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Reflections on what you need to be successful

I would highly recommend anyone watch this video.

This is Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com giving a lecture to students at his old University, London School of Economics.

This is of course useful for people starting out on their career journeys but I think it’s also worth a watch for those people already well into their career. Why? Because it’s worth reflecting on what (career) success is and what is required to achieve it.

Lewis suggests that there are 4 things you need to be successful:

  1. Talent
  2. Hard work
  3. Focus
  4. Luck

I think that intuitively we all know this but sometimes we don’t give luck the attention it deserves. Whether I think of myself as being successful in my career or not, if I examine it, I can certainly attribute a certain amount of luck to all of the professional roles I’ve ever had. In fact, more often than not it was luck and not talent that got me in the door.

Of course once inside, there was never any getting around the fact that hard work and focus really are the key attributes of success. We all know talented people who’ve never quite lived up to their potential. And we also know people who have exceeded all of the expectations of those around them. Why? Because they were willing to work hard.


On the subject of working 90 hours a week I think it’s important to point out that the speaker in this video is referring to a business that he was growing. He very much had a personal interest in the business and I suspect was engergised when he could see the correlation between his effort and the success of his business.

I’m less convinced about long hours for those treading well work career paths – lawyers, bankers, doctors etc. Why? Because unless this path is a vocation, I question how effective you can be when working over a certain number of hours.

There may very well be times when you just need to put your shoulder to the wheel in the short term but this kind of lifestyle isn’t sustainable long term. It also doesn’t afford you with time to recuperate, recharge and stay effective in the long term. Steven Covey called this ‘sharpening the saw’, the idea of balancing your resources, energy and health to create a sustainable lifestyle. Such an approach will leave room for reading, reflection and creative thinking which can be useful in accelerating ones’ career rather than getting busy being busy.

In fact, in an era of exponential technological change, our ability to think creatively, that most human of abilities may be the only thing that empowers us to maintain a sustainable career. To think creatively requires time and space.

By the way, there is research that suggets that productivity – output per working hour – improves with shorter working hours. Across the world’s richest countries, higher productivity correlates with lower working hours (see also OECD data).

Some of this is of course subjective and can depend on the individual. I for one can vouch that the amount of time it takes me to complete a task correlates directly with the amount of time I have available. In other words, even for minor projects, if I have lots of time available, the project will expand to fill the time rather leaving me with spare time to sip pina coladas. But that’s just me.

Final note, Ford’s original workers were found less productive working more than 40 hours a week, a situation likely to be even more the case for people who work with knowledge rather manually – who ever had their best ideas when they were exhausted?

Enjoy the video.

Career advice and strategic life long learning

It’s that time of year when students at Dublin City University are wrapping up dissertations and practicum projects. Many of them have already secured positions while others are looking forward to a few weeks off before getting stuck into the job hunt.

Despite reaching the end of their current university experience, there’s no doubt that they will return to learning in some form in the future. They’ll have to. The pace of technological and industrial change is so great that they can’t rely on their Masters Degrees to keep them employed for the next 40 years.

To say that we live in a changing world understates the pace and the scope of this change. Huge amounts of what students learned this year may be obsolete a decade from now when they will be working in jobs that haven’t been created yet. In fact, some of the most in-demand and jobs today didn’t exist 20 years ago. Think about the number of roles that fall within the realm of digital marketing for a start.

In the face of change, today’s graduates will need to be able to continue learning, unlearning and relearning new knowledge and skills to remain adaptable and employable. To reject such a proposition will leave you in a tough spot and some forced learning, like how to live on a minimum wage.

I’m being facetious but the point stands. When it comes to responding to change, graduates will need to continue their learning journey, at the very least by acknowledging that what it means to be competent today, may not be the same as what it means to be competent tomorrow. Unfortunately, we live in a time where what it means to be competent is changing all of the time.

Great career advice

Being open to life long learning shouldn’t conjure up images of all nighters poring over books in the library. Learning doesn’t have to be in the classroom. We can acquire learning at work, from friends and colleagues, listening to podcasts and choosing some strategically useful books to read in between Jack Reacher novels!

A friend and mentor Alan Gleeson recently shared with me a photocopy of a page from the Tim Ferris book Tools of Titans which had some of the best career advice I’ve ever read. On the subject of how to direct our learning intent, Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, had the following to say:

‘If you want an average, successful life, it doesn’t take much planning. Just stay out of trouble, go to school, and apply for jobs you might like. But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths: 1) Become the best at one specific thing 2) Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.

The first strategy is difficult to the point of near impossibility. Few people will ever play in the NBA or make a platinum album. I don’t recommend anyone even try.

The second strategy is fairly easy. Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort. In my case, I can draw better then most people, but I’m hardly an artist. And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people. The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes. It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare. And when you add in my business background, suddenly I had a topic that few cartoonists could hope to understand without living it.

I always advise people to become good public speakers (top 25%). Anyone can do it with practice. If you add that talent to any other, suddenly you’re the boss of the people who only have one skill. Or get a degree in business on top of your engineering degree, law degree, medical degree, science degree, or whatever. Suddenly you’re in charge, or maybe you’re starting your own company using your combined knowledge.

Capitalism rewards things that are both rare and valuable. You make yourself rare by combining two or more ‘pretty goods’ until no-one else has your mix. At least one of the skills in your mixture should involve communication, either written or verbal. And it could be as simple as learning how to sell more effectively than 75% of the world. That’s one. Now add that to whatever your passion is, and you have two.’

