You may have heard — probably many times — that you should have a clear vision of where you're headed in life and a solid plan for how to get there, and then you should go for it.
It sounds simple enough, but what if you don’t know where you want to go or are unsure about the direction? I didn’t have more than a glimmer of where I wanted to go until I was at least 40. What do you do if you find yourself in this situation?
Some people know what they want to do early in life — or at least much earlier than I did — and that is a blessing. I know I wondered about the “right” direction, but I clearly didn’t know the destination or have it firmly in my mind.
I knew — maybe instinctively — that I needed to have the right mindset about work before I could settle on a plan. I had a set of beliefs that I felt would get me “someplace” when I was ready for a plan.
These beliefs were simple requirements, and if you’re in the same place as I was, these may be helpful for you, too.
1. Work Hard
The one thing I knew early was that I needed to apply myself in every job I had along the way. Make it a habit.
I knew I needed to work hard and excel at every opportunity. It’s funny now, but what I saw early on was a good reminder for me.
In one of the first big companies I worked for I observed that many people had what I named as an “LBK.” That’s my shorthand for a “Look Busy Kit.”
Some workers put their old work papers, and even ashtrays with old cigarette butts in their desk drawer when they went home at night and then took all that stuff out in the morning (yes, people could smoke at their desks in the 1960s!) so it looked like they were really busy and maybe even gave the impression they had worked all night.
This made an impression on me. I knew I needed to set a better example than that. It reinforced the goal to work hard and do the best job I could every day.
I have found that there really is no substitute for hard work. You can make the job easier by thinking smart, but the job still requires hard work.
2. Add Value
My goal has always been to add value — doing something above and beyond what was expected — every day. As with hard work, make adding value every day a discipline and a habit.
It isn’t that hard to find something that needs to be done. You may or may not be recognized for going the extra mile, but you will know you did, and that will be a difference-maker over time.
As a young MBA graduate, I got interested in research done on manufacturing costs using different kinds of metals. Through analysis of this industry data, I became the company’s expert which led to greater responsibility.
You never know where adding value will take you.
3. Bring Solutions
So many employees bring problems or issues to their supervisors. What you should be doing is bringing answers and possible solutions.
It doesn’t matter if your ideas are accepted, you will grow by exploring and thinking about the different options. You will learn more about the issues and prepare yourself for greater responsibility.
Become known as the guy or gal that has ideas to make things better.
4. Take Responsibility
Not enough people take responsibility for getting the job done well. Avoid excuses. Know how you will be measured and exceed them when you can.
This is the number one mistake I see many managers make. They aren’t clear about what is expected and by when, and then they don’t follow up to see that it was completed, as expected and promised.
Make the commitment to get things done on time, as expected, every time. Soon it will become habit-forming, too!
5. Keep Learning
Be a lifelong learner. I have never forgotten the Success conferences that I attended in the ‘70s. A famous speaker at that time was Zig Ziglar, plus many others, who challenged us to keep learning, keep improving.
I have found that simple request immeasurably useful — and fun. It has led me to keep expanding my knowledge about the job, learning ways to lead and manage better, opportunities to improve, and more.
6. Do What’s Right
Probably above all, it’s important to do the right thing, even when it’s hard or costs you something.
And by all means, never take shortcuts that may cost others. You know what the right thing to do is — so don’t let yourself forget it.
Try it for Yourself
I know it seems simple, but working hard, adding value, bringing solutions, taking responsibility, continuous learning, and always doing what’s right made all the difference for me.
It allowed me to gain the skills, experience and direction I needed to develop a plan and vision for my life. And it can work for you, too. Try it today.