How to Succeed in Your Career

These four tips can help you to succeed in your career

Career Success can bring in lot of happiness.
Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

I always wondered why some people succeed in their careers, and why some people don’t? What do the people who succeed know that others don’t? What is their secret?

A few months back I read this book ‘Catalyst’ by author Chandramouli Venkatesan. This one point stuck with me regarding career success. I could connect with this point specifically — Most people succeed in the first half of their careers, but very few succeed in the second half. We have to win where it matters, and that is winning in the second half.

If we consider a career of 40 years, we can broadly divide this into 2 halves of 20 years each or 1st half of 18 years and second half of 22 years, or 21 and 19. The exact number does not matter, but 95% of the people succeed in the first half of their careers, but only very few (hardly 5%) succeed in the second half.

That seemed to be true based on what I have seen so far. That is logical too because the organization hierarchy would have a lot of people at the bottom of the pyramid and very few at the top.

Why most people fail in the second half and what can we do about it?

The secret to succeeding in the second half lies what one does in the 1st half. Most people focus more on succeeding in their first half, like promotion, getting a better role, earning more salary, etc, rather than building the foundation necessary to succeed in the second half. Delaying gratification is hard and most people focus on the immediate future. That approach only gets one ahead in the rat race, which becomes the reason for failure in the second half.

Organization hierarchy and pyramids will have a much wider base in the starting roles and hence you get promoted based on individual contribution and there will be a lot of opportunities. You feel you are succeeding in the initial years of your career. However, as one climbs the ladder, there will be extremely fewer opportunities, it is only by being good at what you do and deserving to be the best on the job, you will progress.

So, what one needs to do is to focus on learning and development, even if it means that may not fetch you a good salary or role or promotion in the immediate future. Are you getting a wonderful boss with whom you can learn a lot? Are you being exposed to the entire life cycle stages of the business so you grow your exposure? Are you getting to interact with people with whom you can learn and grow? Those are the things that matter.

Success in career boils down to your real individual growth. Some may say he was just lucky, he got the right environment at the right time, etc, but if you look at the view, Career growth = Real individual growth + environmental aspects. In a forty-year career, most people will have both headwinds and tailwinds. The environmental aspects will balance out in the entire career span.

Therefore, career growth really depends on how much you can grow as an individual. How the person has grown in knowledge, skills, our judgment, our decision-making ability, our influence on others, our communication skills, etc. drives success.

If the success really depends on what we do in the first half, what one should do in that first half? Below are four simple tips I found relevant based on my experience, to grow yourself as an individual.

1) Be good at something.

If someone asks you what are you good at, you should be firm to say that. Develop your skills in something and be so good at it. I made this mistake, and many people do, they equate the number of years spent at work equates to experience. That’s not the case.

If you are 30 years old, you cannot say you have 30 years of experience walking or sleeping. Just like that, you can’t say you have 10 years of experience if you have spent 10 years working in a company. If you do things monotonously, with no targets, reviews, improvement, learning, it will not really add to your experience, what really counts as experience is the actual effort in developing yourself.

Put in hard work, take initiatives, be bold, choose your area of interest, do your work diligently — you should be able to say, this is what I am good at, so be so good at something.

When you move up the ladder, the demands of the new roles are so high, stress will be high, demand for multi-tasking, and managing multiple things is so high, yet you will still have the same 24 hours you had before. People, who have not focused to learn to improve personal productivity, soon fail despite being capable of higher roles. Learn to improve your personal productivity by being good at something. Learn to do deep work. Some strategies you can find here.

2) Build relationships.

When I look at the people who I have come across as successful, one of the common qualities they have is the amount of network and close connection they have. I am not referring to twitter followers or Facebook friends here, what I mean is people who can respond to you when you are in need. They spend time and effort in building quality relationships.

In the beginning, it is hard to develop a relationship, but as we move forward; you develop trust. Be it your customer or colleagues or friends, more time you spend in developing relationships, they will help you when you are in need and you can ask help when needed. You also need to help whenever you can. This becomes a lot more important in later years of your career.

3) Learn to Sell.

Selling is the most underrated skill. In some cultures, very few focus on it, they hardly know that it is so much an important skill to develop.

Irrespective of the work you do, every time you are trying to sell something. An idea, a product or service — to your client, or internal stakeholders, or even to family members. How effective you are to sell, determines your success.

This requires you to develop a lot of skills, and this process is lifelong learning. You need to be good at something; you need to develop relationships; you need to learn to communicate well; you need to know public speaking, understand others well, you need to know about psychology, the art of persuasion and the list is endless. A lot of learning has to happen on the ground, through practice, failure, and adapting based on what works. The point is, put your effort into learning this skill irrespective of your profession.

4) Continuously learn, improve. You need to deserve success.

Everyone needs to learn and improve day by day. One may learn from others, your boss, or a mentor. You may surround yourself with so many successful people. You may read a lot and gain knowledge and wisdom. You may deliberate practice and learn a lot. Do whatever works for you, the point is you need to constantly improve yourself.

As Charlie Munger says in the book ‘The poor charlie’s Almanack’, to get what you want, you have to deserve what you want. As simple as that. Expecting something which you don’t really deserve will not take you anywhere.

“Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up. Discharge your duties faithfully and well. Step by step you get ahead, but not necessarily in fast spurts. But you build discipline by preparing for fast spurts. Slug it out one inch at a time, day by day. At the end of the day — if you live long enough — most people get what they deserve”

We need to look at our own skills and abilities and have an inner scorecard to measure honestly. That’s the only way to get better.

The bottom line

Everyone wants to be successful in a career, only very few puts in the effort needed for it. In my eighteen years of experience working in corporate life, whoever I have observed as successful had put in their effort and they didn’t succeed by mere luck.

There will be a failure and many had faced too, but they learned from it or tried something different. They succeeded by careful planning, putting in the effort, and putting themselves in a place and situation where there were more odds of success. They all improved themselves to deserve the success they had.

Hope the above four tips will help you in your journey towards career success.

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Param Hegde

Param Hegde

Senior Manager in Corporate IT in his early 40’s. Curious Observer at work and life. Sharing learning and experiences through interesting stories.