A key to success: Knowing you don’t know
I have a friend who would often say, “I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer but…” and then something profound — usually a simple fact that the smartest people in the room had overlooked.
This fellow had labored inside refineries most o f his life. He worked hard and began getting promotions. He started reading everything he could get his hands on about management and business. He joined groups to share information and gain a better understanding of the marketplace. During this process, he learned a lot about himself, and he worked to correct unhealthy personal habits as he moved forward in both his personal and business life. He cultivated friendships with successful people and learned from them. He eventually became a business owner, and weathered the downturns and prospered during the upturns before retiring comfortably. The key to his success, I believe, was that he knew he didn’t know.
When I was in my twenties, I thought I knew it all. I worked at various jobs while in college, then got married and started a family. Then my marriage failed, and I became nearly destitute. I found myself living alone in a motel room, and my driver’s license had been suspended. I had a broken-down truck that barely got me to and from work, and the only money I had was what I hoped to get that next payday. I was nearly homeless, hopeless and helpless, but I still wouldn’t admit that I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
One day, when I was at rock bottom, I finally admitted to myself that the only way out was to alter my lifestyle and way of thinking. For me, this was a revelation. I realized I had to surround myself with people who could guide me out of a broken pattern.
I looked around and saw, for the first time, that I knew a number of people who were successful in one way or another — be it in their relationships, careers or personal achievements. I also saw these people had a tendency to be generous. They were generous with their time and in their willingness to help others. I decided I needed to tap into the success that surrounded me rather than flounder on my own. I needed to know that I didn’t know, and there were some people “in the know” who could help me.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness
I had to let go of my “I can do it myself ” attitude and learn that asking for help is a way to grow. I also realized that “outsiders” offer a different perspective than close family and friends. A mentor’s advice can guide and motivate you as they share what they learned from setbacks and successes. They are not afraid to “hurt your feelings” and challenge you. Mentors remember what it was like to start an endeavor. Good mentors also have a circle of friends who are equally successful. They can provide introductions and opportunities you can seldom find on your own.
Listening and learning has paid off
Now that I am in my fifties, I look back at the road I was once on. It’s painful to remember how I got there, but I am most grateful for those who helped me get on the right track. I could say I did it all myself, but that would be a terrible lie. There are many people who set good examples for me to follow and provided a road map that led me to achieve successful personal relationships and business ventures.
If I can leave one piece of advice for everyone who reads this, it would be to find yourself a mentor — or two or three. These are people whom you admire, with characteristics you would like to emulate. Surround yourself with like-minded friends who want to succeed. Rid yourself of those who are satisfied with just getting by and want to discredit others who get promoted or are successful in one way or another. Those people will wear and tear you down. Instead, get around successful people who are not braggadocios, arrogant or boastful. These people should be comfortable in their own skin and grateful for who and what they have in their lives. Be around those who know they don’t know but are more than willing to find out.
Also published in BIC Magazine.
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