific your compliments are, and the less they are tied to an attempt to get the person to do something, they will come across as more sincere.
I think a lack of specificity is the biggest downfall of most compliments: ”thanks for everything you’ve done!”. ”You did a great job!”. Wow, nice. I bet you said that to everyone else.
Rather, the best compliments point out specific behavior, and reflect on how that behavior was worthy of praise. To be math-ey, here’s an “equation”: You did X, and this is why X was such a good thing to do.
Let’s say you helped out with a big project at work. What would make you feel better?
- Your boss said “thanks for your help!” and then goes on to something else
- “Thanks for everything you’ve done. Your help meant we could get this done by the deadline, and for that I am especially grateful!”
A recipient of a compliment finds it more meaningful if the compliment is individualized.
2. Seemingly without implications for remuneration.
I hate compliments that are clearly just trying to “prime” me to do something for something else. I think the solution to this is if you want someone to do something for you, just level with them, and ask them to do it. Don’t add in the fluff. At least that’s sincere.
But we all kind of “expect” that a compliment might have a veiled motive. So it’s important to avoid the impression.
Simply make compliments at times when you don’t need something. For example, if your goal is to win your coworker’s respect so he will help you on a huge project next week, compliment his work near now, rather than later.
3. Don’t wonder whether or not you will come across sincerely.
It’s likely because you worry that you will come across insincerely that you will, in fact, come across insincerely. Think about when you’ve been complimented: do you react better to a smooth and lettered compliment, or someone saying “uh…yeah!…that was, uh, really nice of you to, uh, help us write the memo”. It just sounds like you’re up to something.
Take a look at what I wrote in one of my first articles, think you will be successful. It’s all about mindset: if you approach the situation with a can-do attitude and without worry about coming across poorly, you will likely come across exceedingly well.
Probably the most important thing I mention here, but the thing I can help you least with!:
Compliments–as with any sort of praise–are highly situational. There’s nothing I could write that could describe “these are the words you should use to compliment someone” or “this is the exact best time to do so”. You know me better than that: mindset inspires action. If your goal is to become excellent at complimenting others, the best way to do it is simply through practice (an unwavering desire to improve).
But keep what I’ve said in mind! Do you have a question about your specific situation? Leave a comment on this article, or contact me here!
Photo Credit: By Wuzur (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
People usually confine “diversification” to dealing with stocks. But when it comes to most major decisions (such as jobs), people don’t diversify at all. When it comes to making and taking opportunities, people don’t diversify at all because they just focus on one area.
What do I mean?
Be introspective here for a second. Do you:
1. Enjoy a lot of different things, or just a few?
2. Know a lot of things in different areas, or is your focus rather narrow?
3. Spend your time doing lots of interesting things, or just a few?
Do you see what I’m getting at? I think most people would answer all of these questions saying “I enjoy a few specific things, I’m quite knowledgeable in a few distinct areas, and I spend my time doing those things, thank you very much.”
- Only build knowledge in one area.
- Only look for certain types of opportunities, and ignore others.
- Don’t really understand things from other fields, areas and cultures.
Should we be like that? Does that make sense?
Some people say “yes”. I’ve heard many times “you should try to specialize in one hyper-technical area; that way, you will always have a job”. Some people think that spending all of their time on one thing will make them the best at that one thing, and therefore intrinsically more valuable.
I think there’s actually merit to that. I know plenty of people who have led comfortable lives by specializing in one thing that they did exceptionally well.
But I think there’s still a much better case to be made for diversity.
I call it “The Diversity Mindset”.
The Diversity Mindset is trying to be a modern-day Renaissance Man (or Woman). Just like with picking stocks, you try to become good at lots of different things, rather than just one or two.
Then, you use your diversified skillset as a synergy. You use your skills together in a unique way to create unusual and exceptional value, and to give you insight in ways that most people would be unable to.
Having The Diversity Mindset:
- Eliminates narrow-mindedness that causes you to miss opportunities.
If you know more, shouldn’t you know about more opportunities?
- Keeps you from taking unnecessary risks.
- Removes bias that causes you to misunderstand the world.
Rather than having stereotyped opinions about others or other things, you can actually understand them for what they are.
- Enhanced perspective from which to make decisions, in terms of understanding of others, and personal experience that will help you make a decision.
- Increased creativity. As we talked about inthe practical advantages of creativity, creativity actually comes from knowledge and logic.
- Increased ability to develop business ideas and goals, as good business ideas come from problems that we see in the marketplace.
Think back to Branding, Part 2, where I talked about demonstrating your acumen in unique areas, rather than just trying to be the best at a general area. For example: most people who apply to a public accounting firm will emphasize their grades, the classes they’ve taken, the projects they’ve done, etc. The problem is that, unless they’re really the best at those things (have the best grades, took the hardest classes, done the coolest projects), it’s really hard to compete. So a smart person looking to enhance their brand will emphasize their unique attributes, and point out how the way in which those unique attributes are a strong value-added not easily found somewhere else.
