Nicole and I are both successful professionals but we each took a different path to arrive here. Nicole is a true professional any way you can define it. Her resume is polished. Her career path is clear and sensible. She has done a remarkable job managing her career and it has paid off.
Reading Nicole’s resume is like watching a Pixar movie. You can clearly see the formula to success and every plot point along the way is clear. One job leads fluidly to another with increasing levels of responsibility. She has two degrees, has done volunteer work in her field, has sought successful mentors and top-notch references, and has plenty of credentialed post education awards and certificates.
In short, she did everything right and is enjoying the fruits of her efforts.
I have found success, too, but I have done everything wrong. Reading my resume is like watching a Quentin Tarantino movie. It seems haphazard, the timeline is broken, and nothing makes sense until the end.
Both paths are fine and if you are driven, both paths will take you where you want to go despite the warnings of conventional wisdom. Nicole’s path is more reliable. It is the more intelligent way to go, in my opinion, but it was not for me.
I dropped out of college. I left high paying positions for lower paying ones to follow passion. I went into business for myself (and failed, twice). I tried to be an artist. I tried to be a customs broker. I tried to be a professional movie critic and an IT Security Administrator. I have been a public speaker, a sales manager, a pizza delivery driver, a telemarketer, a small business consultant, and (a LOT) more. I have been fired, demoted, and denied positions. I have gaps in my employment history, I have been in trouble with the law, and I have burned bridges with former employers.
The fact is, I have succeeded in spite of my best efforts, not because of them. The success I have found has mostly come from the wisdom of many, many failures.
Nonetheless, I would not begrudge anyone for doing things the hard way, like me. In fact, I would argue the wisdom I gained from being young and stupid has become invaluable to me as I mature into mid-life.
So, how do you succeed despite what seems like your best efforts to undermine your success?
Here is what I did…
To become an author, I did not pursue a degree in writing. I started a blog and read books about writing… and then I wrote. Terribly at first, but I kept going until I became better.
To become a leader, I did not go to school to learn about leadership or organizational development. Instead, I had bosses who recommended great books. Then I learned from both the books and the bosses until I gained enough knowledge and wisdom to try my own ideas. Then I applied myself. Terribly at first, but I kept going until I became better. I continue to read, learn, apply, and create.
To become someone with vision and a penchant for thinking outside of convention, I did not get a degree in Sociology or Information Technology. Instead, I read a lot of books by people who proposed ideas that seemed absurd to me (until I read them) and then I challenged everything I thought was true. I still do this and I am still amazed at how different the world is today from what I thought it was yesterday, every day.
I do not have a “natural talent” for anything. I was not born with a special gift. I do not have quick-response muscles like some people. I was never the smartest kid in class (until I left school). I don’t fight crime because my parents were murdered–I don’t have any special drive to be famous, or rich, or altruistic. The only thing that might make me exceptional is maybe being good at being persistent and resilient.
You can take whatever path to success you want, but if you want to succeed despite your best efforts to undermine a traditional path to success, then you have to be willing to do three things:
Get up every morning. Do what you did yesterday a little better today. Keep going.
Maybe, one more thing… don’t get so caught up following the trail that you forget to stray away from it once in a while. There is a lot of cool stuff off the beaten path.