You’ve read all the books and articles there are that detail the simple formulaic recipe for success.
• The 10 critical ingredients to successful networking;
• The 12 strategies for growth;
• The 5 steps for dealing with difficult people; or
• The 22 ways to create a professional brand.
There is no shortage of the formulas for success.
Often the authors use themselves (or their famous friends) to illustrate the story of how to do it right. Clearly one path to success is to know famous people and retell their conversations and experiences. It appears as if all the successful people inspire each other. It makes one wonder how anyone fails to become as successful as the authors themselves do. Clearly the path to success is formulaic.
It sounds exactly like Mrs. Miller, my eighth grade Home Economics teacher. Mrs. Miller was not famous. In fact, I don’t remember her as being that well-liked by her students. She ruled the Home Economics room with an iron will and clear knowledge of what it would take for us to become successful when we grew up and had our own kitchens. Mrs. Miller said anyone could cook. “If you can read a recipe, you can create a meal,” she’d chant. I wanted however, to create exciting meals that had my guests begging for more. I followed the written word but the chicken soup from the book tasted a bit bland and rather flat. It didn’t taste anything like my Mother’s chicken soup which had a hint of something I couldn’t identify, though it made me feel loved and cared for and better whenever I had it.
Success is a mixture of talent, and luck, skill and chemistry. It is often capricious, and not a result of well thought out strategic choices. My first formal speaking engagement was an invitation to a local Rotary Club by the President of that chapter who happened to be a colleague. I’m not really sure if he thought I would be good or was in a jam and needed to find someone fast. Had I said no, things might have turned out differently. I can count to literally hundreds of those sorts of opportunities in my career. Bad and good choices made. Obtaining an education from mistakes and failures. Learning, often expensively, through experiences that taught me to trust my gut, ask certain questions, and pick up on signals and risk in order to create rewarding opportunities.
The fallacy is the formulas and sound bite strategies. I know we want to have clear, concise steps that indicate how to emulate someone else’s success. My untested (but based on lots of observation) theory is that if the authors were interviewed and asked if the path they recommend is the path they took, most would admit that their own route to success was NOT as linear.
So here is my “Unformula” for success. It actually is intended to serve as directions when reading anyone else’s recipe for accomplishment.
• Risk brings rewards – The goal should simply be to win more than you lose. Try things that are a stretch for you personally and professionally. Do your homework to insure your success. Talk to others who have been successful and find out what they think helped them, and what they wish they had known before they tried something new. When it comes to cooking up a career, trying some spices and different ingredients can make a tasty dish.
• Don’t assume you (or anyone you know) can predict the future – This is also known as “You can’t know everything.” Even the best plans can be sabotaged. Questions you didn’t know to ask or personalities you didn’t recognize as odd can sabotage your efforts. Sometimes things simply don’t work out well. Plan for success — and plan for non-success. Don’t be caught with nothing to serve for your meal if your souffle falls or your custard doesn’t jell.
• Not everything makes sense – Those of us who are guided by the intuitive sense trust our visceral reactions. Those of us who are guided by rational thought trust the linear logic. Sometimes you go down a path — simply to see where it goes. Just because you can’t be guaranteed a specific outcome, doesn’t mean it isn’t a desirable one. Ever whip up eggs? Someone somewhere thought clear slime with a bit of sugar and Cream of Tartar would be fluffy white meringue.
• Try to be flexible – Having a set fee or a salary goal works until you find a really desirable opportunity that doesn’t fit the parameters. Talk about how things can work — rather than pointing out why they can’t. Alternatives allow you to take advantage of opportunities that you were not prepared for before they came your way. Some recipes suggest substituting applesauce to create a low-fat version. Have you tried it?
• Think about your minimums – What is your bottom line? What is the least you can live with? The most you can take on? The furthest you will drive? A good understanding of your limits help you avoid that “What have I just gotten myself into” feeling. Sometimes you learn these after the fact. In that case — make sure you remember! My experience has shown me that the layers in my layer cakes are uneven and often slide off one another. I don’t offer to bake a cake when I’m invited to bring the dessert.
I know that the model of 4 steps, 10 strategies, 7 keys, 13 critical questions and 3 rules for success will continue to grab the reader’s eye. We are all looking for the magic pixie dust that provides the short cut to accomplishment: those words of wisdom that will allow us to create success for ourselves easily and simply. The illusion is that someone else is doing ‘it’ the right way! Everyone creates his or her own unique recipe. Take the ingredients that you think will work for you, and create your own master work. It will be a signature ‘dish’ that is yours alone.