For a moment, a question I was asked during a Q & A with several thousand college students stumped me: "If you can only give one piece of advice about how we can become successful, what would it be?"
I thought for a moment.
Being likable matters. Being an "and"--always trying to be this and that and maybe even this (whatever your chosen this and that may be)--can be key to long-term success and fulfillment. Having one or two close friends is better than collecting thousands of virtual connections.
Still, it's a hard question to answer. Everyone is different. Generalizing is tough.
Then I remembered my grandfather.
One day, when I was 10 or 12 years old, I helped my grandfather muck out a few long-neglected horse stalls. Think multiple layers of fun and the ammonia-like smell that results from time and biological decay.
Even then I knew my grandfather lived a hard life. So I tried to tough it out and stay quiet. Eventually though, I caved.
"Ugh," I groaned, turning my head away in disgust.
He stopped and leaned on his shovel.
"That smell?" he said. "That's the smell of job security, boy." Then he nodded and started shoveling again.
I did too. Experience had taught me that watching him work instead of pitching in would mean watching him eat dessert I would not be offered.
Some years later, I understood. Other people may be smarter. More experienced. More connected. More something.
You may feel like you have nothing going for you.
But what you can always do is what others will not.
Walmart founder Sam Walton was willing to open department stores in small towns established retailers would never consider. Michael Ovitz was willing to stay at his desk until 10 at night so he would be the only person the president of William Morris could turn to for help. Kobe Bryant was willing to make--not take, make--100,000 shots one summer to correct a flaw in his shooting technique. (And that was after he had already made the NBA All-Star team.)
Want to build a business? Be willing to do a few things your competition will not. Want to build a career? Be willing to do a few things the people you work with will not.
Scratch the surface of any extremely successful person and you'll likely find someone who was--and most likely still is--willing to do what others will not.
Because that's the one competitive advantage available to everyone.