If you’re like me, the start of the new year is a time to reflect on the previous year’s successes and missteps and to consider what you can do differently. With my oldest son getting ready to head off to college in the fall, I’ve been pondering what advice I can provide as he starts acquiring the knowledge and people skills necessary for a happy life and a career. Below are ten tips for becoming happy and successful in your professional life.
Appreciate individual efforts. The greatest need of any person, from the office manager who ensures that supplies are stocked to the executive responsible for steering the direction of a division, is to be appreciated. Take the time to say thank you, applaud others’ successes, and empathize if someone is having a bad day and not performing at their usual level.
Accommodate different work styles. We all know that the workplace is becoming more global and interconnected. We collaborate and communicate with peers, partners, suppliers, and customers across the world using the same technology but adhering to different cultural norms. It’s important to recognize that there are many different ways of working successfully. Ask before presuming, listen and watch for gaps in communication and understanding, and be open to accommodating to differences in the ways people work.
Recognize that everyone is busy. We’re all juggling multiple responsibilities and competing priorities at work and at home. It’s important to respect people’s time and effort, because that’s how you build relationships and gain influence. And you never know when you might be the one asking for help.
Take responsibility when you drop the ball. No one is infallible—we all make mistakes. While a fraction of mistakes may be catastrophic, almost all are fixable and forgivable. The antidote for an error is to take ownership and responsibility. Blaming others, marginalizing, and obfuscating through excuses won’t erase what occurred—they just make others lose faith in your integrity and dependability. Own your part in what happened and do what you can to make things right.
Realize you need to constantly learn. The truism that “the only constant is change” has never been more pertinent. Nowadays, even the most seemingly stable jobs evolve rapidly. The good news is that you don’t need to be the smartest person in the room, just a strong collaborator, connecter, and communicator. Be inquisitive, ask questions, and listen to the answers. Seek out subject-matter experts. Explore different perspectives and approaches to solving problems. And don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” and then track down the necessary information. A life of learning is a happy and successful life.
Check your ego at the door. While it’s true that each of us must take responsibility for our own career progression, it’s also true that team success is your best way to get on the fast track. Humility, cooperation, and courtesy energize effective teams. Pride, trophy collecting, and dismissive comments hurt morale and create division. Put the needs of the team ahead of your own and it will pay off in time.
Project positivity. In a fast-paced, disruptive environment, it’s easy to let frustration and negative urgency take over. Focusing on the positives strengthens resilience and helps you deal with stressors. Some stressors, such as the birth of a child or a promotion, are positive. Others are negative, like the loss of a loved one or a challenging competitor eating your lunch. Being resilient and projecting optimism not only benefits your mental and emotional health, but also that of your team members, direct reports, and others you interact with throughout the day.
Focus on solutions, not problems. I’ve never seen a job description ask for a candidate who is a skilled “problem lamenter” or “problem-pointer-outer.” “Problem solving,” on the other hand, is a highly desirable trait. Rather than dwelling on what’s wrong, people who project positivity can quickly shift gears and focus their energy on finding actionable solutions.
Accept critiques with an open mind. Since you were old enough to understand right from wrong, you’ve been shaped by corrections, comments, and critiques. It’s part of being human. How you respond, however, determines whether you grow from these observations or are doomed to continue repeating the same behaviors and mistakes. Granted, sometimes critiques are harsh and occasionally unfair. Still, your best bet is to respectfully listen and take a deep breath. If you need to provide additional context or explanation, do so without blaming or defending. Feedback is the breakfast of champions.
Accept occasional failures. Before identifying carbon filament as the perfect conduit for electricity, Thomas Edison tested 1,600 materials. J.K. Rowling’s manuscript was rejected 12 times before Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published. Michael Jordan missed 50% of his shots. Constantly winning doesn’t propel you to try harder, it just provides the laurels on which to rest. Failure paves the way for experimentation and fuels the persistence to push past seemingly insurmountable barriers. If you’re successful all the time, you’re not trying hard enough.