With a new influx of college graduates hitting the job market, I thought it would be a good time to share some advice. I started working when I was just 12 years old, with my first newspaper route, and believe me, these lessons apply to jobs and disciplines across the spectrum.
Success requires hard work, but also the willingness to listen to good advice is a skill that can make or break a career. Why make the same mistakes that people have been making for decades when you can avoid them?
If I had to prioritize, I would say the first thing is to believe in yourself — even when no one else does. Life is not a parabolic curve. It doesn’t go straight up. There are a lot of lumps and bumps. I’ve never met a successful person who hasn’t had to overcome either a little or a lot of adversity.
Second, there are three things you must know to be successful:
1. Don’t quit.
2. Don’t quit.
3. Don’t quit.
When I graduated from the University of Minnesota a long time ago, I was kind of cocky and thought I knew it all. I thought I’d be able to start at the top and work up. It doesn’t work that way.
I started as an envelope salesman, and they threw me the Yellow Pages (that thick book with phone numbers and addresses that we used pre-internet) and said, “Good luck, kid.” I was having all kinds of problems, and one day I asked an old, grizzly salesman: How long do you call on a prospect before you stop calling? And he said: “It depends on which one of us dies first.”
Similarly, Kemmons Wilson, the founder of Holiday Inn, was asked to give the commencement address at his alma mater — even though he never graduated. He said, “(Y)ou only have to work half a day, every day, and it doesn’t matter if it’s the first 12 hours or the last 12 hours.”
“There is no I in team” is more than a sports adage. I like to pass along this message, because you cannot do it all by yourself. The boat won’t go if we all don’t row. As Steve Jobs said, “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”
And the most important piece of advice: Act like your mother is watching. Unfortunately, the business community — of which I am a part — does not get stellar grades for ethics the past several years. Ethics and integrity must be the cornerstone of your existence. I like to say, if you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.
Next point: Practice makes perfect — not true. You have to add one word. Perfect practice makes perfect. Practice something time and time again, and if you don’t know what you’re doing wrong, all you’re really doing is perfecting an error. You’ve put a ceiling on how good you can become. Find a coach or mentor to help you hone your skills.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, American philosopher and poet, said: “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.”
Consider these words of wisdom from some of the world’s most successful people:
• Oprah Winfrey: “You know you are on the road to success if you would do your job and not be paid for it.”
• Phil Knight, former CEO of Nike: “There is an immutable conflict at work, in life and in business, a constant battle between peace and chaos. Neither can be mastered, but both can be influenced. How you go about that is the key to success.”
• Henry Ford: “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
• Col. Harland Sanders: “I made a resolve then that I was going to amount to something if I could. And no hours, nor amount of labor, nor amount of money would deter me from giving the best that there was in me. And I have done that ever since, and I win by it.”
• President Theodore Roosevelt: “The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.”
• Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors: “Do every job you’re in like you’re going to do it for the rest of your life, and demonstrate that ownership of it.”
Mackay’s Moral: Good advice — especially when it’s free — is the best investment you can make in your future.
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Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.” He can be reached through his website, www.harveymackay.com, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.