What’s the Path to Success?

Success_signRecently, I was invited to give a speech to a large group of teens from the Junior Achievement program (here are the Canadian and US group links). If you can forgive the humblebrag, it was very well-received, and several people suggested I reproduce it on one of my blogs. So without further adieu, here it is:

Good evening, everyone. First, thank you very much for having me. I know how important this event is in the JA calendar, since I was once a member. It is an honour to be here tonight.

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Chandra Clarke. I am the founder and president of a company here in Chatham, called Scribendi.com. Before I get into the main topic of my presentation tonight, I would like give you a little background on the company; just so you know where I am coming from.

I started out here as a reporter and then as an editor for the local newspapers. When I was a managing editor, I saw a lot of stuff coming into the office; things like press releases and so on, that were badly written, poorly spelled, and difficult to understand … from organizations that should have known better. So, when I had had enough of being an employee, I decided to strike out on my own, as a freelance editor. I soon found I had more work than I knew what to do with. This was also the time when the Internet was just getting started. (Yes, it’s true; there was a time before Facebook and Twitter!) So I combined my love of automation, computers, and the Internet, with my hatred for comma splices, and built the first version of Scribendi. It’s a company that provides editing and proofreading services. We take things like books, academic papers, operating manuals, and yes, press releases, and make them better.

So for instance, let’s say there’s a college student in Glasgow who finishes his term paper at three a.m. Because he ran out of coffee at midnight, it has lots of spelling issues. He sends it to us, and goes to bed. Our server selects the best available editor — someone wide-awake in Australia — who edits it, and has it waiting for him before he rolls out of bed for class the next day.

Now, I started this company in a basement office, at a shabby desk. Today, we employ about twenty people here in Chatham, and more than two hundred worldwide. We do business in 114 countries around the globe. Our editors review more than 4 million words a week, which is more than William Shakespeare wrote in his entire life.

More than anything else though, it has been an amazing ride, and there isn’t a day goes by that I don’t marvel at how it has turned out.

I won’t lie to you … it hasn’t been a cakewalk. My partner and I have put in hundreds of 18-hour days, and lots of sleepless nights. But I am here to tell you that if we can do it, you can do it. And what’s more, you will likely be able to achieve your goals faster than we did.

Which brings me to my main topic tonight … I am going to share with you four principles that will not only guarantee you will be successful if you decide to be an entrepreneur, but it will guarantee your success in a career and life in general. This is the stuff I wish I had absorbed much earlier, as it would have made my journey much smoother. Are you ready?

1. You should follow before you lead.

At some point in your life, you will need to take a leadership position — maybe as the head of a family, perhaps in a managerial role for an organization, or if you start your own company. Before you do that, you should work full time for at least six months at a hard, low-paying, and really annoying job, preferably one with a real jerk for a boss.

Why?

For one, you will learn what not to do. Maybe your boss sucks at doing inventory, and the business is always out of stock, which makes the customers angry with you. Perhaps the boss screws up, yet yells at you in front of the client, making you look bad. You will see how much that messes things up, and you will know better than to do that yourself.

More important, you will know what it is like to be on the front line, to do all the sucky stuff that no one likes. You will be able to sympathize with employees, make more of an effort to make it better and more efficient, and you will be a much better leader as a result.

2.  You should give freely of yourself.

You have heard this one before, probably in terms of pay it forward. You should always make an effort to help those who may be less fortunate than you are, or reach out to those who are just learning, or starting out. It’s just good karma, and the right thing to do.

Surprisingly though, there’s another reason: you just never know how you might be paid back.

Let me give you an example. A fellow I know, John, is a highly respected personal trainer and fitness expert based in New York. He is also a model, writes for several magazines like Men’s Health and Livestrong, and is crazy busy.

Yet, when someone emailed him at random to ask for workout advice, he took the time to provide some, for free. A conversation started, and there were a few more emails back and forth. And then it turned out this guy who emailed John worked for none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger … The Arnold of the Terminator movies, and the godfather of men’s bodybuilding. Eventually, that email conversation developed into an intro to Arnold, who then endorsed John’s book. Good karma is an amazing thing.

3. Make friends with people who are smarter than you are, or who are what you want to be.

This one might be hard, because I can tell that all of you here are already pretty bright and motivated already. But I want you to seek out people who are even smarter and more motivated than you are, all the time.

There’s an old phrase about how you are the average of your five closest friends, and it’s very true. You can read all the self-improvement books in the world, but unless you hang out with people who challenge you to up your game all the time, you will eventually get complacent, and maybe even a little lazy. And that’s not how to be successful.

But what if you are in a situation where you can’t find people who are really trying hard where you live or work? Then go find your tribe on line. Look up the blogs of people you admire, comment on them, participate in the forums, tweet at them, learn, and grow that way.

And finally, number four … Be grateful!

How many of you know someone who is a drama queen or tragedy magnet? Someone who always has some crisis going on, and seems to love dwelling in it? They write stuff like f* my life in their texts and tweets. Put up your hands. Yeah.

Don’t be that person. Ever. And if you are that person right now, well, stop it!

I don’t know if any of you have studied any big entrepreneurs, but if you look at the lives of people like Sir Richard Branson, or Sara Blakely, they always seem happy and to have their stuff together.

Most people think that they are happy because they are rich, and actually, it’s the opposite. They are rich because they are happy.

They have spent part of everyday deliberately being grateful for what they have, taking stock of all the good things in their lives. And because they do that, they radiate positivity, and make good things happen for themselves and other people.

I can’t emphasize this enough … And if you remember nothing else from tonight, remember this … Good thoughts and good things make more good thoughts and good things. Be grateful for what you have. Appreciate what you have done. Do this consciously, deliberately, every day, and you will soar to greater heights than you could have ever imagined.

And you will have fun doing it.

 

Photo credit: Keith Ramsey (RambergMediaImages), via Wikimedia Commons