14 Strategies of Successful People

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 25JAN08 - William H. Gates ...

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 25JAN08 – William H. Gates III, Chairman, Microsoft Corporation, USA. Copyright World Economic Forum swiss-image.ch/Photo by Andy Mettler (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I have no idea what I want to be when I’m older” a younger friend wrote me a few weeks ago, “and I wanted to know how you’ve done it, because you seem to have figured it all out.”

Over the years, aspiring “success” hopefuls have managed to accost me for details on how I have become “successful.” I’m not entirely sure why, as I have yet to accomplish an iota of what I would define as truly important, but as we Millennials are often forced into careers and directions we do not anticipate, there are some timeless words of wisdom that I have encountered over the years, which I reckon you may benefit from, in order to stay inspired and take control even when the financial crisis is knocking on your door.

With the friend who recently asked for advice, the gist of the conversation can be summarized in a line: having control is important, and having control should be a lifetime obsession while implementing several strategies to gain it.

I took away 14 things from this conversation:

1. Be open to creative and unusual ways of doing what you love

It’s okay not to know what you would like to do when you grow up, but you do love certain things, and you naturally realize you spend time talking and thinking about these things.

For me, it has always been writing. Even in the years that I didn’t try to write or publish except for professionally, I kept a notebook and gave myself daily challenges like telling a story in 400 characters. The truth is, you naturally do what you love, and when you do this, you keep yourself busy while honing in on your craft.

A life-changing turn in my life came out of a class I took as a “filler” in college, titled, “Culture, Politics, and Representations of South Asia.”

I ended up changing my major mid-way through college, and tacking Anthropology to the mix with English Literature. Later on, I came to realize that Anthropology may not be my “thing,” but I am grateful because my training as an anthropologist has been crucial to my views on life.

2. Take a gap year: It’s possibly the best thing you can do for yourself.

By the age of 28, I had moved swiftly from institution to institution, without a break. I then had to take some time to stop, to enjoy and absorb what I had learnt whilst moving through a variety of locations.  I took part of the time to travel, and the other for digesting the rather unusual 28 years I have been exasperated over, but have thoroughly, and mostly truly, enjoyed.

Whether you volunteer in an orphanage, learn about how to grow a rare Amazonian tomato, take a photography course, or learn a new language or musical instrument, you will be grateful you did it.

3. Network! It is important CRUCIAL to staying inspired

A wise old man told me that it’s not about what you know. It’s about who you know. Well, I won’t completely disregard him, but I’ll qualify his statements just one tiny bit.

It is definitely important to know what you’re talking about, because when you meet the right people, you have to back up your passions: in other words, if you say you love Tolstoy, but don’t know what happened to Anna Karenina at the end of the 800 page novel, and the person you’re networking with is a Russian literary agent, they really won’t be impressed with you.

And how do you network? It’s really quite simple. Email them, or call up their office and ask for them. Explain that you’re an aspiring hopeful in their field. People love being asked for expert advice.

When I first moved to NYC, I found out that even though there were no job openings in the publishing world when I was trying to get into the game (I eventually did not stay in it, but that’s another story). I went to different events and cocktail hours. When I met these “experts,” I came prepared with a list of questions (google is great for these), and I signed up for listserves they told me about, and asked for recommendations of others to speak to in the field.

You’ll have a great conversation with someone who is fun and successful at what they do, trust me.  As soon as you remember you’re all passionate about the same things, the conversation will become less awkward, and you should definitely follow up with a thank you note!

4.When you become excited about something, people do notice.

The truth is, if you act like you know what you’re talking about, and are excited about it, people will believe you. And when people believe you, they will begin to give you credibility for knowing what you’re talking about. They will trust your judgment, and before you know it, they will ask for your expert opinion, and if you actually do know what you’re talking about, you will get returns for your time and investment.

Monks Protesting in Burma

Monks Protesting in Burma (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Support the Monk’s Protest in Burma,” was started by some college students as a Facebook group of online activists, who were based in Yangoon, Vermont, and London.

