If You Build It, Success Will Come

by Rhoad, Todd Wednesday, December 09, 2009
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The greatest challenge to those seeking success is an inability to adopt the concept that a career must be built. It isn’t given or found. In this post, I’ll share some insight into how you can use your tools and talents to build the career of your dreams.

I’ve always felt that success is the intersection of preparedness and opportunity. You can spend your whole life training and educating yourself, but if you are never given the right opportunity, success can still remain out of your reach. Right?

This is exactly what I believed for years. I thought that if you prepared yourself well enough, you would increase the likelihood of crossing with opportunity. After 14 years of college, I felt my preparedness magnetized me to the point that I would attract any opportunity within a 100 mile radius. That big break never came.

But it did. I just didn’t see my chance. I was looking for something as big as the titanic. I wanted my BIG break, not a small opportunity. I had put a great deal of effort into my preparation so my expectations for the return were just as big. Unfortunately, it blinded me of the little successes that I could use to build bigger ones.

Malcolm Gladwell found, in his book Outliers, it takes about 10,000 hours to create great success. While the number of hours doesn’t have to be exact, it makes an important point about achieving greatness; that is, you won’t achieve it overnight.

In the corporate world, Gladwell’s principle holds. On average, it takes about 25 years to rise to the level of CEO. Now, this isn’t to say that you don’t need to wear your seatbelt because it’s going to be a slow ride. Every career gets a little bumpy from time to time.

Building your success is like building a house. You build it one board at a time. That’s one small achievement that you connect to another achievement. After you get enough of them, success becomes visible, just like the frame of a house.

Building success, as previously discussed, takes time. Therefore, it is advisable to take many paths to find your intersection. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

Build consistency of effort. Building a house isn’t easy. It takes a little practice to get good at hitting the nail on the head. Our initial efforts require many swings of the hammer to drive the nail. However, consistency in your swing will reduce the required energy to gain movement. I once sought an interview from a well respected billionaire. This was a busy, busy man. I was an unknown to him, hardly worth of his attention. I contacted his office many times every month requesting his time and attention. Month after month, I tried and failed. But I didn’t falter. Many months later, 18 to be exact, I got an email response that made my day. His assistant asked me when I would like to talk with him. Of course I said right now!

After the interview, I wrote about it on a blog. I then contacted several other prominent individuals for the same interview. Within two days, I had another interview setup.

Recap...18 months for the first one, 2 days for the second one.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said ‘We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.’ I proved I could get access to the prominent by getting access to the prominent. Every time I contacted the assistant, I learned another thing to NOT do. After I had made all of the mistakes, I was doomed to be successful. Once others realized that I was capable of interviewing such successful people, other successful people allowed me to continue.

Build on each tool. If you want to build success quicker, you’ll need to get more tools. Many of the MBA graduates I talk with say they got a little boost from their new degree. They upgraded their hammer to a pneumatic gun. Sure, it speeds things up but you’re still building it one board at a time. Eventually, they will learn how to use the pneumatic gun with efficiency and effectiveness. The novelty will wear off and the construction of the home will appear to slow. This can wreak havoc upon your drive and motivation. The stagnancy of your progress gives way to a new attitude. You begin to compare your successes to those around you, only to notice they haven’t achieved what you have and they are in a higher position. How can that be? You are more worthy, yet you fail to be rewarded.

This isn’t the reward you need to be successful. That is, recognition. Refocus your efforts on your latest tool (e.g. skill, knowledge or ability). Where can you use it? Can you develop another application for it to build more skills for yourself? Does this skill give you the credentials to perform work in other areas of the company, where you can gain access to other people (who may notice your efforts)? I once worked with an engineer who earned an MBA. Two years later, he was still in his same position. Did he really need it? Another year later, he was laid off. Use it or lose it dad always said.

Build a team. Here’s one last tip that you probably wouldn’t consider. We build a career to gain the rewards we so desperately seek. But these rewards are given to us by others. We can’t give ourselves more money, a promotion or challenging work. In the corporate world, these things are given to us by others, usually our managers. If you can influence the people that provide such rewards, you’ll need help. That help can come from a dedicated team of professionals focused on helping you achieve your goals. Gladwell says the highly successful are more successful because they are supported by their environment (e.g. those around them).

Now imagine you can create such an environment that helps you identify your flaws and fix them, influence your management and complete tasks to obtain your objectives. This can all be done by creating a mentoring team. One Harvard Graduate ensured ten years success by building a mentor group of 20 individuals prior to enrollment at Harvard. One member of his group was a Harvard professor (who got him enrolled), another member got him his first job after graduation and a third member gave him is second job. A decade of success from the power of a team. You can learn more about this approach from my book, Blitz The Ladder.

Success is not an endowment, thrust upon the lucky. It’s an intentional concentration of preparation and drive toward specific goals. Focus your energy on building your house, not your reward. For that will come in time.