Sseccus. That’s “SUCCESS” spelled backwards, the way most of us seem to approach it. Some people are naturally talented and seem to know instinctively just how not to succeed. Others practice Sseccus on a daily basis. But just in case you’re one of those rare and special individuals who hasn’t yet learned how to fail, here’s your “How Not to Succeed” guide.
- 1. Don’t prepare – Spontaneity is much more honest.
- 2. Play games at least 5 hours a day – They teach valuable life lessons.
- 3. Sleep is for the weak. And hamburgers and fries are a cost-effective diet.
- 4. Dazzle them with your brilliance.
- 5. Never put off until tomorrow something you can postpone to next month.
- 6. One size fits all. Customization is a waste of time.
- 7. Dot every “i”, cross every “t”. They’ll never really understand it otherwise.
- 8. It’s not your fault, so make sure they know who’s to blame.
Now these aren’t capital crimes. Every one of the above “strategies” can have some value, taken in moderation. But they’re a quick path to failure when overdone. Let’s see how you can turn a grand opportunity into another missed chance.
I recently had a job interview for a project and position about which I was really excited. I didn’t get the job. A few things went wrong, but I think #1 was lack of preparation. I knew the position was mainly about programming using C++, a language I hadn’t touched in about 5 years. And I had a week or two to prepare before flying out for the interview. So why didn’t I pick up a C++ book and review the syntax and features I hadn’t much used? Mostly because I didn’t think of doing so. But there’s no excuse for that.
When you are going into an interview or negotiation, starting a job, or going on to a new project, think about what you will need to do it well. Do a little research and legwork. Find out about the company and the people you’ll be meeting. Refresh yourself on the technical environment. Or you can just be spontaneous – also known as “unprepared”.
Obviously Lori and I like games. We play them, create them, and talk about them… a lot. Games have a lot of good things going for them – They teach you hand-eye coordination, problem-solving, storytelling, and often details about the game setting. MMO’s teach you how to get along and work towards a common goal with other people. Player-vs.-player games build your reflexes and give you a competitive edge. You can also learn discipline and patience.
The thing is, it doesn’t take 20, 30, 40 hours a week to learn these things. A good game can be just as fun – probably more – in a few hours of play as in an endless repetition. World of Warcraft “daily quests” are a great example of something that takes a lot of time out of your life without providing any outside-of-the-game value.
Twenty or thirty years ago, all the talk was about how our children’s minds were being turned into gelatin by endless hours of TV watching. These days, a lot of that TV has been replaced by game play. To some degree, there’s value in that – Studies have shown that senior citizens who play bridge are mentally sharper, more alert, and healthier than ones who don’t. But taken to an extreme, those are priceless hours of your life – or mine – that we will never get back. Eh, so what? Let’s play. We can get the work done some other time.
Sleep is for the Weak
I’m writing this at midnight, as usual. I probably have another hour to go on it and I’m getting up at 8:30. But that’s ok; 7 hours sleep is almost as good as 8. Six will probably do in a pinch, or 5. This really comes from a few things – procrastination, habits (a sleep schedule that doesn’t match up with reality), and failing to plan ahead. But the bottom line is, we make mistakes when we don’t sleep enough. We are less alert, more careless, and our concentration and hand-eye coordination are affected by tiredness.
Your health (and mine) matters. You need to eat a balanced diet, keep your weight within a reasonable range, get regular exercise, and so on. It’s easy to skimp on some or all of these when you’re busy, or have other things you want to be doing. And then it multiplies – When you don’t exercise, it gets more difficult and painful, so you find excuses to do even less. When you don’t sleep enough, you lose the benefit of good judgment that tells you that you need to go to bed.
You can develop bad or good habits equally easily. If you have the bad ones, you’re going to have to work three times as hard to break them. Better get started now; it isn’t going to get any easier.
