“I love to read articles and advice on how to be successful — but what hopes can I have of standing out when everyone follows the same advice?”
This was the message I received from a student recently, and I am grateful for so many of you engaging with and sharing my original post. A few of you got in touch to ask if I could elaborate, and so this article is for you. As someone who loves to help others work towards realising their ambitions, I hope it inspires people to get out there and do whatever it takes to create incredible success stories for themselves and others.
For those who missed my original response, in answer to the student’s question, I wrote:
‘The short answer: Not everyone heeds the advice. In fact, most don’t. Most people don’t read at least two books every month on self-improvement. Most people don’t commit to regularly learning a new skill that flexes their mental muscles. Most people don’t engage in regular self-reflection, silent prayer or meditation. Most people don’t use their time today in a way that their future selves would thank them for.
Everyone nods along to all the advice out there. Everyone thinks that what they read online is great and that they should “really breathe some life into that idea, soon.” But few people act consistently with deliberate intent to be better than they were yesterday, and to keep building on that progress.
To stand out, to be a success, all you have to do is put everything you’ve got into working towards achieving the goals you set yourself. As the saying goes, if you want it badly enough, you’ll find a way; if you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.
Standing out is easy…simply commit to taking more steps forward than most other people are willing to take.’
The American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”
So often, when I have conversations with young people and they ask me how to stand out, succeed, go their own way, and follow their dreams, I can sense what they’re looking for from me is a magic formula, or a two-step process that they can quickly deploy by lunchtime.
It doesn’t work like that.
The best advice I can give — the best anyone can give — is that you have to realise, on a deep level, that you are 100% in charge of your own life and its direction, which means than any ambition you have can be reached…so long as you’re willing to put in the hard work, commitment, time and dedication it takes to get to where you want to go.
The next piece of advice comes with a caveat that I want to acknowledge here. Some people have certain life circumstances that means they’re unable to make the kinds of choices they would like to make. You might say, “Well, everything’s a choice” and while that’s technically true, it’s clear that the ability to make life-changing choices is much more difficult for some than it is others. And so, with that in mind, I offer the following piece of advice for those who are able to make use of their relative good fortune and decide the direction of their own lives…
You’ll succeed a lot quicker if you drop the excuses.
Particularly when it comes to reading (a powerful way to maximise your potential), people regularly tell me that they have no time to read. Usually, I’ll ask them if they have a tougher job than being President of the United States.
When they say no, I tell them about how former President George W. Bush had a competition with his Deputy Chief of Staff, Karl Rove, to see who could read the most most books in a year (this was when Bush was serving as President). At the conclusion of the challenge, Bush had read 95 books to Kark Rove’s 110 — the President found the time to read roughly two books every week.
As Karl Rove wrote in a Wall Street Journal article, “In the 35 years I’ve known George W Bush, he’s always had a book nearby. He plays up being a good ol’ boy from Midland, Texas, but he was a history major at Yale and graduated from Harvard Business School. You don’t make it through either unless you are a reader.”
To stand out takes a lot of work and, to many, that’s immediately off-putting. Fewer people than you think have the patience, the passion, the perseverance and the work ethic to follow their dreams: dreaming is nice and easy…bringing dreams to life is another thing altogether.
But it’s the excuses that tend to hold us back. It’s important to remember that excuses are different to reasons. If you can’t start a business because, let’s say, you’re a full-time carer for an elderly relative, that’s a reason — it’s an end point. An excuse, on the other hand, would be to say, “I can’t start a business because I don’t have enough money.” Excuses are the shields we use to hide behind in order to avoid the possibility of failure.
Sometimes, we can listen to the wrong advice that’s either well-meaning but unsuited to us, or it’s simply misguided. Don’t get me wrong — unless it’s blatantly terrible advice, we should always consider the imput of others. However, we should learn quickly to separate the good advice from the advice that serves to hold us back and narrow our potential.
When it comes to having an edge and standing out, the British author and journalist George Monbiot offers some excellent advice. He focuses here on journalism, but the advice can be adapted to just about any field or profession.
‘In journalism school, for example, students are routinely instructed that, though they may wish to write about development issues in Latin America, in order to achieve the necessary qualifications and experience they must first spend at least three years working for a local newspaper, before seeking work for a national newspaper, before attempting to find a niche which brings them somewhere near the field they want to enter. You are told to travel, in other words, in the opposite direction to the one you want to take. You want to go to Latin America? Then first you must go to Nuneaton. You want to write about the Zapatistas? Then first you must learn how to turn corporate press releases into “news”. You want to be free? Then first you must learn to be captive.
“The advisers say that a career path like this is essential if you don’t want to fall into the “trap” of specialisation: that is to say, if you want to be flexible enough to respond to the changing demands of the employment market. But the truth is that by following the path they suggest, you are becoming a specialist: a specialist in the moronic recycling of what the rich and powerful deem to be news. And after a few years of that, you are good for little else.’
As we can see from George’s words, most people are given the same advice, and most tend to follow it for two reasons:
1) It comes from a place of authority (even the experts can get it wrong)
2) It’s just easier to follow what someone else tells you to do, rather than to walk your own path.
So maybe, in a way, the student is right in his question…everyone does follow the same advice — the safe advice, hence why many don’t stand out — but few people follow the advice that truly makes them feel alive, the kind that strongly resonates with what they really want to do. The trouble is, while the advice sounds good, it also takes dedication and hard work to reap the rewards, and so most simply don’t follow it.
Here’s a couple of questions you might consider asking yourself: Who do you want to be? What kind of life do you want to live? By taking the time to really think about those questions, you will, I hope, find the inspiration and the courage to do what 90% of others will fail to do. For what it’s worth, here are 5 suggestions I would include for those who want to stand out from the crowd:
- Always give much more to others than others give to you
- Make your giving unconditional: it’s not giving if it comes with expectations
- Look beyond your specific area of interest for the truly valuable lessons that will help you to grow
- Learn to love the process of your passion and work hard at it. Success is always dependant on the amount of effort you put in along the way. Give it all you’ve got
- Find the time to read. Let’s set a challenge to see who can read most books in a year!
Disclaimer: This is an Opinion Article and it only reflects the views of the author and not the company or institution that may be associated with the Author. This article also does not have any intention to undermine or attack certain individuals or parties.
Written by: Roshan Thiran
Roshan Thiran is the Founder & CEO of Leaderonomics — a social enterprise working to transform lives through leadership development. Roshan previously spent a significant part of his life at General Electric (GE) and at Johnson & Johnson in global roles across the US, Europe and Asia. Connect with Roshan on Facebook and Twitter for more insights into business, personal development, and leadership.
This article is published on ProspectsASEAN.com with the writer’s consent and originally appeared on the Leaderonomics website. You can read it here.
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