As I wrote last time: “Productivity and success are built on hard work, properly directed at your most important and valuable objectives.” But of course, there’s much more to increasing your productivity and achieving success than simply working hard.
One of the additional factors is taking advantage of opportunities: both the opportunities you make for yourself and the opportunities others give you.
In this piece, I’m going to focus on some characteristics you can develop in yourself that will entice other people to give you more opportunities for achieving success.
Persistence and Drive
Sometimes, results come quick and easy. But many times, they don’t. That’s why it’s important that you cultivate a large measure of persistence and drive to achieve your goals.
Persistence and drive will be the characteristics that keep you working hard when you come up against obstacles and seeming dead-ends along the path to whatever you’re trying to achieve.
Edison, for example, is said to have tried many thousands of materials before he hit on one that would work well in his innovative electric light bulb.
Supposedly, people openly lamented to him about his thousands of failures, to which he iconically responded: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Reframing roadblocks as opportunities and remembering that every “no” brings you one step closer to “yes” are just two of the ways to fuel enough persistence and drive to make you more worthy of opportunities that others can offer you.
While persistence is all about sticking to an effort despite incentives to quit, flexibility is all about adjusting to realities when persistence is not getting you close enough to your goal.
Because you need different tools and approaches in different situations, it’s important to be a master of both persistence and flexibility.
Flexibility in this context refers to the ability to switch the way you’re thinking or acting to adjust to a situation that’s not responding well to your previous thoughts or actions.
This kind of mental and behavioral flexibility comes from many factors you can cultivate in yourself, including:
- A willingness to change,
- Fluency in more than one problem-solving method, and
- An ability to distinguish between what’s more important and what’s less important in a given situation.
Acceptance of Failure
Like it or not, we live in a trial-and-error world. You can’t learn to ride a bike or ice-skate without falling over at least a few times. But those are just among the most obvious examples.
The simple truth is this: nearly all learning begins with failure. At first you can’t do something. Then you learn new problem-solving methods. After some practice, you can do that thing, sometimes quite easily and enjoyably. That’s the most important way you can intentionally improve your capabilities.
But the extra value of failure comes from recognizing what really caused you to fail, and what you may learn from that experience to help you avoid similar failures in the future.
Everyone fails lots of times. Where we’re different from one another is that some of us learn a lot from our failures, and some of us don’t. In general, the more you can learn from each of your failures, the more worthy you are of receiving additional opportunities to succeed.
Learning Fast or Slow
Growth is a natural part of living, and learning is a natural part of growth. But how fast or slow you learn while you grow is a major differentiator between people who are most worthy of new opportunities, and everybody else.
Of course, learning is a difficult process, and much of it depends on how quick and perceptive your brain happens to be. Nevertheless, you can speed up your ability to learn (from work and from life, including from your failures) by cultivating certain characteristics. These include:
- Acceptance of the advantages of learning,
- Eagerness to learn,
- Excitement about growing your capabilities,
- Pleasure in putting your new capabilities to use,
- Willingness to listen and absorb lessons other people offer.
Credit for Success
One of the most important lessons I have learned in my work and life is this: “It’s amazing how much we can accomplish if we don’t care who gets the credit.”
The need to receive credit for our accomplishments is a major drag on the progress we make in both work and life. It’s useful to think of it like this: the more attention and effort you pay to gathering credit for the successes in which you participate, the less attention and effort remains available to actually achieve that success.
As you’ll discover in years to come, these characteristics tend to produce many other important payoffs, as well as the obvious ones discussed here.
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