The same reasoning goes for having The Diversity Mindset. For example, some of my attributes:
- Chinese language
- Sales and Marketing
Consider my options in life if I only had one of these attributes:
- Chinese language = I could go teach English in China or translate documents for a living.
- Accounting = I could work in a large public accounting firm, or do industry accounting.
- Sales and Marketing = I could work as a salesman, or doing business development for a company.
But look what happens when we start making some combinations:
1. Chinese language + accounting = work in an accounting job in China, or with Chinese businesses or individuals.
2. Chinese language + sales and marketing = I could work with a start-up company in China that wanted to make sales to expats, and could bring a “fresh” American perspective to the company.
3. Chinese language + accounting + sales and marketing = My knowledge of business (accounting) plus language and sales would allow me to start my own business in China, either for Chinese or for expats; and would lend me the sales and marketing knowledge necessary to actually make it successful.
Do you see how none of those attributes–by themselves–is overly useful or interesting? But what happens when I combine them? I am suddenly qualified for all sorts of new, exciting, and interesting niche opportunities!
You too should pursue The Diversity Mindset, because doing so gives you more interesting an unique opportunities. It’s also important in fields–such as entrepreneurship–that require a “jack of all trades”.
Important Elements of The Diversity Mindset:
Having The Diversity Mindset means taking distinct steps to increase the diversity in your life. It means focusing on having diversity in these areas:
- Diversity of people.
It’s important to have people in your life who:
-Come from different backgrounds
-Have different interests than yours
-Can expose you to new and unique things
This can be people:
-From different countries
-From different vocational backgrounds
-Who see the world in different ways than you do.
This is a huge part of surrounding yourself with people who will help you grow and improve. As I pointed out there (and as I’m sure you have heard before), we are largely a product of our surroundings. And having unique and diverse people around lends unique viewpoints that may have been difficult to acquire otherwise.
- Diversity of knowledge, experience and interests
A polymath is someone that has expertise in many areas. In a sense, being a polymath is exactly what I would recommend to you. Look back to my example above. My qualifications for those unique and interesting roles are because of my diversity in experience.
How to Acquire The Diversity Mindset:
Your goal is to get to the point where longing for diversity is a habit. There’s a couple different way to approach this: a gradual approach, or a “shock and awe” approach. Personally, I’d recommend a combination of both (that’s what I did):
1. Graduate approach: make increasing diversity part of your daily routine.
a.) Actively learn about a topic in a field that interests you, especially those that are not “direct” topics you work with on a daily basis. A great way to do this is by just reading online; an even more pro-status way is to take a free online course, like one at Coursera, which offers free courses from schools such as U Penn and Princeton. I’m taking their Computer Science 101 course.
b.)Spend time with new people on a daily basis. Are there people in class or at work that you usually don’t spend time with? Why not go talk to them? Learn more about them, and see if there’s anything interesting. If you want to start a business, do you see anything there that makes you think “hey, this guy could be a good business partner!”?
2. “Shock and awe” yourself into diversity.
Go do something that you would never, ever think about doing, such as:
-Go to a foreign country and just spend some time there.
-Try doing something you’ve never considered doing before (such as a new hobby, for example).
That’s what happened to me when I studied abroad in Shanghai, China: it was total shock and awe. But it worked really, really well. In fact, my studying there is probably the impetus for my ideas about The Diversity Mindset.
Image Credit from Wikimedia Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1_01174.jpg.
I’ll say something that’s a sometimes-unpopular viewpoint. But I say it in the spirit of tough love, because I believe empiricism shows it to be true:
Presentation matters. Appearance and image are key. If you are lacking in those areas (and you should be honest with yourself), you should make it a priority to improve.
I’m talking about, do you “come across” as the kind of person who can:
-Command the respect and admiration of others?
-Be a leader?
-Is highly intelligent?
I feel like appearance is kind of a touchy subject and I’m going into dangerous waters, given our efforts as a society to judge people more on substance, and less on form.
But I think that’s usually not what happens. And if it’s true that appearance is important, isn’t it a better idea to try to master appearance as well as substance?
Remember what I said in building credibility?
When you’re “sizing up” someone (when you meet them for the first time), do you:
-Make it a point to get to know them extensively before judging them, or usually have your mind made up in a few minutes?
-Respond better to people who seem more “elite” or “better than average” versus those who have the opposite traits?
Think about the standard you hold other people to. Don’t you think they hold you to similar standards?
When you think about it logically, it’s only reasonable that you would judge others this way.
-You’re busy. You don’t have time to “get to know” everyone before judging them.
