As this graduation season winds down, another generation of young people is let loose into the real world, some anxious to start careers while others loll about, thinking that a job is about to be handed to them or that everything will just work out. I'm often asked by parents of these college graduates about how to go about taking the next step. Many want to know what traits the youngsters should try to adopt and where to get information to help them. So let me give you my take on what it takes to be a success in any field.
The best way to start is with the right attitude. Woody Allen once said that 90% of success is just showing up, but that's wrong. Yes, you need to be on the job every day, but once you get there, you also need a can-do, optimistic and humble attitude. It doesn't matter whether you are working for a Fortune 100 firm or a not-for-profit health system, the factors that make up the inspired, dedicated and thus successful worker are the same.
The most important component of the right attitude is the willingness to work hard. It seems silly to even mention this as an ingredient of career success, but too many young adults really believe the world owes them a living.
As a result, many of these people aren't going to be very successful, unless they get lucky, which likely will involve being fired from their first job. A stint on the unemployment rolls is a chance for an attitude adjustment for those with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement.
I suggest everyone who wants to succeed act as if his or her pants are on fire. It's almost impossible to impart to young people just how fast time passes, but it passes more quickly than you can possibly imagine. So don't waste a moment of it. That doesn't mean you do things so recklessly that you take unnecessary risks, but you should go to work with the attitude that you are ready to get wrapped up in your job, to get passionate about it. Give everything you have and then some.
That term "and then some" separates the winners from the mediocre performers. The people who go beyond what is expected are those who appreciate the privilege of having employment. Everyone knows what it means to have a job with benefits such as health insurance and profit-sharing, but not everyone loves to work and honors the right to work. Those who do are willing to go out of their way to prove themselves. For instance, when everyone else is worrying about an upcoming holiday, they are worrying about a more efficient way of doing a task. If they hear someone's phone ringing, they answer it because they have a team mentality and respect their colleagues.
Years ago when I was on a business trip in New York, I hailed a cab. I always chat with cabdrivers and for the most part I have pleasant and interesting conversations. This particular driver was from Poland and he spoke with an accent. During our talk he said something to me I've always remembered. He said: "It is such a privilege to have a job. In my home country there isn't much work, if any at all, and the prospects don't look very good. My wife and children are going to join me soon and I am so thankful there is a country like this. You know, you Americans are spoiled. Many of you take everything you have too much for granted and that includes your freedom. You are lucky and yet I hear so many of you complain. It's hard to understand." Remember that wisdom.
And that brings me to another point. Seek the advice of people who have lived through the problems you may encounter. Many people love to give counsel to younger people. It makes them feel important and it makes them feel good about you because you asked for their opinion and guidance. So don't let false pride stand in your way of getting help.
Enthusiasm is another part of the right attitude. Smile when you can, and exchange pleasantries and common courtesies with colleagues. And don't be afraid to go to your manager or boss and ask them if you can give them a helping hand. That shows a person who is willing to go the extra mile.
There is another trait that is lacking these days in the workplace and that's loyalty. Don't be afraid to be loyal to your employer, even if the employer may not always be loyal to you. The reason is that loyalty pays off. Management is always looking for loyal employees to promote. That doesn't mean you have to be blind to unethical practices or behavior. Frankly, if that's the kind of environment you work in, get out fast. But loyalty to a cause, a mission or a company is always in fashion and is a strength, not a weakness.
Finally, don't ever give up on yourself. There are always setbacks, but those are tests you have to pass. Stay on the field of play as long as you can and compete as hard as you can, but have fun, love people, love yourself and make every day count.
Give it everything you've got,