Oprah Winfrey often talks about “what she knows for sure.” As an African-American girl growing up in the inner city of St. Louis, I knew for sure that success meant moving outside of my comfort zone and building the confidence to tackle new challenges that seemed out of my reach. How did I do that? By listening and learning from everyone, starting with my very first jobs as a waitress and salesclerk and continuing today as a human resources vice president.
Confidence and success arrive when you push through your fear of the unknown. It’s OK to be afraid, but you can’t grow if you don’t stretch and push yourself to take on new challenges. You must force yourself to learn, and, once you conquer the unknown, you move on to the next challenge. It’s a process for life.
Define success on your terms. Following in the footsteps of others can lead you to a destination where you don’t want to be. As a child, one of my role models was my mother, who was a nurse. My older sister shared her passion for nursing, and she, too, became a nurse. I assumed that’s what I wanted. However, once my world opened up with books, school activities and meeting new people, I knew there was a world of other possibilities. I could be a nurse, or I could do something that excited me.
I’m glad I didn’t let my fear of the unknown stand in the way of creating my own destiny. Design your path on your passion, whatever that might be. You have to feel it inside of you. It’s about intellectually understanding your motivation.
Don’t feel too rushed to get to the next level. Enjoy your journey. Savor the learning. By focusing solely on the final goal you miss the valuable lessons along the way. There is nothing wrong with being ambitious, but without a “learning mindset” you can develop an unhealthy reliance on the next promotion to feel successful versus feeling good about your contributions and the value you add right now.
As you grow, help your colleagues and friends. Share your gifts and the lessons you’ve learned. Professional success comes not only from individual achievement, but also from the good that rises out of working together for the good of your organization.