Professional success is a culmination of many factors. Your education matters—maybe not as much as you think, but a degree in your field can really jump-start your progress. Your experience certainly matters, but that can only come to you after years of dedication. Your talent matters, too, but aside from skills (which develop from experience) most of your talent is innate, meaning you have a natural tendency to perform well in certain areas more than others. 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.
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:
1. 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 only because they thought positive thoughts? Of course not. But you can trace almost any successful entrepreneur or professional’s journey and find at least one major obstacle that nearly disrupted everything. And in the face of that obstacle, they remained positive, which motivated action rather than submission, and eventually, they rose to the top.
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, giving you greater physical and mental health and a greater capacity to perform to your maximum potential. The best part is that there aren’t any naturally positive or naturally negative people—your thoughts and your self-talk can be controlled with practice, meaning a positive attitude is something you can, and should, create for yourself.
2. Ongoing Habits
Our habits make us who we are. Over time, our repeated actions become automatic, or second nature, 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 through our natural actions, it is possible to create ongoing habits for yourself. The key to creating these habits is consistency—if you want to start doing something every day, you must force yourself to start doing it on a daily basis, and don’t allow yourself to slip in the first few weeks. After a few rounds of consistent effort, it will become easier. Breaking bad habits can be tougher, but it’s entirely within your power.
While your specific job may have company goals that dictate your actions, your professional goals are entirely within your control. 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.
The reliable standby 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 to meeting these criteria, you should create goals on multiple scales. For example, you should have broad, flexible long-term goals detailing your plans for your long-term success, but you should also have smaller, more immediate, actionable goals that can lead you to those broader visions, and medium-sized goals in between the two to act as milestones.
4. Tactical Plans
Goals are good for helping you to hone your desires and set the tone for your career, but without a solid plan of execution, those desires are only pipe dreams. As an extension of your goals, you must learn to 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 that 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. A Healthy 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 a noisy 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 start creating these things 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.