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Posted: 13 Jan 2010 11:02 PM PST
“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody”
– Bill Cosby
I’ve recently returned from spending a week in Colombia (South America) for a friend’s wedding. It was, of course, a lovely sunny place to spend the new year whilst the UK was experiencing the worst winter weather for 30 years.
Before returning to ice-cold London last weekend, I spent an afternoon volunteering with an amazing NGO in Colombia’s third city – Cali. Forming Futures (Fundación Formación DeFuturos) is a charitable foundation which helps 16 – 20 year olds make the transition from state-funded foster homes to becoming successful, independent adults.
Their unique two-year programmes provide vital support which most teenagers would ordinarily recieve from their parents: e.g. help with improving their communications and social skills, assistance with homework, advice on making career decisions/finding work and generally learning to looking after themselves as they become young adults.
Equipping the teenagers with such life skills helps them become valuable and active members of society after leaving bording schools at the age of 18, and avoid a life on the streets.
During the afternoon, I spent some time with 19 year old Fredy (pictured above) to help him improve his English (…well, given how bad my Spanish is, there wasn’t much else I could do to be of help!).
Fredy was a model student: enthusiastic, a quick learner, polite and likeable. His big dream was to become a criminologist, move to the UK and work at the police headquarters at New Scotland Yard in London. (what a great goal!).
Although enthusiasm, likeability and an having an exciting big goal areo key ingredients required for career success, the one thing I could see possibly getting in Fredy’s way was his concern about what others thought of him.
You see, every time one of his fellow students (especially the girls!) came over to us, he would lose his enthusiasm and start acting ‘cool’ and slightly uninterested. Whenever I asked him to go and practise a certain English pronunciation in the mirror, he became worried that the others would laugh at him and was resistant.
So with the help of one of the teachers, I explained to Fredy that he should spend less time worrying about what others thought, and more time focused on doing the work he needed to do to achieve his goal.
I see the same issue arising when working with clients making career decisions – particularly people who want to step up a gear or make a change. They get held back by their concerns about what others would say and think, instead of doing the things they need to do in order to make a shift.
So here are 3 things that Fredy (and you) may want to consider:
1. Decide what’s most important to you
For Fredy, learning English and the life skills he is being taught by the charity is his passport to a better life. Within 12 months he will be completely independent of the charity. He will be out there on his own fending for himself without the support of a family. So for him, learning English, doing well in school and learning how to be independent will be critical to a successful start in life. It sounds a little dramatic, but the next 12 months could shape his whole life.
How about you? What’s the most important thing to you over the next 12 months?
2. Stop holding back on your talents
Fredy spoke English much better than his peers – and maybe that’s why he was trying to hold back and trying act cool. After all, it’s so much easier to ‘fit in’ rather than letting your talents shine when you’re amongst your peer group.
Trying to just fit in and be ‘part of the crowd’ is very common amongst teenagers – but how about you? Do you find yourself holding back on your talents? Do you get slightly embarrassed by being good at something – and, so instead of turning up the volume on those talents, simply try and just fit in?
If so, just remember: every successful person in history has accepted their brilliance instead of being embarassed by it. So although it may seem easier hold back – you do yourself (and those around you) a complete disservice by holding back.
So step up, express your talents and be the best you can. If not, you’ll someday regret it.
3. Get used to pissing people off
Maybe some of Fredy’s peers were slightly pissed off as he was getting all the attention from a volunteer from England simply because he spoke English better than them. Maybe that’s why he wanted act cool.
But as Fredy gets older, he will learn that whenever we stretch for anything that’s worth achieving, anything that really matters – it’s inevitable that we start pissing people off.
As the author Tim Ferris pointed out in a recent article titled “The Benefits of Pissing People Off”:
“This doesn’t mean that the goal is pissing people off. Pissing people off doesn’t mean you’re doing the right things, but doing the right things will almost inevitably piss people off.”
To achieve anything big in your career, business or life you will ruffle a few feathers and annoy some people. If you don’t – you’re goal is either not big enough – or you’re not sufficiently testing your comfort zone.
So do yourself a favour this year and stop worrying about what everyone else is thinking and stop trying to please the world. It may not guarantee you success, but trying to please everyone else will inevitably lead to failure. .
As I left the foundation at the end of the day, I turned to Fredy and said:
“Remember: forget about trying to “act” cool or trying to just fit in. Keep working hard, keep practising the English and stay focused on that career in criminology. Once you’ve made it, people will automatically think you’re cool!”
As I then got into the taxi to leave, Fredy turned to me and said “Sital, keep working hard and practising the Spanish – it’s the only way you’ll improve!”
They are always keen to welcome volunteers who can spend some time with the teenagers as well as learn more about the work done by the foundation. And if you speak Spanish, you’ll probably be far more useful to the students than I was!
Also – if you’re a criminologists (or know someone that is) and have any useful books or resources which we can send to Fredy to keep him motivated and inspired, please send me a note by clicking here
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