How To Succeed at Almost Anything (Hint: It Starts With Helping Others Succeed)

In the last couple of months, I’ve written about interview technique and negotiation tactics, all useful for finding our way into a job. Harder than actually getting hired though, is staying hired once someone says “yes.” Then the real work begins, navigating unchartered waters in sometimes hostile territory where we don’t always know the rules.

While it may be a gross oversimplification, I often say that there are two main drivers for people at work: fear and desire. Most of what we do is determined by one or the other. We fear criticism, disapproval, being taken advantage of, being taken for granted. We desire recognition, status, security and understanding. Both are powerful motivators in the short term, but only one will help you succeed over the long haul (and it’s not fear).

This is why it is vitally important to keep our mind firmly affixed on the things we actually want, rather than what we don’t want. Most happy and effective people recognize the inherent power of their own thoughts, and have learned ways to harness this to their advantage. You want to be continually moving in the direction of where you want to go (desire), while tuning out or minimizing the fear. If you’re looking for ways to succeed at work, here are some simple strategies to keep in mind.

1. It’s not all about you.

The single greatest thing you can do to succeed in any job is to help those around you succeed at theirs. I’m not talking about brown-nosing, or buying people elaborate holiday gifts. I’m talking about a deep commitment to the work you have taken on, and a conscientious desire to make life easier on those around you. This means anticipating needs before they arise, going the extra mile, protecting other people’s interests (and secrets), and doing the very best job you’re capable of because you want your team or organization to succeed as a whole. If you do that, your value will skyrocket, and your boss will look good for simply having hired you. When they win, you win.

2. Manage yourself first.

It’s almost impossible to manage others well, unless you first learn how to effectively manage yourself. Sounds obvious, but it’s harder to put into practice. Managing yourself means bringing a keen sense of awareness to how you show up for work. Are you getting enough rest? Are you looking after your health? Are you in touch with your emotions? Are you open to receiving feedback, or are you easily triggered? Often I meet with clients who assume that it’s everyone around them who is the problem, when in fact the complete opposite is true. Begin with YOURSELF, and go from there. A commitment to doing some form of “inner work” (in the form of coaching or therapy) is usually the first step to doing good outer work.

3. Two solutions for every problem.

Problems are a part of every work environment. Finding solutions to those problems (or at least minimizing them) should be our goal. You want to be the kind of person who generally brings more solutions to the table than problems, by a margin of at least 2-to-1. We all know workers who love to point out all that’s going wrong without a single idea for how to put it right. The company is going down the tubes, things are getting worse, the sky is always falling. Don’t become that person, and don’t associate with people who are willing you (and the company) to fail. As the saying goes, “If you’re not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.”

4. Commitment to the process.

While goals are certainly useful to have, it’s really how committed you are to the overall process of achieving them that is the greater predictor of a successful outcome. Here, the “Three P’s” come into play: practice, patience and persistence. You must be willing to persevere for a long time without much evidence of outward progress. Can you do that? What you’re aiming for is not an overnight miracle, but a slow long-term improvement in the overall quality of your life. Becoming the kind of person (or co-worker) you want to be – someone who believes in themselves and believes in others – is about the daily commitment to good process and less about the end product.

5. Believe that you can succeed.

The ability to do anything must first be accompanied by the belief that we can do it. In the words of Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re usually right.” Yet you’d be amazed at the number of people I see standing in their own way, talking themselves out of raises, promotions, funding and more. You have to remain open, positive and surround yourself with people who also believe that you can succeed. Most of us are like chameleons, we easily adopt the attitudes, behaviors and opinions of those we most closely associate with. This is why it’s crucial to identify, model and associate with people who bring out the very best in us.

And finally, I would just say, “Don’t take yourself too seriously.” The workplace doesn’t have to be 100% humorless all the time. Even just a smile reminds everyone that we’re not just working beings, we are first and foremost human beings. And by helping others succeed at their jobs, we become better at our jobs. Fear or desire, the choice is always ours.

“Live your life,” Rumi reminded us, “as if everything is rigged in your favor.”