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Career Success

Three Keys to Career Success
- Insights From Steve Jobs -

Success in your career is less about your plan,
and more about finding your own voice.

Steve Jobs, founder and former CEO of Apple, was one of the most influential men in the recent history of the world. His innovations at Apple, as well as Pixar, are well documented. His impact was enormous. He changed the world, and left it better than he found it. If you’re a follower of this blog, you know I am a big believer in leaving it better than you found it.

Our tendency is to want to believe Steve Jobs had a particularly blessed life. He didn’t. We want to think he had some random lucky circumstance that gave him an edge early on in business. He didn’t. We want to believe he was overly charming and personable. He could be quite the opposite by all reports.

So how did he achieve this significant success over his lifetime? Steve Jobs was clearly a highly intelligent and visionary businessman. That said, there are a lot of highly intelligent and visionary businessmen who don’t find success. Steve gave a commencement speech at Stanford in 2005. In it, he shared his keys to career success. You don’t have to want to change the world to benefit from applying these principles in your own life. 

What are Steve Job’s three keys to career success?

Three Keys To Career Success 

Steve Jobs had a sweeping career that changed the lives of millions of people worldwide. Not all of us are destined to follow that course. We all have the ability, though, to cultivate our own personal best success in our chosen careers. Here’s how.

1. Trust Your Instincts Without Fail. 

If you’re like most people, you probably want all the answers when it comes to your career. Ambiguity tends to make us uncomfortable. What should I be doing? How should I proceed? When should I make a change? Who should I rely on? Why won’t everyone cooperate with my plan?

The truth is, you don’t really need answers. What you need are your instincts and a willingness to trust them unfailingly. Your instincts serve as your guide, telling you when to lean in to something and when to lean away. Your body gives you physical cues and your mind tells you when you’re "warmer" or "colder" relative to the best choice for you. This is true as you contemplate relationships, decisions (large and small), life choices, and career opportunities. You simply have to quiet the noise around you long enough to listen to, and trust, your instincts. And you need to have faith that your instincts will serve you well. 

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”  Steve Jobs, 2005

2. Do Great Work That You Love. 

You probably think that you need to lock on a career plan to be successful. You may have been told to map all the steps to reach your goals. There’s certainly nothing wrong with creating a plan and pursuing career opportunities that serve your long-term goals.

Sometimes, though, a broader plan can keep you from finding success and satisfaction in the moment. What matters most, is doing great work that you love. It sounds almost too simple, but it’s foundational to achieving your goals in most cases. Sometimes the simplest of concepts is profound.

You’ve heard people joke that once you commit to a plan, everything seems to work against it. Life will throw you some curve balls, or even sometimes hit you in the head with a brick. You’ll have to adapt many times over the course of your career. This is where a career plan can be tricky. It helps to map a course based on one guiding principle: Doing great work that you love. The rest gets figured out over time. Particularly if you pay attention to #1 above, and trust your instincts as you go.

“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith… Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”  Steve Jobs, 2005.
This principle isn’t about purpose or passion in the traditional sense. It’s about making a commitment to yourself, that you’ll enjoy your work. It’s the only way to truly do your best work. Don’t settle for less. Chase your purpose or passion if you have one, by all means. If you don’t, though, just commit to do great work that you genuinely enjoy. Your purpose or passion may just find you. 

3. Be Brave Enough To Forge Your Own Path. 

We’ve all been encouraged at various points in our lives to fit in. From the time we’re young, we’re aware that there is a broader set of expectations that we’re “supposed to” align with. Follow the rules, get in line, do as you’re told, stop trying to stand out. Certainly some of the guidelines that establish decent and reasonable behavior serve us well. The inclination to normalize us, does not. I'm sure the intention is to make groups of children easier to manage at school and at play, but it creates limiting beliefs for so many adults down the road. Why isn't it okay to color outside the lines?

One of the best ways to find success in your career is to honor yourself by following your own path. It’s not always easy to step away from the expectations others have of you. Choosing to do great work that you love doesn’t always line up to what other people think makes sense for you. You should consider doing it anyway.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.” Steve Jobs, 2005

Bottom Line 

Over the course of our lives, we get endless advice from friends, family and colleagues about how to find success in our careers. Most of that advice is well intentioned and based on what other people think is best for us. There’s certainly nothing wrong with getting advice. The key is to balance that advice with what we know to be true for ourselves.

Steve Job’s advice, based on his own success, is about finding your own voice. Listen to and trust your instincts. Pursue a career that you love, so you can do great work. Be brave enough to follow your own path and step away from limiting beliefs others may have for your future. It’s not an easy path to make your own rules, but it does open up tremendous opportunity for you to find success in a way that feels right for you. 

Author’s Note:  Here's why I wanted to share Steve's wisdom with you today. When I chose to leave an executive position with a Fortune 14 company, people thought I was crazy. The economy was down. People were looking for jobs, and they were hard to find. I didn’t have a solid plan for what I’d do next. I just knew it was time to make a change. Many of the responses I got were, "How can you just leave this job?" or “Well, what are you going to DO?” It was almost as if I was passing some kind of judgment on anyone who chose not to pursue a new path, which of course wasn't the case. I was surprised by these reactions... until I read Steve's speech. I suddenly realized that my choice didn't make sense to others. I was breaking the rules. I also realized that it didn't have to make sense to anyone but me.

My decision to leave felt indulgent. It felt irresponsible. It felt contrary to every decision I’d made over a twenty-five year career. And… it felt absolutely perfect. I'm following my instincts. I’m doing great work that I love. And I’m forging my own path. Success is already mine, no matter what comes next. 
"And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary." Steve Jobs, 2005
My wish for you? That you become what you "already know" you truly want to become.

More soon,


PS:  If this information was helpful to you, it may be helpful to your friends and colleagues too.  You can pass it along by clicking one of the buttons below to email, tweet, or post this article.

If you haven't already, I encourage you to read the entire commencement speech Steve Jobs gave at Stanford in 2005 by clicking here. 

Steve Job's 2005 Commencement Speech at Stanford