Success: A Little Bit of Luck, A Lot of Planning and Follow Through

I have a bad (or good) habit of reading anything that has words – cereal boxes, labels on the hot sauce bottles in a Mexican restaurant, ads, whatever).  The other day, I bought a bottle of Ethos Water at a Starbucks and spent as much time reading the label as I did drinking the water.  They do great work bringing clean water to people who otherwise would have no access to it.

The other day I found and reread an article on chess called “Success Requires a Plan, and Even a Bad One Teaches,” that I had clipped several years ago.  It had some very interesting things to say about chess and about business…

“Playing without a plan is one of the quickest ways to defeat.  Faulty plans that lead to defeat can be studied for understanding and corrections.  Playing without a plan has no logical remedy.”

I’m not a chess player, but I loved what the article said about plans.  There was some great lessons to be learned about life and career success there.

First, whether you’re managing a business or your career, you have to plan.  The old adage “if you don’t know where you’re going in the first place, how will you know if you’ve got there?” applies here.  In business and in life, it’s important to make a plan, set goals and monitor your progress towards those goals.

I’m very happy in my work.  People often tell me that I’m lucky.  I am a little lucky, but I think I am happy today, because of some planning I did almost 40 years ago.  In 1975, I set a goal.  My goal was to make a living running a one person consulting, coaching and speaking business.  It took me until 1988 to realize this goal.

I thought about what it would take to get me from where I was in 1975 (working for the government) to where I wanted to be.  I decided a few things: 1) I needed some solid business experience.  2) I needed an academic credential better than the one I had.  3) I needed the right opportunity to launch my business.

I focused on the experience first.  I got a job as in internal OD Consultant with an oil company.  I did that for about two years, and then moved on to a position where I managed the Training and Development function of a division of a diversified consumer product company.

In 1980, I left that job to study at Harvard.  I spent two and half years there in pursuit of my EdD (Doctor of Education), completing my course work and qualifying paper.  In January of 1983, I took a job in the OD Department of a big pharmaceutical company.  I stayed there until I completed my dissertation and received my degree in 1988.

In 1988, I felt as if I were ready to begin my business.  However, I needed the right opportunity.  For me, this came with an offer to do some work as an independent contractor for a small consulting company working on a large project.  I took a deep breath and leapt.  By 1990, I was no longer doing contract work, I was booking my own business.  I had achieved the goal I set in 1975.

My journey was a long one, and it had quite a few twists and turns.  However, as I look back, I followed my plan.  I got business experience with three large companies, I added a strong academic credential, and I looked for and found the right opportunity to launch my business.

So when people tell me I’m lucky that I love what I do, I smile and think to myself “yes, I’m lucky, but a lot of planning and hard work went into getting lucky.”


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