As for those burgers and fries – Well, I lived on the McDonald’s QLT (Quarter Pounder with Lettuce and Tomato) and slices of pizza for a Summer. Somehow I survived the experience. They seem economical, but you won’t be doing your body any favors. Mix it up. Eat some vegetables. Keep your portions small – A few bites taste the same as a Mega Meal. You’ll feel better, weigh less, and have better energy and focus. Ration your sugar intake while you’re at it.
Dazzle them with your brilliance.
Listening is much overrated. You’re so wonderful, and it’s very important that you share that wonderfulness with your friends and coworkers. What would they do without your fascinating tales (also known as “endless, pointless stories”)? If someone else brings up a subject, it’s essential that you either share your anecdotes and wisdom about it or change the topic to a far more interesting one. If you’re bored – and you will be if you have to listen to someone else pontificate – clearly everyone else will be just as bored. It’s your job to entertain them.
You won’t learn anything new this way, but that’s ok. I’m sure you already know everything important already. And everyone else surely wants to hear it from you. Repetition is an effective way of reinforcing knowledge, so surely it must be a good thing for you to tell the same anecdotes to the same people over and over.
Of course, there’s the tiny little danger that the other person wants her say just as much as you do. Or that she might get just a tiny bit annoyed at your telling her something she already knows. Or – perish the thought! – that slightest little possibility that maybe the person on the other side of the table actually knows something relevant and important. Naw, we know from watching actors and sports stars that everyone is automatically an expert on everything.
Never put off Something you can Postpone
Scientific American had a great article last December called, Procrastinating Again? How to Kick the Habit. They said that “everyone procrastinates occasionally, but 15-20% of adults routinely put off activities that would be better accomplished right away.” I’m one of those; perhaps you are too.
There are a lot of reasons why we delay doing things. Some of them are completely reasonable – We need more information, or we currently have higher priorities. Others are silly… to everyone except the person who is delaying. Maybe if you don’t pay that bill, it will go away. Maybe someone else will do your work for you. Maybe a creative muse will descend upon you and make your work much more brilliant if you just give it time.
Procrastination is often caused by anxiety, the fear you will do a poor job. The problem is, that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The longer you put off a task, the less time you will have for it, the more stressed you will have become about it, and the greater the chance you will botch it. If you really don’t think you’re prepared to do something well, don’t give in to the fear; fix the reasons for it. That might involve doing additional research, getting assistance from an expert, or breaking the task down into more manageable sub-tasks. But don’t simply avoid the problem. Schedule a time when you will do it, and plan what you have to do first so that you can do the task well.
If you just can’t decide on what to do, stop for a minute and think about it. Write down your choices; otherwise it’s easy to get your thoughts in a loop where you can’t settle on one thing. Look down the list and consider the pro’s and con’s of each possible decision – It might help to write them down as well. Then pick one. If there’s no obvious answer, flip a coin or roll some dice. If the choices are that close, it probably doesn’t really matter which one you pick. In any case, once you’ve made the decision, stop worrying about it. The choice is made; go with it!
One Size Fits All
This has to do with any situation where you’re selling something. Applying for a job or asking for a raise is “selling yourself”. Anyway, we’re used to mass production. Everyone watches the same shows, listens to the same songs, and drives cars that look pretty much alike. We’re told it’s more efficient to make everything the same.
If you want to be just as successful as everyone else, you can be the same too. I mentioned last week how Susan Boyle managed to make herself stand out from 50,000 competitors and millions of people who didn’t even try to compete. Sameness is a losing proposition.
I’ve applied to a lot of jobs in the past for which I didn’t even get a response. Some of them seemed like ones tailor made for my background and skills, but I couldn’t get a foot in the door. For the recent interview, I did things a little differently. Knowing quite a bit about the company and its philosophy (from doing Internet research), I customized my resume and application letter specifically for them. I didn’t tell any lies, but I emphasized skills that they would consider important and cut out some details that wouldn’t interest them. Instead of trying to dazzle them with my amazing “jack of all trades” career, I focused on how I would benefit their company.
