Over the past year I've spoken with a number of incredibly successful people. While their fields vary, one thing is consistent: their success results from hard work, persistence, and getting the simple things right.
And that's why I thought it would be fun to compile some tips and strategies anyone, regardless of industry, can use. For the sake of brevity I could only choose a few, so I took the advice of Nigel Tufnel and made this list go to eleven. (There's a list of more great takeaways at the bottom of this post.)
Here some of the ways incredibly successful people achieve that success:
1. They don't let their personal time suffer because of their work; they make their work time "suffer" so their family time is never compromised.
Raise your hand if you've ever held up your index finger to nonverbally say, "Hold on, I'll be done working in a few minutes..." to your spouse or kids.
Thought so. We've all done it. We've all taken work home, whether by choice or by "necessity." But you don't have to.
Clive Standen, who plays Rollo on Vikings, works out while he's on set, works while having lunch in his trailer, works during his ride to and from the studio... he squeezes every drop of work into his workday so that when he comes home, he's home.
"I sometimes feel like I have steam coming out of my years because the pace is relentless," Clive said. "Occasionally I might feel like I just need 5 minutes to breathe, but that's the bed I've made for myself. The reason I'm doing all this is for my family, and it's worth it."
Try it. Decide you can never bring work home. Decide you can never let work infringe on your family time. Use that as your base line, and then figure out how to be as efficient and focused and on-task as possible when you're on work time so that your work never infringes on your family time.
If someone as busy as Clive can do it, surely you can too.
(Here's my full interview with Clive Standen, including his take on why it's not just enough to want to be an actor -- or an entrepreneur.)
2. They use their work (or business) to make their entire life more fulfilling -- not just their professional life.
Many people assume Richard Branson's various adventures were undertaken solely to gain publicity for Virgin, but they're wrong. Richard's businesses support his thirst for adventure and experiences just as much as those adventures support his business goals.
"If I hadn't owned an airline, I still would have done the balloon trip," he said. "So it was that the adventure that was irresistible, basically, but there was the by-product that Virgin as a brand became an adventurous brand, a sexy brand, and I think some of these adventures did actually help with that. I had a lot of fun, incredible adventures, and the by-product from a branding point of view was positive as well."
You can do the same. What do you like to do outside of work? What would you like to do that you currently do not? Then find ways that your business pursuits can also serve your personal interests, whether travel, or hobbies, or side gigs, or skills you want to gain...
In short, don't think work-life balance. Just think life.
(Here's my full interview with Sir Richard, including why he feels being an entrepreneur literally helped save his life.)
3. No matter how high they climb, they never stop being a fan.
Sometimes it's easy to forget the people who inspired you, or mentored you, or in some way made a difference in your life. When you do, you forget not only to feel appreciative but to express your appreciation.
Before I spoke with him I saw Kirk Hammett, lead guitarist of Metallica and co-founder of KHDK Electronics, on That Metal Show. I was struck by how genuinely delighted he was to play with Michael Schenker. There's an inherent vulnerability in showing open appreciation, which means people at the top of any field rarely do, and I thought it was extremely generous of Kirk to do so.
"I owe Michael Schenker a lot," Kirk said. "I've learned so much from him. I can just go on and on and on about how much of an influence he is. Before that show I said, 'Michael, just name the song: any UFO song, any Scorpions song, I'll know it.' He laughed, but I was serious. I know them all. I'm still a fan. I'm still that guy. I won't ever stop being that guy. And I will definitely be that guy when I'm around people who are such an inspiration to me."
It's one thing to feel appreciation. It's another to express it.
Think about people who have made a difference in your life, and then express your gratitude. You'll be amazed by what a difference that will make not just in your life, but in their lives as well.
(Here's my full interview with Kirk Hammett, including how starting a nuts-and-bolts business can still be creatively satisfying. And for more with KH, check out this video interview.)
4. They see their business as a separate entity.
When you're an entrepreneur, you are your business -- it feels like you, and it, are inextricably intertwined.
But that can limit your business's growth, according to Dany Garcia, the founder of The Garcia Companies, a talent and media management holding company that oversees Seven Bucks Productions, a company she co-founded with management client and business partner Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to manage brands, talent, and projects.
"You need to be detached enough to be excited about the project," Dany says, "and want to see it succeed, not just you. That's a very different approach compared to an ego-driven project. One of Dwayne's keys to success is he can detach his ego completely and care solely about who has the best answers. He's extremely coachable: he's really coachable in wrestling, as an actor he's really coachable... he's totally detached to the ego side of decision making.
