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Failure is frequently attributed to any number of factors, sometimes out of our hands (e.g., the economy, a bad boss, bad timing), but often within our control, if we are brutally honest with ourselves.
However, over the past decades of my career, I’ve observed a common thread in a large number of the failures people experience in their careers and life. When you dig down to the root cause underlying the surface symptoms of someone’s failure, it boils down to:
They refuse to change.
This manifests itself in one or more ways:
Maintaining an inward focus
Refusing to listen to advice
Being unwilling to try something new
Exhibiting a lack of humility
Knowing that they already have all of the answers
Believing that their situation is somehow unique
Not embracing that one must be a lifelong learner
I know that I’ve been guilty of some of these sins at points in my life, and I paid the price.
As a younger man, I was sure that I had all of the answers. As I grow older, it is becoming rapidly apparent that, actually, I hardly know anything.
The enormity of what remains unlearned and unknown overwhelms me sometimes. But, I’m learning to make peace with that, although I won’t deny that it makes me sad.
Some of the happiest successes in my life have been the result of admitting that I needed advice and help. Risking my protective walls of confidence, I learned to say, “I don’t know” or “I’ve never done that before, but I’m willing to try.”
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” ― Leo Tolstoy
Failing because you’re 100% certain that something won’t work
Over the past ten years, I’ve had some success with my health and fitness. It was a noticeable change. A few people reached out and asked me how I did it.
More than one person was curious about my fitness regimen since I lost about 40 lbs after being sadly overweight when I was an exec at Yahoo. However, there was no hidden secret or “magical silver bullet.”
Basically, I began exercising for about an hour every day, 5–6 days a week. I also changed how I eat, cutting out processed foods entirely. I wrote a more detailed article about how I did it.
This wasn’t a temporary fad diet or a 12-week fitness boot camp that I joined to lose a little weight. I made a permanent lifestyle change, and I’ve maintained it for over ten years now. As a matter of fact, I just sat down to write this after finishing my daily weightlifting session.
When I share what I did to get into shape and how I now live to maintain my health, the typical responses have been:
“Oh… I could never do that.”
“Give up my favorite foods forever? No, I just can’t.”
“Lifting weights? Running? That sounds terrible.”
I ask if they are willing to at least try it for 2–3 months to see how they would feel. That’s usually how long it takes to get some real results.
Almost always, the answer is “No.” They simply are not willing to try something new. They are unwilling to change.
Refusing to change their behavior or habits, yet somehow expecting that they could be magically transformed with a secret silver bullet solution. It doesn’t work that way.
You have to be willing to try new things, test hypotheses, and gather data to help you make decisions about what needs to change in your life to get the results that you desire. If you never try — and you refuse to change — you are guaranteed a 100% failure rate.
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein
Failing because you already have all of the answers
If you’ve subscribed to this newsletter for a while, you have probably noticed that I write a lot. I force myself to publish an edition or article almost every day of the week. There’s a reason why people like Seth Godin write or blog every day.
I was also inspired by several writers who referenced Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity tip “Don’t Break the Chain." I want to succeed in finishing a book, and I know that failure is inevitable if I refuse to change my non-optimal writing habits.
As hard as it is to come up with new ideas and write something every single day, it does have several benefits. Of course, you do gain more readers and followers if you are consistently producing articles.
However, more importantly, writing every day makes you more creative, observant, and thoughtful. Plus, you become a much better writer with so much daily practice.
When someone noticed that I was producing a lot more content lately, he asked me if I had any tips that I could share. So, I explained my process of capturing fragments of ideas and concepts in Evernote anytime I have a unique thought or when something I read inspires me.
I described how I keep a big list of draft articles that I continually expand and refine until one is ready to be fleshed out and completed for a given day. I also explained how I was using the Seinfeld method of tracking my progress and the psychological benefit of not wanting to “break the chain.”
He responded, “Oh. Yeah, yeah. I already know all of that. I thought you could tell me something different.”
I said, “Oh, cool! So, you’re already using those techniques?”
“Oh, no. That stuff won’t work for me. I only want to produce quality articles, so I can’t publish something every day.”
Oh, I see. Ok then. Good luck with that.
It is impossible to change and improve your chances of success if you think you already have all of the answers. You’re setting yourself up for failure if you believe that tried and true techniques don’t apply to you because you’re special.
Yeah, why should any of us listen to anything Jerry Seinfeld has to say? What has that guy accomplished anyway?
“Quick condemnation of all that is not ours, of views with which we disagree, of ideas that do not attract us, is the sign of a narrow mind, of an uncultivated intelligence. Bigotry is always ignorant, and the wise boy, who will become the wise man, tries to understand and to see the truth in ideas with which he does not agree.” — Annie Besant
Lifelong learning drives away failure
The most successful people I know are the ones who are young at heart and open to new ideas. They know that to resist change is to ensure eventual failure.
Lifelong learning is the path to self-improvement and lasting success. The people — and companies — who fail are the ones who refuse to observe, listen, experiment, and evolve.
You do want to maintain an internal compass and source of evergreen truths. Certain things make you “You.” You don’t want to blow with the wind and never stand for anything.
Change for the sake of change is just as ridiculous as refusing ever to learn or change. But, if you are not succeeding with your current strategy and actions, then you had better open your mind and be willing to listen.
No one will promise you that every attempt will be successful.
However, I can promise you that if you refuse to try something new, your eventual failure is inevitable.
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🎧 Did you listen to last week’s career tips?
In my most recent audio digest, I talked about:
Why you should schedule time between meetings
Taking charge of your reputation at work
Removing fear and worries when planning
Writing a more effective resume
What I’ve been reading and writing:
In 7 Simple Steps to Better Leadership, I mentioned that many new leaders don’t understand the unintended consequences and ripple effects of their actions. Once you are functioning as a leader (formally or informally), you are perceived differently, and you need to be aware of how your words and actions affect your team. There are enough terrible bosses in this world. Following these seven steps is your chance to become one of the good ones.
When you work for a bad boss, you sometimes wonder if you are the only one who has a problem with him or her. You question yourself, “Am I being too sensitive? Is this behavior normal? Why does everyone else seem to be ok with it?” Well, here is an article that may validate your hunch: 13 Signs You Have A Toxic And Insecure Boss.
I know several people who dream of being rich and famous. I always tell them to be careful what they wish for. Personally, I think it’s better to be the most successful person that no one knows. After all of his crazy experiences, Tim Ferriss may agree. Check out his blog post, 11 Reasons Not to Become Famous (or “A Few Lessons Learned Since 2007”).
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