The Secret to Success is Not in Self Help Books

I used to have a boss who was a real douche-canoe. I suppose most people think that about their bosses, but this guy was what would happen if Michael Scott from The Office and Leslie Nope from Parks and Recs bore a child.

At 45, he thought he was hip and cool and smooth with the ladies, but the reality was he was socially awkward and – for all intents and purposes – your typical dork.  Harmless though he were, the man was cringeworthy and embarrassing in a multitude of public situations, including presentations with clients or casual, happy hour get-togethers. Also, he turned every moment or situation he could into a “life lesson” of sorts.

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During one particular meeting, my boss was giving a pep talk of sorts regarding company morale, diligence, and success. It was in this meeting that he revealed that he had spent upward of $250,000 on self-help and self-growth training, seminars, and books – an astounding amount of money for a man who wore fedoras and blurted out sexual jokes at the worst times.

Here’s the thing: I would never fault someone for trying to better themselves, particularly when it comes to wanting to be more successful and good at their job.

But I’m fairly certain dumping your life savings into Tony Robbins workshop classes is NOT going to get you the desired income or affect you are looking for. Sure, you might feel inspired and uplifted for a few weeks, but in the long-term, seminars and webinars from successful people do not hold the magic key to success.

So, I’m going to let you in on a little tidbit as to what does, and I won’t even charge you for it. The key to doing well in life is to PAY ATTENTION.

Sure, qualities like tenacity, resilience, fortitude, and open-mindedness are great influencers when it comes to achieving success and happiness, but none of that matters if you aren’t really honed in on what’s going on around you.

When I first started what will now be the career I love and am really good at, I was hyperfocused on just getting the job done that I was hired to do. I didn’t care about what everyone else in the business was doing – what their jobs entailed, how their positions intertwined with everyone else’s, and how all those moving pieces contributed to the overall output of our company.

My overall attitude was, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” So, while I was good at the job I had been hired to do, I really had no firm grasp on the idiosyncrasies of how my company operated. And that attitude kept me in the low-paying position I started with for quite some time.

Then, one day, I just started paying attention. I’m really not sure what lit that fire under my ass, but I suddenly became interested in what other people’s roles were within the company. I started asking questions; started listening to them talk about their jobs, their hurdles, their clients, and their goals.

It could be as simple as over listening to a conversation two colleagues were having or asking how something worked. I started listening to podcasts on my way to work from people that were experts in my field and, yes, I even started being more open to my boss’s “words of wisdom” (cheesy though they were).

Once I started really paying attention, I noticed two things. I became exceptionally good at my own job and my value as an employer went up. Within a year, I was the head of two departments within the company and six months later I quit and started my own company in the same field.

Sure, it took hard work and an inherent drive to get to where I am (and just to be clear, I still have a long way to go). However, none of the success I’ve enjoyed over the last few years would have ever happened if I hadn’t had the wherewithal to just stop and pay attention. Have my finger on the pulse. Be aware of my surroundings.

And I’m pretty sure this is true, no matter what industry you currently are in. I don’t care if you mow lawns, answer phones, serve food, or spin around a brass pole for a living. I don’t care if you love, hate, or are ambivalent about your current career. If you just make the effort to really pay attention to your surroundings and the people you work with, I promise you will gain valuable knowledge – whether you end up staying in that field or moving onto something else.

If you allow yourself to be open to constant learning and absorbing information, it will prove beneficial – even if you don’t see it in the short-term.

You can read all the self-help books you want or go on as many retreats as you can afford, but if you don’t become a sponge for information in your present position, all of that other stuff becomes null and void.

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