"When you're talented and coachable and willing to find the best answer, no matter who has it or where it comes from... that's extremely powerful."
Take a step back and don't just decide where you want to go. Where do you want your company to go? What, and who, can help you take it there?
Put your ego aside and you'll find the best answers and the best solutions... and then you'll have even more reasons to feel good about what you have built.
(Here's my full interview with Dany Garcia, including why focusing on solutions will ensure you stay creative and flexible.)
5. They only know they've truly found their passion until after they've failed.
"Do what you love" sounds great, but the best way to know you've found your passion is actually to fail.
"Losing really hurt," Aldo said. "But... when you fail, you need to go through the pain, go through the frustration, and then decide if you want to keep going. If you love what you do you will keep going. If you aren't willing to keep going, that's a sign you don't really love what you do. So I trained and studied for the next year, and then I won three years in a row."
And a few years later Aldo was named Best Sommelier in the World by the World Sommelier Association.
Work is easy when you're successful. Life is easy when you're winning.
Think hard about how your respond when you stumble or fail. That moment defines whether you truly love what you do... or whether you love the accolades, or trappings, or even just the title on your business card.
(Here's my full interview with Aldo Sohm, including why life starts at the end of your comfort zone.)
6. They actively create things they look forward to -- and not just personally.
Everyone likes to look ahead. For example, everyone loves planning vacations. (In fact, planning a vacation can make you feel as happy as actually taking that vacation -- even if you never take it.)
We all do that in our personal lives... so why not take the same approach with your profession?
Take me: I'm good at working hard and staying focused and delaying gratification and grinding -- especially at unusual pursuits, like doing juuust a few too many pushups in one day -- but do I actively cultivate a steady stream of things I can't wait to do?
"What I love is that I always have something to look forward to," Kasey said. "Sprint Cup qualifying is tomorrow and we race on Sunday; I can't wait for that. Our dirt teams are racing tonight, and I can't wait to see how they do. Every single week, I have something to look forward to. To think that I'm 36 years old and still have the same enthusiasm and passion for the sport, and enjoy it so much..."
What do you like most about your work? Find ways to do more of it. What is missing from your work? Find ways to do more of that. And definitely find ways to interact more with people you can learn from and be inspired by.
Work hard to have at least two or three things on your calendar every week that you look forward to.
And then work hard to increase that number.
(Here's my full interview with Kasey Kahne, including why identifying talented people long before you have a need is so important.)
7. They gain their confidence from preparation.
If you're like me, you're situationally confident: in some settings you feel self-assured and in command, but in others... not so much.
"Confidence comes from preparation," Robert said. "I didn't realize the fear gnawing at me came from the fact I hadn't been prepared. Once I realized I could prepare myself and learn, that I could develop techniques to do my job well, that my job is a craft I can get better at, that the things I feel I lack I can find down the road... you get more confident as you get more prepared. Preparation is everything. Preparation gives you confidence."
Feeling hesitant or insecure stems from feeling like you don't belong... and feeling like you don't belong comes from feeling unprepared.
List the situations where you feel less confident and then do the work to ensure you're prepared to step into those situations. When you've done the work, you'll realize you deserve to be there... and you'll have all the confidence you need to perform at your best.
(Here's my full interview with Robert Patrick, including why successful people don't create backup plans.)
8. They believe that winning the mental game matters more than education, or connections, or "advantages."
Often what separates success from failure is persistence.
But don't just take my word for it. Here's someone who really knows: Ray Care, a United States Navy veteran who spent 10 years serving as a SEAL.
"Winning is a mindset," Ray said. "Refusing to give up is a mindset. When you learn that you can do more than you thought in one aspect of your life, you can apply that to every other area of your life.
"So get out and do things that are hard. Refuse to quit. Push past your comfort zone. Over time that ability will become a habit -- and you'll accomplish a lot more than you ever believed you could."
What could you accomplish if you pushed yourself past the point where you normally give up, either physically or mentally? What could you achieve not only this time... but the next time, after you realize your limits are not real but simply self-imposed?
Here's how Ray would answer those questions: "Success is a mental game," he said. "Learn to win the mental game and you can do anything."
(Here's my full interview with Ray Care, including why there is one thing you should always remember when the going gets really tough.)
9. They see pressure as a privilege.
Approximately 75% of Americans say they regularly experience physiological and psychological symptoms caused by stress. Research shows that Generation Z in particular is much less able to manage and deal with stress: feelings of fear, trepidation, and hesitance keeps them from performing as well as they could.
