We spend a lot of time talking about easy things we can do to make our lives better and our careers take off. There are easy things to do, but the reality is, being at the top of your game doesn't come easily for almost anything. Sometimes, there are hard things you need to do if you want to be successful. Here are five hard things that will really help you.
1. Get the right education/training.
I get emails all the time asking, "Should I get an MBA?" or "Should I go to graduate school?" The answer? "How in the heck should I know!" It all depends on your goals. Do the people who currently work in your dream job have MBAs? Or, do they have PhDs in art history? Or, did they go through coding camp? Look at what they've done and then make your decision.
Keep in mind that some doors will close when you get that extra training, just as some doors will open. If your goal is to be an HR manager, skip law school. People will say, "Why on earth did you go to law school if you don't want to be a lawyer?"
2. Get your 10,000 hours in.
Even though Malcolm Gladwell's famous 10,000-hour rule for becoming an expert isn't necessarily true, it is true that most of us can't just walk in and audition for the local symphony. You need to practice, practice, practice and learn, learn, learn. People ask how I got this gig at Inc. Well, I learned and wrote and learned some more and wrote, and wrote and wrote. You need to too if you want to be successful in your field.
3. Work harder and longer than others.
Yeah, sometimes a golden child can walk in off the street and rocket to the top, but most of us work our tail ends off. Claudia Goldin, a professor of economics at Harvard University, explained on a recent Freakonomics episode that what she called "temporal flexibility" explains most of the gender pay gap. People who want flexible schedules are less successful financially than those who give up flexibility. It's not bad if you value flexibility, but know what you're giving up if you do.
4. Stay healthy.
It always cracks me up when people put "Exercise!" on their list of simple things. Regular exercise is simple for some people and that's great. For the rest of us? Diet and exercise just aren't that simple. They can be really, really, hard. We can't control all aspects of our health-genetics and just pure bad luck-plays a role. Still, work to be healthy, whatever that means. If it means taking the right medicines, do that. If it means going to the gym three times a week, do that. If it means getting therapy to overcome your problems, do that. None of this is easy, but all of them help your career.
5. Shut up and listen.
Again, this is easier for some people than it is for others. Some of us, uh, I mean you, love to hear the sound of our own voices. While you can have fabulous ideas, you need to listen to other people's ideas as well. You need to shut up and listen to feedback about your own ideas. You have to be humble enough to hear criticism.
Often, people who are used to being stars have a real problem when confronted with ideas that don't match their own. If you can't listen to what other people have to say, you can only climb so high.