Education & Experience Don’t Guarantee Success—Attitude & Habits Do

UPDATED: December 9, 2022
PUBLISHED: December 9, 2022
successful woman in healthy work environment

Professional success is a culmination of many key factors. Your education matters—maybe not as much as you think, but a degree in your field can really jump-start your progress. Experience certainly matters, but that can only come to you after years of dedication. Talent matters, too, but aside from skills (which develop from experience) much of your talent is an innate tendency to perform better in certain areas. Your network of contacts matters, but you can’t always control who you interact with. And ultimately, at least some of your career success is going to come down to a factor of luck.

5 Things That Are Keys to Your Success

Looking at these things, it seems like there is little you can control. But none of these things will matter if you neglect the most important things you need to create for yourself. Here are five keys to success that will help boost your career:

1. Adopt a positive attitude.

The whole “positive attitude” angle might seem like a gimmick. After all, can you think of anybody successful who got to where they are solely because they thought positively? Of course not. But look at almost any successful entrepreneur or professional’s journey and you’ll find at least one major obstacle that nearly disrupted everything. In the face of that obstacle, they remained positive, which motivated action rather than submission. Eventually, having a positive attitude was a key to their success.

Positive thinking is about more than helping you through the tough times. Research shows that positive self-talk, rather than negative self-talk, can actively reduce your stress levels, boost your physical and mental health and improve your capacity to perform to your maximum potential. The best part is that neither positivity or negativity are predetermined. Your thoughts and self-talk can be controlled with practice, meaning a positive attitude is something you can, and should, create for yourself.

2. Audit your habits.

Our habits make us who we are. Over time, our repeated actions become automatic, and once we’re in that groove it’s nearly impossible to break the chain. With bad habits, like sleeping through your first alarm or working through your breaks, this unbroken chain can come to destroy you. But with positive habits, like regularly reading or fact checking all of your work, this unbroken chain can lead you to success.

Though many habits form unconsciously, it is possible to purposefully create habits that will make you successful. The key to successfully forming good habits is consistency. If you want to make your new habit stick, you must force yourself to engage in the behavior on a regular basis without allowing yourself to slip, at least for the first few weeks. After a few rounds of consistent effort, it will become easier and more automatic. Breaking bad habits can be tougher, but it’s entirely within your power.

3. Set SMART goals for yourself.

While your job may have company goals that dictate your actions, your professional goals are entirely within your control. But be careful—create goals that are too lofty, and you’ll never be able to make significant progress. Create goals that are too easy, and you’ll never reach your true potential.

A reliable formula for creating good goals is the SMART criteria—an acronym that describes the five key qualities that all goals must have: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-specific. In addition, a key to success with goals is creating them on multiple scales. For example, you should have broad, flexible, long-term goals detailing your plans for your long-term success. You should also have smaller, more immediate, actionable goals that can lead you to those broader visions. In addition, you should have medium-sized goals in between the two to act as milestones.

4. Create tactical plans—it’s key to success with goals.

Goals are good for helping you to hone your desires and set the tone for your career. Though, without a solid plan of execution, those desires are only pipe dreams. As an extension of your goals, you must create tactical plans that detail how you’re going to achieve those goals. That might include a list of tasks you must accomplish before reaching the goal, a series of strategies you’re going to use while pursuing the goal, or a list of prerequisites you’ll need to have before moving on to the next phase of your plan. If you’re having trouble coming up with an initial plan, you may need to do additional research before moving forward.

5. Find a healthy work environment.

As humans, we are often products of our environments, and in the professional world, this is no different. If your desk is messy, your mind may be more frantic and cluttered. If you work in an area full of distractions, you’ll never be able to focus. But perhaps more importantly, if you’re surrounded with negative, apathetic or downright lazy people, you’ll never be able to motivate yourself to achieve your goals. If you’re working in a place that doesn’t acknowledge hard work, you’ll never be able to progress.

Create your own environment to maximize your chances for success, whether that means working within the confines of your current organization or moving on to a better opportunity. Surround yourself with the types of people who will lead you to success, and structure your work environment so you can be your most productive.

Once you adopt these keys to success for yourself consistently and with dedication, you will find yourself naturally gravitating toward a path of success. With a strong vision in your mind and the right attitude and environment to carry you through the obstacles that lie ahead, there should be nothing stopping you from achieving your goals.

This article was published in June 2015 and has been updated. Photo by GaudiLab/Shutterstock

Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer and researcher who contributes to a number of reputable online media outlets and news sources, including, and, among others. In addition to journalism, technical writing and in-depth research, he’s also active in his community and spends weekends volunteering with a local nonprofit literacy organization and rock climbing. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.