And then there's Joey Logano.
"It's just really cool to get the opportunity to have all that pressure on you," Joey said just before the season-ending race at Homestead, where he had a shot to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. "A lot of people don't get the opportunity to have pressure. To work hard and get to a certain level and then have pressure... it's a privilege to feel pressure."
Do you feel pressure on at least a semi-regular basis? If not, you should, because pressure is something you want to feel. Pressure means you're in a position to be successful at something meaningful, something important... something that truly matters to you.
Pressure is a sign you're pushing yourself... and that's a good thing.
You can't achieve more unless you try to do more.
(Heres my full interview with Joey Logano, including why surrounding yourself with great people is crucial for success.)
10. They want to be more than one "thing."
Conventional wisdom says maintaining a laser-like focus and specializing on one pursuit is the best way to succeed.
Venus Williams disagrees.
"In my home we weren't allowed just to be athletes," Venus said. "We had to be students. And our dad taught us to be entrepreneurs. We would drive to a tennis tournament somewhere, and he would put in a cassette about buying foreclosure properties. We were 8 and 9 years old and we had to listen to how to make money on foreclosures. Obviously, we didn't understand much of it. That didn't really matter, because our dad was trying to establish that mindset of multitasking, of being an entrepreneur, of charting your own path... so for me, trying to excel at multiple things is normal."
Go ahead. Embrace your "and." Take the steps that let you include an "and" in the way you describe yourself professionally. Think about what you do well, or would like to do well... and most importantly, would really enjoy.
Maybe starting a small business on the side would be fun. Maybe teaching, or consulting, or working part-time, or volunteering, or going back to school would be fun. It doesn't matter what your "and" is, as long as it's something you really want to do.
Then you get to recharge and refresh, pick up new perspectives, and bring certain skills back to your primary role... or roles.
Be an "and." Be lots of "ands." After all, in most cases what comes after "and" are the things we enjoy doing the most.
(Here's my full interview with Venus Williams, including why she can't go to the movies.)
11. They started out just like you -- which means you can be just like them.
I wrestled in high school and traveled to summer tournaments where the other wrestlers seemed larger than life. I granted them near-mythical status because they came from different states and wore t-shirts from high-profile camps and wrestling clubs. I never imagined they saw me the same way, that my Granby School of Wrestling t-shirt was just as intimidating.
The same is true in business: Underneath the Armani and Wharton School and name-dropping is a guy or gal just as nervous and insecure as you. Symbols of success are often a mask. The playing field is always more level than it seems.
One of the most fun conversations I had this year was with Xfinity Series driver Ross Chastain. Here's one reason why:
"The first time I went to Texas Motor Speedway," Ross said, "was my fourth race in the Truck Series. Texas is a really fast 1.5-mile track. I had heard that people run wide open at Texas. So the first time out on the track I was all set to run wide open... and I lifted. I just couldn't help it. I came in, told the team the truck was a little tight (meaning the front end doesn't want to turn at speed), they made some adjustments, and I went back out.
"I thought, 'Okay, now I need to run wide open.' But when I got on the back stretch my right leg started shaking... so I took my hand and pushed my leg down to keep the gas pedal floored. I basically ran that lap with one hand on my leg."
So is a guy who today competes at nearly the highest level of his sport... yet when he first drove on a big track, he had to hold his leg down to keep himself from lifting off the gas pedal. That sounds like something I would do... but a big-time racer?
If you have doubts or fears, you're not alone. Everyone else has, or had, the same fears. Take heart in that fact -- and then hold your leg down and keep charging.
Often you'll find you had nothing to be afraid of... and even if you did, now you'll know you can overcome that fear.
(Here's my full interview with Ross, including why you should always expect more from yourself.)
More interviews you may enjoy:
- Michael Hirst on storytelling and branding.
- Jimmie Johnson on the power of networking.
- Kyle Larson on finding the perfect brand ambassador.
- Brian France on building a family business that lasts for generations.
- M. Shadows on standing up for your beliefs.
- Morgan Spurlock on being ready when the market comes to you.
- Jill Gregory on engaging loyal customers while attracting new customers.
- Lance Armstrong on why loving the process makes the end result inevitable.
- Roger Penske shares his keys to building a billion dollar business.
- Rick Hendrick does the same.
- Jack Welch on the one quality every great leader possesses.
- Kevin Harvick on seizing great opportunities.
- Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on the one leadership quality he admires most.
- Katheryn Winnick on trusting yourself... and then letting go.