This is sound advice indeed.

For my own part, while I’m not a recent graduate, I value learning and regularly take the opportunity to remind friends and colleagues of the value of life long learning. If we don’t I jest, we may find ourselves in the same position as the telephone exchange operator!

Telephone exchange operator

Another very worthy piece of advice was given to me by my old mentor Professor Theo Lynn at Dublin City University – “always be the hardest working person in the room”. This is something that I’m still working on.

Poems men should know part 6 – A Psalm of Life, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807 – 1882

What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
“Life is but an empty dream!”
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
“Dust thou art, to dust returnest,”
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Finds us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,–act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing
Learn to labor and to wait.

Nice quote for the day that’s in it…..

“Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and happy to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.”
― Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

Summary of a great book called Drive by Dan Pink

Nice quote on reading books………….

“The failure to read good books both enfeebles the vision and strengthens our most fatal tendency — the belief that the here and now is all there is.”
Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind

Great video: Dr. Randy Pausch, the Last Lecture, Achieving your Childhood Dreams

I’ve watched this video before and can highly recommend the book, but if you have time over the next few days, this video is incredibly moving and inspirational. There is a lot of wisdom here, particularly at this time of the year as we reflect on how are life is proceeding and make plans and resolutions for the New Year ahead. Happy New Year 🙂


 

Tim Minchin shares his tips on life……

Borrowed wisdom #1

A couple of weeks ago my girlfriend presented me with a book that she thought I needed to read. The book was by Canadian astronaut Col. Chris Hadfield and is called An Astronaut’s Guide to Live on Earth.

At first I wasn’t sure what to expect from this. Sometimes I joke to friends that I’ve come to terms with mediocrity so I wondered, what could Col. Hadfield, one of the most accomplished astronauts in the world have to teach little old me. It’s not like I’m going to become an astronaut or anything! Well, it turns out quite a lot. From reading this book I have to admit that my interest in space and in science in general has been aroused. Whereas I may have been intimidated by thoughts of “rocket” science and space engineering before, I must say that Col. Hadfields approach to learning, life, family and career have a lot to teach. Just as the saying goes, how to you eat an elephant? Answer: One bight at a time. It’s great to get the insights of one of the worlds greatest ever astronauts and learn about his approach to achieving his goal of going to space. From deciding he wanted to go to space at age 11 to being the commanding officer on board the International Space Station, the reader learns about his journey and how in order to progress he had to “sweat the small stuff”, work hard, be a team player, continue learning and set milestones. Admittedly, I do read success books from time to time but this book really is packed full of every day wisdom and is one that I think young people who may be just embarking on their studies or careers would do well to read.

I have done my best to distill some of Col. Hadfields wisdom. While every page of the book is loaded with useful insights, the following are some of the lessons that I took. No doubt if I read this book again in 5 years time I may draw out different lessons altogether but either way here goes:

1. Be competent. This is one of the most important qualities to aspire to whatever we are trying to do in life. After all, before we can ever master something we must first become competent:

“Competence means keeping your head in a crisis, sticking with a task even when it seems hopeless, and improvising good solutions to tough problems when every second counts. It encompasses ingenuity, determination and being prepared for anything”.

2. Never stop valuing learning and education. Astronauts are described as being perpetual students, always preparing for their next test. Well, while we may not all be preparing to go to space, we do live in a world where the rate of new information and knowledge being created is so fast that this creates pressure to remain literate in our chosen professions. Also, while it’s important to keep developing ourselves, learning shouldn’t be viewed as a stepping stone to more money or a promotion, it should simply be an end in itself. And not just that, learning should be fun!

3. Success. While it is important to set goals, be careful not to hang your sense of happiness and self worth on these goals. Sometimes no matter how much effort you put in, there may be other variables involved that you simply can’t control. That old cliche of success being a journey rather than a destination comes to mind:

“…success, to me, never was and still isn’t about lifting off in a rocket…..Success is feeling good about the work you do throughout the long, unheralded journey that may or may not wind up at the launch pad.

4. Be prepared. Dib dib dib! If you have spare time use it productively to be ready….. for whatever it is you might need to be ready for. This might be for your job, or it might be for your life:

“What else could you possibly have to do that’s more important? Yes, maybe you’ll learn how to do a few things you’ll never wind up actually needing to do but that’s a much better problem to have than needing to do something and having no clue where to start.”

Funnily enough, Col. Hadfield uses the analogy of learning to play Rocket Man by Elton John, on the off chance that he might get to play it with Elton in concert. For my part, I’m not much more than a strummer on the guitar and some other instruments but whenever I get time I try and practice. I always think to myself, whatever I can play now, imagine all those minutes being added together, how much better will I be in 5, 10, 20 years? Will I ever get an opportunity just to play a song at a big party in 20 years time and if I do, how grateful will I be for all those 5 minute practice sessions that enabled me to play that song and seize that moment!

5. When you do prepare, take a conscious and methodical approach and keep your goals in mind.

Well, there’s far more wisdom that can be distilled from this book but 1. I don’t want to get into trouble for breaking copyright and 2. I think this post is long enough.

I think that this is a book that everybody should read, no matter where you are on your journey in life.

You can follow Col. Chris Hadfield on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/Cmdr_Hadfield

or on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/AstronautChrisHadfield

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