In May 2009, these activists, who are spread out all over the world, were brought together by an apparently unlikely collaboration between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Facebook in an invite-only conference at a Times Square hotel to share lessons learnt about how networking works. The conference gathered the likes of Angelina Jolie’s younger brother James Haven, and involved other prominent activists, ranging from Saudi Arabian women entrepreneurs to Indonesian marchers for peace.

Of course, online activism, as well as a healthy dosage of the media attention, is what led this wonderful group of people to come together. My conversation with many in this group was relatively simple and honest: the thing is, when you begin to do something, instead of just talking about doing it, you will get positive attention. The media is always looking for experts. Remaining passionate, and sharing this passion, WILL get you noticed, and stay connected, as it did for this extremely diverse group of young change-makers.

5. Practice the 10,000 Hour Rule

When you spend several hours exploring a particular passion, you become familiar with it, and you become well-versed in the language necessary to become an expert in whatever your interest may be. Whether it’s events management or communications outreach, once you repeatedly partake in an activity, you begin to get creative ideas about how to improve your knowledge.

Just watch yourself and pursue your hobbies, and you will realize that you begin to do this rather flawlessly.

Image representing Bill Gates as depicted in C...

Steve Jobs: Image via CrunchBase

Experts agree that it takes 10,000 hours to feel comfortable with their craft. Let’s break this down: at eight hours a day this would take 1,250 days,  or 3.4 years without weekends or holidays. I’m a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell‘s “Outliers,” where Gladwell details such “expertise” is a set of daily habits practised by every single person who is traditionally known as a “genius,” from Steve Jobs to Bill Gates.

You should definitely read this book to know how enabling environments are crucial for growth.

And notice something else? If you take college seriously, then this is about the duration of four years in a traditional university, without counting weekends. Not bad, eh?

6.  Moderate Yourself When You Imbibe

Do you want respect? Then start following the golden rule, and giving it: to your body and to everyone you know! I’m serious about this.

We’re all amazed by alcohol and smoking when we first encounter it. I am guilty of loving wine to the point of making sure I have tasted every possible kind of vino at every opportune moment, and although I may not have expert knowledge about these wines I’ve tasted, trials and errors have proved that there is such a thing as too much alcohol.

Here’s a French factor: You know how a glass of wine is good for your heart? The French won’t tell you this, but they do expect you to know that moderation is the key to making a great impression. Being a sloppy drunk is disgusting in polite society anywhere and everywhere. Do it often, and you won’t have any friends.

Cases of Bordaux-wine

Cases of Bordeaux-wine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, we’ve all been there, and drinking-to-get-drunk, although sometimes understandable, is largely frustrating and pathetic for all those who have to pick up behind us (and no, even if they’re your best friend, they don’t like to be put in a position where you can’t take care of your liver or lungs).

Additionally, alcohol is a depressant and shortens your life span.

7. Invest time in expanding your comfort zones

Prior to joining college, I was rather shy and incredibly reclusive. Of course, I have always had a support network, but one thing I began to realize as I shook off my shell is that I, like many of you, are drawn to folks with mostly similar experiences and backgrounds. To this day, I am really grateful for this fact.

However, as it is important to be proactive about shortcomings, and limiting yourself is such a shortcoming. I decided to rectify this immediately by asking some classmates out for dinner. The ensuing conversations revealed fascinating things about all these other folks too, from the economy in Ukraine to how life in Hungary during the Socialist era led to shortages in mangoes! Mangoes, can you imagine? Had I just stayed within my nuclear friends unit, I wouldn’t have ever discovered any of this.

8. Write this down, save it, live by it: For Everything Bad that Happens, 10 Good Things Will Counter It

I really mean this. Almost six years ago, I had a terrifying accident where I almost died after falling down some rather nasty stairs in a train station in NYC. During the onslaught of 11 surgeries and 243 stitches it took to reconstruct my face, mouth, and chin over the next 3.5 years, I made career switches at the height of the financial crisis in to a more fulfilling job.

Then, I made a pact that I will take control of every aspect of my life. To do thus, I traveled through 23 different countries to make up for all the time spent in the OT, took several road trips, and went back to several favourite haunts (more on this later), while working in a fulfilling job learning from passionate people about the field of transitional justice.