I got a response and I got an interview. My letter and resume stood out from the thousands they receive because it told them what they needed to know and showed them that I cared about the company and that job.
This is really all about listening. If someone comes to you and says, “I need X,” you aren’t going to accomplish much by saying, “No, you don’t. You need Y.” Especially if your main reason is that you happen to have extra Y and not much X. Sure, you can discuss whether X is really right for them, but you’ll be fighting an uphill battle. You’ll do a lot better by either finding someone who wants and needs Y, or by doing the work it takes to find a way to offer X. Look, listen, and adapt.
Dot Every “I”, Cross Every “T”
“When all is said, nothing’s done.”
Maybe this is just a variation on dazzling and failing to listen. But certain of us have a habit of trying to say too much. I once marketed a health food supplement. I had a neighbor totally sold on it, but I hadn’t finished my pitch. So I kept going as I watched his eyes glaze over. I made the sale, but would have done a lot better to stop at “enough”.
Maybe, just maybe, the person you’re talking to isn’t totally stupid. They may already know a lot of what you’re trying to tell them. Or they might not, but when they get to the point where they need to know more, maybe they’ll come back to you and ask specific questions on the parts they actually care about.
I have lots of pompous friends and relatives who like to explain every detail. I’m often one of them. But most of us aren’t full-time teachers. Even when we are, students learn a lot better if they ask the questions. Say enough, and no more.
Another form of this is “losing the forest for the trees.” If you spend too much time on details, you may lose sight of your goal. On programming projects, you’re often better off using an off-the-shelf library function – even if it isn’t exactly what you want – rather than writing your own function for a common task. That way you can concentrate on the parts that really matter.
Know Who to Blame
Ever failed at anything? Ever had a project canceled? It probably wasn’t your fault. I’m sure you did everything possible to make it succeed, but those idiots around you blew it. It’s very important you share that information. If you’re applying for a job, be sure to tell the manager how stupid your previous manager was. Surely they won’t think you’ll be saying the same things about them to your next prospective employer.
You may have been through some pretty awful situations, but if you really stop and look back at them, most of them really aren’t such a big deal. People make mistakes; that doesn’t make them stupid, incompetent or evil. You’ve probably made a few yourself. Telling other people about all the dumb things others have done just makes you look vindictive. Enough such examples, and pretty soon they’ll wonder whether there are really that many stupid people in the world, or if it isn’t just simpler to assume you’ve been the cause of all those failures.
I might have the opposite problem. One time when I applied for unemployment payments, I said that I had been laid off because I hadn’t handled the work well. The interviewer said that in his 20 years of working for the unemployment office, I was the first person to admit that I might have lost my job because of my own fault rather than someone else’s. Most people don’t like to admit to themselves, let alone to others, that they could be responsible for their own problems.
But you know what? It’s a lot easier to look in the mirror, say, “I blew that one,” and move on. Be honest with yourself, figure out what you did wrong, and take action to avoid making the same mistakes again and again. Even if other people did screw up, so what? Think about what you can do in the future to help the project succeed even when people make mistakes. I can guarantee this – Mistakes have been made on every significant task ever done. A lot of those tasks succeeded anyway, and those were the ones on which enough smart things were done to override the mistakes.
Learn from your mistakes, but don’t let them control your life. Just work on the things you need to do so that you will make different – and hopefully smaller – mistakes the next time.
Going from SSECCUS to SUCCESS
There are other ways to fail, but success really comes down to just three things: Prepare, Communicate, and Perform. And the biggest part of communication is listening. If you find yourself having trouble accomplishing the things you want to get done, there are reasons. You may be afraid that, if you do too well, others will expect too much of you. You might not be doing the work and preparation needed to succeed. Or maybe you just aren’t listening.
But you know what? Success is fun. It’s exciting and fulfilling. And the more of it you have, the more you take on and accomplish, the better it gets. And that means that high expectations are really just exciting opportunities. That’s something worth striving for… and did I mention fun?