A few thoughts on success.

Hey all, it’s been awhile so I thought I’d write a few words.

I had someone new to Microsoft call me up today and ask me for some thoughts on how to succeed here. I hung up after chatting for a few minutes about time management and learning to say no – modesty – and how to work in larger teams. It’s a topic that is interesting to me – as every company has its own dynamic (one that spills over into the technical arena) – and I often find myself wondering if I could improve in this area.

If you haven’t already read the Four Agreements, I would highly recommend it. It’s one of those short books that’s really easy to overlook. Besides the Bible, I can’t think of another book that’s had such a high impact on my life, for the better. If you want to make a successful career though – it’s hard to give better advice than the following:

  • Be Impeccable with Your Word. This means if you say you’re going to be somewhere or do something, you keep your word. It also means you need to be very careful with what you say yes to. A modest person knows they have limitations, and they’ll be careful not to overload themselves. (Something I’ve had to learn the hard way a few times in my recent assignments!)
  • Don’t take anything personally. Everyone is the hero of their own story and their actions – while sometimes senseless to us or worse – always make sense in their own personal universe. Do your best in working with others to be accepting, to listen first and understand (reflect back actively what they’re saying so they know they’re being heard). Once you understand their point of view and motivations, it’s much easier to work towards a compromise that satisfies both parties.
  • Don’t make assumptions. We assume that others think the we think, feel the way we feel, judge the way we judge. The only way to keep ourselves from making assumptions is to not be afraid to ask questions. And we keep asking questions until we understand clearly. Until you know – this is what I want, this is what you want. The unstated becomes clear, no secrets.
  • Always do your best. This means trying your damndest at everything you take on, and doing it without distraction. Now, your “best” is a relative term – it doesn’t mean perfect, and your best will vary from day to day. Some days just getting up and responding to emails is “your best”, on other days you’ll be a worldbeater and knock down walls. Don’t try to solve problems in a low state. We all have ups and downs due to low sleep, stress, personal problems etc. As my good friend Jim Caballero once told me, “people are the only thing that matters”. I’ve rarely regretted the way I’ve started or left a position, but I do regret many times falling short in my interpersonal relationships. That thoughtless exchange of words with a coworker when I was feeling a little down, the meetings that did not go well, etc. Many times when I am low on sleep now I try to avoid one on one meetings – so I don’t have to spend the following day mending fences I’ve broken down!


I’m definitely not holding myself up as an example in any of these things! But I will say – over the past two decades – learning by experience how to apply these four points has made a huge difference in a smoother, less bumpy career and a higher ceiling. It’s been said that we get hired for our abilities – we get fired for our personality. True words! So keeping in mind that old saying “the tongue is a fire” – guard your words, be careful with your words (especially those committed to writing – emails, Facebook, etc), and show empathy. You’ll get more done and will be happier doing so!


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