Were you voted “most likely to succeed” back in high school?  

That moniker had mixed implications.  A recent survey reported in The Wall Street Journal showed that about one third of the respondents described the award as a “burden,” creating pressure to live up to expectations.  I suppose that could create some uncomfortable moments at the high school reunion.

But about 40 percent who received that designation found themselves more motivated to live up to the title.  They are probably the folks you call “the boss.”

And then there are the rest of us.  We didn’t necessarily have more brains, more talent, more money or more opportunities.  But we knew what we wanted and we had the desire to get there.

Success comes in many forms and means different things to different people.  In the working world, it is often defined as landing the perfect job, achieving a targeted income level, occupying a corner office, or owning a business.

However you measure it, success is sweet.  And it doesn’t happen overnight.

Bumps in the road – and there will be plenty of bumps – can derail a successful career and lead down a path of negativity.  Discouragement, disappointments, even occasional failures are not the end of the road.  Reroute your thinking.  Zero in on your achievements.  Take a success inventory.  Focus on these five categories:

  1. Education.  List the classes you have completed, the degrees you have earned, professional certifications and specialized training.
  2. Professional positions. Include every major job you’ve ever had, and identify the responsibilities and authority you held.  Don’t forget those entry level positions that probably taught you lessons you will never forget.
  3. Projects.  Start with the job-related projects that have been successful because of your contributions.  Then move on to volunteer projects that worked with your involvement.  You should also make note of community events, church activities and hobbies that you are proud of.
  4. Accomplishments.  This category is for career achievements such as awards, promotions, significant praise from supervisors, letters of commendation, or recognition that represents your importance to your organization, community, family or self.
  5. Potential.  What are you prepared to do with all that successful experience?  Is throwing in the towel an option anymore?

Now make your list work for you.  You did it before and you can certainly do it again.  Instead of being overwhelmed by failure, be inspired by success.

Rethink your strategy if necessary.  Surround yourself with positive people who can provide the encouragement that will help you realize what is possible.

Re-evaluate your goals.  Are they realistic, achievable, specific and measurable?  All those components are necessary if you want to measure your success.  How else will you know if you have succeeded?

Focus on improvement, not perfection.  You can always do more, achieve more, get more.  Track your progress so you can see how much closer you have come to reaching your goals and ultimate success.

Be proactive.  Create your own opportunities by working on what you can control instead of what’s beyond your reach.   Before you know it, more will be within your reach.

Don’t be afraid to fail.  Put your ideas out there and give them a chance to succeed.  Learn from your mistakes.  The annals of business history are full of stories of how splendid successes resulted from colossal failures.  Make history repeat itself!

A man walking down a narrow, twisting road spotted a guru sitting on the grass in meditation.  He approached the guru and asked, “Excuse me, master, is this the road to success?”

The old man nodded silently and pointed in the direction the traveler was headed.  The traveler thanked the guru and went on his way.

An hour later, the traveler returned, bleeding, exhausted and angry.

“Why did you tell me that was the road to success?” he asked the guru.  “I walked that way, and right away I fell into a ditch so deep it took me almost an hour to climb out.  Why did you tell me to go that way?  Was that some kind of joke?”

The guru stared at him.  After a long pause, he started to speak.  “That is the road to success.  It lies just beyond the ditch.”


Mackay’s Moral:  It’s never too late to be “Most likely to succeed.”

About the author Harvey Mackay

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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