No Shortcuts to Success

My eldest nephew graduates from high school in the US this year (though without the usual fanfare) and will be heading to college later in the year (at least virtually). He is going into a rapidly changing and uncertain world. It is hard at this juncture to promise that the world he will be entering as an independent adult is one that is full of opportunities, friendly to his ambitions and supportive of his success. Over the weekend, I sat down to write a note to go with a small gift to recognise his achievements.

The gift was a biography and core of my short note was the following advice:

I chose this book because it is one man’s effort to succeed, to learn all his life and to keep trying to improve. You can learn from other’s success but remember it worked for him but you will need to learn your own way to your own success.  You will make your own rules and own principles to live, love and succeed. My only advice is keep learning, keep exploring and don’t give up. 

We need to mark milestones, particularly moments of academic success, but the best learning is lifelong. Most of us at 18 barely know ourselves let alone what we want to do with our lives. We have to learn our way there. There are no shortcuts to success. As much as we would like to follow some thoughtleader’s 5 easy steps or see the miracles that flow from a 5am start, success is highly contextual, created anew and hard won. Always.

Anything that worked in the past cannot be guaranteed to work again now or any time in the future. There are no shortcuts to success. We must contine to respond to our changing circumstances, our growing capabilities and the needs of others. Testing, learning and growing is lifelong work.

To cope with this change, we must develop our networks to help us learn faster, to help us understand and learn more and win the support of others in our efforts and our success. Developing mentors, frienships, collaborators and personal learning networks is essential to support lifelong learning. Growing network is slow personal and methodical work. There are no shortcuts. Nobody succeeds alone. Nobody is an island.

The best learning is practice. Doing is where we stretch our skills, see the gaps and learn anew. Again there is no shortcuts to success. We have to put in the effort. We can use our whole lives to develop new skills through practice. So much of success is interpersonal skills that can be developed across all aspects of life. Hobbies and interests can develop into new opportunities so retaining and practising curiosity is essential.

The hardest thing to learn about success is that even when you have learned all the things and have all the elements to succeed you may not. Life is competitive. Life is not fair either. There are no shortcuts. You have to ‘plot, plan, strategise, organise and mobilise‘ just to stay in the game. Giving it your best shot is not turning up on the day skilled. It takes all you can do to turn up armed with support and the best plan to succeed. It also takes luck.

Last, but no means least is the importance of persistence. Learning is hard. We have to explore our weaknesses. We have to find new strengths. There are hours and hours of practice and we are guaranteed disappointments as our feeble skills strengthen, as we find new ways and as we learn more. Hardest of all learning means we need to change. We need to shed our comfortable old ways of thinking and acting and embrace the new ways that lead us to success. That can feel like grief, like disappointment, like embarrassment or like discomfort. There are no shortcuts. We need to change the hard way our whole lives long.

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