Want success? Then give up these 20 things

Rather than skilling up, we suggest toning down for success.
Want success? Then give up these 20 things

Image CC; shutterstock.com

Conventional thought is that in order to successfully promote your career you need to boost your education, your skills and your network. 'Take it on and you will conquer,' is the mantra.

But it might be the opposite that puts you on a more rewarding path. Contemporary thinking has pitched the idea that if we give up certain things, it leaves greater space to grow and de-clutter our ambitions.

Let up on yourself a little and you just might shine.


1. No more excuses

He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else – Benjamin Franklin.

Apart from Franklin’s gender faux pas, all successful people know that they must be responsible for their own lives.

Every single person can find an excuse of some shape or form for not taking something on, be it bad timing, finances, workload, past failures, or simply a lack of confidence. It is those who rise above such excuses who will succeed.

If you want it, you are the one who has to go grab it, so stop passing the blame.


Don't lose your unique creativity by comparing yourself to other people. Image: www.facebook.com/berlinartparasites

2. Stop comparing yourself

Comparison is the death of joy – Mark Twain.

Congratulate, don’t compare or fall into the spin of an existential crisis. You need to shut out the idea of “keeping up” with your peers. As writer Brodie Lancaster shared in a recent talk at Creative Mornings, there are always more jelly beans in the jar.

‘Just because someone has experienced success in a similar field, or has started a project that’s similar to an idea you had, doesn’t mean that you can’t go after what you want. There’s enough sweet success to go around,’ Lancaster said.

Similarly, poet, playwright, and performer Sean M Whelan agreed that while comparison is a common trait in the arts it is not always healthy. ‘Anybody who says they haven't [compared themselves to others] is an enlightened ego-less monk or a dirty liar or both. Morrissey (of The Smiths) said it best when he sang, “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful”. And it's so damn true.’

Read: How to stop comparing and enjoy your own success

3. Drop the short-term thinking

As Mae West has been widely quoted: You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough

Spontaneity is great. But spontaneity is not so great when you are planning a career. The key word there is “planning”.

There is a difference between getting fit for summer and getting fit for a healthier you.  Short-term goals are one thing: short-term mindset is another. Success is a lifelong achievement and it is an incremental journey that needs to be considered holistically.

Don’t get blinded by quick gains.

4. Give up being a perfectionist

I'm a perfectionist, and I always think that I can do better what I have done, even if it's good – Luciano Pavarotti.

Nothing wrong with Pavarotti’s career, but as he suggests, sometimes perfectionism can blind you into a stagnant position, so caught up in the minutia that we are no longer capable of recognising what is good.

Nothing will ever be perfect. It is an illusion. So recognise a standard that is professionally acceptable for success and keep moving forward.


5. Stop saying yes

You have to fight to reach your dream. You have to sacrifice and work hard for it – Lionel Messi.

So don’t give it away.

While the complement of being asked to do something – give something – bolsters the ego and career visibility, the question is, does it really?

Successful people do not give their professional services away for free. In the arts, "helping out" is especially prevalent. Stop saying yes. You are not a charity or a non-profit organisation. You are a professional running a small business.

Read: How to say no when asked to work for free

6. Stop multi-tasking

Everybody has the same amount of hours per day. Quite simply, you can’t be and do everything. Being fully present and committed to one task – you achieve more with focus.

'Successful people know this. That’s why they choose one thing and then beat it into submission. No matter what it is – a business idea, a conversation, or a workout,' says writer Zdravko Cvijetic.

7. Give up the wrong crowd

It’s better to be alone than in bad company – George Washington.

There is a saying that the people we spend the most time describe who we are. Choose those people well.

There are people in our personal and professional lives who are motivated, generous and accomplished. And like laughter, those qualities can be infectious.

So ditch the toxic crowd who are always negative and finding fault. They will only hold you back and lower your morale.

Image CC; pixabay.com

8. Give up the need to be liked

We live in a society obsessed with public opinion. But leadership has never been about popularity – American politician Marco Rubio

Social media has turned us into a like-obsessed society. While that plays a role in public profile and success, it should not shape that persona. Stay true to who you are. Being genuine and authentic is the hottest route to success in our times.

Keep “the like” and social media in perspective – schedule it; don’t let it rule your life.

9. Stop being a weather vane

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence – American First Lady, Abigail Adams.

Are you one who believes in “fate”? A career is not a role of a die. Stop playing the random game. To attain success you need to take control; you need to set goals and find your direction.

Floundering can often be the easier route, just going with the flow – in sync with the weather vane – but if you even have the most fleeting hint of success then you need to step into the wind head on.