I consider myself lucky, although when I was sitting at a hospital bed and a doctor told me exactly this in 2007, I laughed bitterly.

9. Wear Sunscreen. It prevents more than you think.

Look, I don’t care if you’re as dark as coal or as white as snowflake, wear that sunscreen, and you really ought to.

You’ll be preventing melanoma and unnecessary ageing if you wear sunscreen. You should always be wearing one of at least 15 SPF on your face, and SPF 45 if you’re going into direct sunlight often.

Additionally, age spots are not fun when they set in, and they can be largely reduced if effectively addressed.

10. Love yourself. You can’t love others if you don’t love yourself.

You have got to take care of yourself. No one else is responsible for your happiness. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but hear it again: if you’re not good to yourself, and love what you do when you’re on your own, whatever it may be, from rock climbing to editing video clips, you will realize that you are incomplete. No one can complete you except for yourself. And as soon as you realize this, you will realize there’s no point pushing broken relationships.

11. Learn how to laugh at yourself. Humor is critical to remain sane.

If you’ve talked to me long enough, you will have heard some stories of little midget me being chased down a mountain in the Himalayas by monkeys, while I was in stilettos, after losing a bet to a good friend.

English: A group of Rhesus monkeys in Nepal.

A group of Rhesus monkeys. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The truth is, when rubbish things are happening to us, and they do happen fairly often, we have to be able to laugh at ourselves. Of course, when you’re living through horrific moments, the experience doesn’t seem hilarious at the time

But thinking back on it, now, I do wonder, seriously, how did I survive multiple running marathons being chased by monkeys? The entire experience is abnormal for a high school teenager.

But it’s fodder for conversation, and it helps people remember you, and tag you as someone funny (even if you don’t think you’re funny at all).

12. Mental health is important, and it’s okay to get professional help.

Do you feel absolutely incapable of taking care of your own? Does waking up seem difficult to you? There’s nothing abnormal with feeling this way sometimes, but it is abnormal if you don’t do something about it. We all go through phases, but if something is bothering you, getting an expert opinion from a third and uninvolved party helps to clarify matters, regardless of who it is. You may even receive some expert advice that will change your perspective and give you some direction, or lead you to consider issues that you didn’t before.

I don’t mean that you should not reach out to friends, but make sure you don’t overburden people who, even though supportive, may not have the skill sets to sort you out. We’re in the 21st Century, and counseling is important. When I had my accident, I was suddenly at a loss, with having to see physical therapists regularly, and on top of that, finding the entire veneer of my carefully constructed ego fall into the gutter with the facial changes I underwent overnight. I will admit that I saw a therapist very readily, and it helped me sort out many of the frightening anxieties I had about my worth as a person.

13. Question, always question.

I don’t mean go out there and become a raging ranter about everything that happens. You have to practice discretion and timeliness.

If you’ve followed thus far, note that the recurring theme is that you have to be knowledgeable an practice a a set of habits.

Genius is largely a product of engaging and questioning authority. During my graduate school commencement address, the founder and CEO of Medicins Sans Frontieres/Doctors without Borders Bernard Kouchner, spoke about how we should never believe lawyers. When he started his career, he found that going into warzones and treating civilian casualties as human rights cases needing medical attention was a long and drawn out battle with existing legislators. However, questioning the status quo is exactly what changed the course of many of those who have suffered from these wars.

Everyone has a unique quality, in that no two sets of eyes see all aspects of their day in the same way. When we are sitting in a room and facing someone, each of you will physically view things differently, even on a visceral level, just based on where you sit, whether you face east, west, south, or north.

Now here’s the thing, on one side of the room, you might not be getting enough light. If you don’t speak up, your friend may not even realize that it is an issue with you. No one gets anywhere by staying silent.

14. Take a walk, you will realize the potential of your surroundings when you do.

Really, spend at least 4 hours a week walking. If you do, you will realize you’re learning about your neighborhood, about parks and flowers, about shortcuts and the lives of strangers. It’s an incredible journey to walk, because the inspirations which will arise are a combination of what you absorb when you’re observing, and walking is a daily form of directly engaging in your immediate environment, and allowing it to affect you into inspiration.

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