My life as an educator included almost two decades at the head of a university. As university president, I enjoyed talking with others, especially students, about their dreams and life goals. At some point during the conversation, I would work in the need to plan for success. Success does not just magically happen.
I believe my successes during a 45 year career in education were due, in large part, because I continually set goals for myself and for the campus. Realistic goals provide vision and direction for an institution, as well as for the individuals within that institution. However, vision without action is merely a dream, while action without vision has no direction. The two must go hand-in-hand.
Throughout my years as an educator, I practiced ten very intentional steps that helped me be successful. I believe these steps are equally helpful for others. There is also one “bonus” step that can help you like a walking stick along your path toward those personal objectives.
1. Establish Goals
Create incremental, successional goals, from one year to five years to twenty to life. Make the goals realistic. They should not be impossible to reach, yet not too easy. Make them through, complex, layered. Set a timeline and challenge yourself.
2. See the Vision
Minimize seductive distracters and stay focused on what you want to achieve. Keep priorities straight.
3. Work Harder Than Anyone Else
Others will be bigger, stronger, and smarter, but you can be the one who works the hardest, employing all of your traits and tactics in strategic progression. How hard you work is under your control. Success is a reward for hard work.
4. Remain Persistent
You will have setbacks, and you will experience failure. Do not get discouraged. Successful major league baseball players need to hit only .300 to get the big money contracts. That means they fail seven out of ten times.
5. Be a Positive Example
Remember not merely to set the example—be the example. Live the example in everything you do. Others are watching and learning from how you conduct yourself.
6. Tell the Truth
Integrity, including honesty, is essential to your success in college and in life. It matters and people notice and remember. How often do you wish that people would be honest with you? Be authentic. Be honest, and truthful, there’s a difference.
7. Take the High Road
The low road is usually too congested anyway. Travel the road that poet Robert Frost describes as, “...the one less traveled by.” That road is the high road. That road is steeper, more fraught with risk, and far more rewarding at the end.
8. Stay Humble
Take what you do seriously, but do not take yourself too seriously. Laugh at yourself when you have obviously messed up. Readily admit you mistakes. You might as well join the others who are already snickering. Position your teammates or colleagues ahead of yourself in discussions. Don’t be a conversation hog, be the fuel.
9. Trust the Human Spirit
People are basically good. Do not allow anyone to convince you otherwise. There is not enough trust or kindness in the world today. Trust others and be kind. Gravitate toward others who radiate energy and positivity.
10. Keep Connected with Those Who Encourage Your Aspirations
Stay away from discouragers who want to diminish your aspirations. Stick with people who identify with your dreams and want you to succeed. Success is contagious, but negativity is equally easy to catch and difficult to cure.
The Bonus! 11. Select the Right Life Partner
Shared happiness is life-sustaining happiness.
During my career, I kept grounded by a quote that eventually became my mantra. Even in retirement, it continues to serve me well. This is the sage advice of Lord Chesterfield passed along to his son in the 18th century and resonates as strongly today as it did then. It could be part of your life’s goal and applied during each step. “Never seem more learned than the people you are with. Wear your learning like a pocket watch and keep it hidden. Do not take it out to count the hours, but give the time when you are asked.” Make a point to employ this technique in your next conversation, and the next, until it eventually becomes a part of your psyche. It will bolster your strength as a leader as you trek along that challenging, but rewarding path.