10. Stop playing the slots

Opportunities are like sunrises. If you wait too long, you miss them – writer William Arthur Ward.

Why play the slots when you can join the high rollers? Dream big; play big. Playing small will not take you anywhere. There might be small wins, but if you never try and take the great opportunities or allow your dreams to become realities, you will never unleash your true potential.

So voice your ideas, don’t be afraid to fail, and certainly don’t be afraid to succeed.

Image CC; shutterstock

11. Chill on being a control freak

Some things are up to us, and some things are not up to us – Epictetus, Stoic philosopher

Writer Zdravko Cvijetic. says that 'differentiating these two is important.

'Detach from the things you cannot control, focus on the ones you can, and know that sometimes, the only thing you will be able to control is your attitude towards something,' he continued.

12. Stop being a “Debbie Downer”

I think I can, I think I can – The Little Engine That Could.

The only way you will succeed is if you believe that you will. Doubting is a downer. Pump the brakes and put a stop to self-doubt. Sure there are moments where you feel you can’t do it, but you have moved beyond them. Remind yourself your abilities are only limited by your mind.

While the self-downer is usually hidden behind doors, the public Debbie Downer can be toxic in the workplace. This is the person who constantly dishes out the bad news and fuels negativity around the water cooler. Walk away. Small-mindedness is not path to success and career wellbeing.

13. Kick off the cement shoes

The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways ― Robert Greene, Mastery

Career choices can be paralysing, especially in the arts when you know the field is brimming with talent and the jobs are few. It is easier to stay where you are and build respect, and hope that (one day) you might get a pay rise.

If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, then the words of Stannis Baratheon have wisdom greater than many. In starting a battle in the snow he responded: ‘We march to victory or we march to defeat, but we go forward, only forward.’

Sometimes things get challenging on your career path, especially if you take the not so common path. You have to commit yourself, not be complacent – be brave – and believe in the direction forward.

When you fuel your big vision with perseverance and the spirit of “only forward,” you eventually meet your success.

14. Stop being a ‘baby with a gun’

Use your knowledge wisely. Focus on your assets – think of what you do and how it sits within the bigger picture. Don’t just march forward brazenly and blindly. Take off the blinkers.

Artist Christian Thompson said: ‘You have to have an idea of where your work sits within an artistic lineage and, if you don’t, then you are just making work inside a vacuum. It is like a baby with a gun – you don’t know where you’re pointing; it's just firing randomly.’

Read: Managing success: don't be a 'baby with a gun'

15. Stop believing in silver linings

Things that look like an 'overnight success' typically are not – Jason Calacanis.

Overnight success is a myth. Successful people know that making small continual improvements every day will be compounded over time, and give them desirable results.

That is why you should plan for the future, but focus on the day that’s ahead of you, and improve just 1% every day.

Drop the myth; Drop the manic drive, and rather find your silver lining through the long slog.

Image CC; shutterstock.com

16. Stop being impatient

Rome wasn’t built in a day – John Heywood.

And success wasn’t either. You have to work at it. You have to plan for it. And you have to be flexible to accept it.

But don’t get impatient if it doesn’t happen in “your” timeframe. Time is a funny beast. You sometime have to wait to reap the rewards.  

17. Stop reinventing the wheel

Don't reinvent the wheel, just realign it – Anthony J. D'Angelo.

The chances are that someone has thought of it first. If you need help with a business model, a technology breakthrough, a studio technique or an efficiency measure then do your research. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel.

Time is the most pressure resource today. Spend it wisely.

18. Stop trying to be all things

You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus – Mark Twain.

If you’re already innately good at something, or have a skillset, embrace it. Don’t try to be all things for all aspects of your business. Hire out or sign contracts with agencies for the things you can’t do, and focus on your strengths as quickly and often as possible. Don’t be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none.

19. Stop the burn out

You can only hold your stomach in for so many years –  Burt Reynolds.

One of the perils of the road to success is the extra hours you put in to get ahead. If you are burnt out you are not at your best; your ideas and creativity suffer. While this sounds like stale advice, a balanced life is the most important key to success, and yet it is the one we all brush off … to later when we are successful.

Image CC pexels.com

20. Stop being so serious

The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter – Mark Twain.

If you can’t laugh at yourself – and your mistakes – then give up now.

Laughter is an elixir for a stressful situation, and will diffuse heated drama to a more human reality.

Laughter is also infectious and will bolster the wellbeing of the work environment; it's also a great ice-breaker with new colleagues.

But remember like a curry you don’t want too much chilli; while humour opens doors you don’t want to be ushered out as the clown.

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Gina Fairley

Monday 8 May, 2017

About the author

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW.

Twitter: @ginafairley
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