The One Smart and Practical Thing That Successful People Always Do

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A graduating student recently asked me, “What is the main difference between people who advance and people who don’t?

In thinking about this, I was trying to find a single, practical idea that students could relate to, and actually do something about as they start their career.

Here it is (and it actually applies to all of us at any time): The dramatic difference between school and work is that in school, an advancing curriculum is given to you.

We get spoiled in school

You start school as a small child and you learn how to count and sing and finger paint, and then if you master those tasks, you move on to the next year.

Each year that you complete the work given to you, you advance to the next grade, and you get a harder, more complicated set of things to learn. Your teacher and the school provide a progressively more difficult curriculum for you.

If you just show up and do what is asked of you, you will develop — and you will advance.

This goes on through middle school and high school and university. But then you graduate. And then comes the dramatic change.

Once you leave school, NO ONE WILL EVER DO THIS FOR YOU AGAIN.

Your job description doesn’t automatically evolve

You get your first job and you get handed a job description. If you do what’s in the job description really well (and not a lot changes in your business) you’ll still have the same job description the next year.

There is no one making sure that you get a harder curriculum each year so that you automatically advance.

Your company will just keep on absorbing your work as long as you are willing to do it.

You need to develop yourself

The one practical successful people always do:  They make their own curriculum harder each year so that they keep moving forward.

I encourage people at all levels to think more broadly about what their job is. Your job is:

  • Doing/delivering what’s in your job description;
  • Dealing with all the crap that gets in the way of doing/delivering on your job description;
  • Rising above your job description to contribute progressively more difficult and valuable things to your business;
  • Deciding where you want to go in your career and moving yourself there with purpose

Don’t stay too long in any job

At any level, if you want to advance, you need to move on once you master the job you are in. Don’t rely on your manager or your company to make sure you develop and advance.

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You are the one who needs to be the conscience and the engine for your career development.

Some people say, “but a good manager should do this for their people.” Yes, that’s true, but I can tell you not all managers are doing this.

Even if you are lucky enough to have a rare breed of manager that is pushing you to develop, they can not see inside your heart to know what you want as much as you do. Also, they are busy with other things, and they have several other people like you to worry about.

So you are always better off taking control of your own development.

If you want some ideas and help…

If this idea makes sense to you and you want some help, (I really didn’t intend this post as a sales pitch), but this issue is exactly why I wrote RISE, so it seemed odd not to mention it.

I put three (3) things in RISE to help talented, ambitious people get what they want from their work.

  1. How to not hate your job. It breaks my heart to see people hating their job and grinding through it because they need a paycheck. It doesn’t need to be this way. You can tune your job to add more value and feel more satisfying and fun. You can avoid the personality lobotomy every Monday morning to turn yourself into the work-you, that you don’t really want to be.
  2. Surviving crap and politics. I wanted to provide a map of the corporate crap and political land mines that get people stuck, and give you the awareness and tools to get around them unharmed and ahead of the game.
  3. Practical steps to take. I share the specific reasons why some people advance and some don’t, and describe the concrete and practical things you need to do that make the difference between getting ahead and just working really hard.

If you want a practical roadmap to managing your career, get a copy of RISE as an ebook or paperback.

The one thing that sets people who succeed apart from those who don’t is simply this — they advance themselves. They make their own curriculum more challenging over time.

This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.

Patty Azzarello is the founder and CEO of Azzarello Group. She's also an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/business advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35, and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk). You can find her at .


3 Comments on “The One Smart and Practical Thing That Successful People Always Do

  1. Hi Patty. I agree wholeheartedly with what you’re saying, and I call it “making your own fun.” Employees who consistently make their own fun will develop and grow, and even if their current employer doesn’t take advantage of what the employee is learning, the next employer can.

  2. Great advice, I see a lot of interns who are going to struggle in their career until they can learn to make transition mentally from school to work.

  3. Very good read on how responsibilities change over time and
    how a successful people adopt to the same. Obligation towards the role changes
    from school to job. Responsibilities in school are tailor-made. It’s your
    teachers who decide on your curriculum, on what you are going to study and what
    makes you qualify to the next grade. One just passes through previously set
    phases. This completely changes when someone takes up a job your
    responsibilities don’t evolve on their own, you have to work hard, develop
    yourself and get recognized to reach the next level.

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