-You want to make your own life easy. So you use stereotypes and heuristics to categorize others. You seek out patterns.
Also, bad image traits are a distraction.
Why waste your time being angry, or losing opportunities because you were too shy to pursue them? Bad image traits needlessly disqualify you from success. Managing your image can solve that problem.
Think about those that truly are successful. Don’t most of them have a good image?
Barack Obama. Steve Jobs. Mark Zuckerberg. Nancy Pelosi. You may like or dislike these people, but I doubt you would say that any of them are slovenly, unintelligent, shy, or undetermined.
But shouldn’t you feel good about yourself?
“Be happy (not content) with who you are, but always try to be better, and make it fun to constantly improve”
Having this kind of attitude (essentially the main idea) makes it okay not to be perfect, and makes it fun to improve.
So don’t worry! :-)
From my own experience:
-My ability to speak eloquently and with authority means that people will usually not question my intelligence or conviction, and will see me as a leader.
-My disposition to dressing well seems to command the respect of others and connotes my strong conviction.
-My ability to demonstrate a true and sincere interest in others makes me more relatable.
-My willingness to listen to others, admit my own mistakes and emphasis on diplomacy show that I genuinely care about others and their opinions, and care about success much more than my own ego.
So I come across as someone who is to be respected, but someone that also has immense respect and admiration for others. I come across this way deliberately, and it has served me well.
It was all the more exciting for me to become this way, because throughout most of my life, I was the exact opposite! I was shy, easily offended, unkempt, and had a dismal sense of humor. Maybe I will go find a picture of myself in high school to post to prove the point (coming soon!).
What kind of image should you have?
For as sure I am as image is important, I am equally as sure that there is no definitive answer to this question. It depends upon your goals and your field. And, as is consistent with my blog’s theme, trying to “memorize” lists of “good” personality traits is pointless. If you have a mindset that promotes a good image, your actions will naturally follow.
1. Emulate the traits of leaders.
A book I read put it best as “spend most of your time in someone else’s shoes”.
Why reinvent the wheel?
Society has already determined that people in positions of leadership should have certain qualities. For example, let’s think of a partner in a large accounting firm. They usually:
1.) Have excellent sales and marketing skills (to find clients).
2.) Have excellent leadership abilities (to lead an entire office of CPAs).
3.) Are highly involved in local philanthropy (to give back to the community, network with others, and build a positive reputation for themselves and the community).
So, if you are in accounting (or aspire to be any sort of local business leader), you can work towards a good image by mastering these things
2. Understand—and be—the true definition of “confidence”.
When I used to think of “confidence”, a few images would pop into mind:
-Someone that could always out-talk others to get his way.
-Someone who would try to crush others that criticized him.
-Someone that felt like they could always tell others what to do.
You know what I’m talking about; we’ve all met tons of people like these.
Do you think they’re really “confident”?
Hah. No way.
True confidence is being comfortable with yourself. I find that people who insist on being right all of the time, or who treat other people poorly to boost their own ego, usually seem to have personality problems.
Confidence allows you to effortlessly act like your best self.
-If you were truly comfortable with yourself, who cares if other people get their way? As long as the best thing is done, that’s all that matters!
-If you’re not worried about “screwing up” and saying something silly, won’t you more freely speak your mind?
-If you were okay with being wrong, wouldn’t that make it easier to learn and receive instruction from others?
3. Actually be these traits that you show.
One thing I found very interesting from my work in public accounting is that most people keep two sets of personalities: their “professional” personality, and their “everything else” personality. Their “professional” personality comes out at work, when talking to superiors; or talking to clients. They use a slightly-more-extensive-than-usual vocabulary and act a little bit politer than before. But it seemed kind of stilted and awkward.
Their “everything else” personality comes out the rest of the time, which often included talking down about other coworkers or gossiping.
The problem with a personality that comes out only when needed is that it’s like one of those signs in China where they get the English translation completely messed up (can anyone tell me where the smorking room is?); it’s there, but it’s obviously not for real. Everyone notices, and everyone takes note. Sometimes they even laugh, like we all did at the mistranslated signs.
The people I knew in public accounting who were very successful (i.e. the partners) seemed to have one personality. Rather than pretending to have traits like the ones I mentioned above, they actually did have them. They truly were willing to be wrong, would command the loyalty of others, and could truly relate to their subordinates.
Being these traits comes with practice.
Be methodological in your approach: write a list of the traits you admire. Watch videos of great leaders whose traits you find admirable. Think of how you do–or don’t–live up to those traits. Come up with a plan. Join professional groups to help improve (e.g. Toastmasters, if you want to improve your presentation skills).
I think everyone can have a good image. It just takes practice and work! Allow your image to complement your intelligence, and you will open up more doors for yourself.