I used to believe that in order to be successful I had to avoid being ordinary.
Since then I have gradually confirmed that many of those we most admire for their success in this world, started out as very ordinary people – consider, for instance, the two most obvious candidates, Lord Alan Sugar, or Richard Branson. And I believe that many of our flawed notions of success and failure are bound up with false ideas of what “being ordinary” or “being extraordinary” really means.
Before I consider the top tips for success, I’ll list popular reasons people have given for failure: being born poor, not having a good education, having bad luck, being accident-prone, being lazy, making bad decisions, giving up, selling out on your dreams, falling short.
So now we have faced up to some supposed reasons for failure, what are the opposites to each baddie on the above list? What are my top tips to becoming a successful person? I’ll arrange the tips under three key headings. And each of these is something to which people have, in my experience, attributed their success:
1. Character and Personal Qualities
The following have all been cited on different occasions, as reasons for success: hard work, drive, personality and ambition, having a clear vision, being a positive thinker, daring to be different, being realistic, having the persistence and courage to hold onto your dreams, setting goals, demonstrating confidence and willpower, showing leadership qualities, having the ability to inspire confidence in people, being knowledgable in your chosen area, demonstrating skill, being a bit loud-mouthed, pushy and opinionated, exploiting contacts, believing in yourself and in what you’re doing.
Under this heading we find: genetic inheritance, early formative childhood experiences, being pushed or abused or challenged or encouraged by your parents; education (either being forced to fight for one, and winning it against all odds; or opting out of the academic system all together and ‘learning in the university of life’ instead; or progressing smoothly through to the achievement of a first-class degree from Oxford or Cambridge); having a brilliant or a wretched childhood (both can become launch-pads for success).
3. Good luck
Into this camp falls: serendipity, chance, being in the right place at the right time, being born with a silver spoon in your mouth, the magic of believing, being gifted and talented, being beautiful, just getting lucky, falling on your feet, swarming up ladders and avoiding snakes, meeting the right people at the right time.
I hope the above examples – some of which represent demonstrable fact, and some of which have simply emerged from popular perception, folklore or myth – will demonstrate that there is no reliable formula which is always guaranteed to create success in any given case. However, observation of human life teaches us that if you fail you can still succeed; and that conversely you can have a period of success followed by a period of failures. Additionally, it is not true that age predisposes you either to success or failure. George Eliot said: It is never too late to be what you might have been.
Finally, then, I offer my own key: have the courage to dream big dreams, and never give up on them.