We all think we know about those instant success stories. People who wake up with one brilliant idea that not only changes the world in impressive ways but makes them billionaires overnight. It’s hard to believe… and maybe we shouldn’t believe it at all.
When we hear one of those stories, it’s more likely that we’re not witnessing someone bursting on the scene out of nowhere, but, rather, the result of that person having put in the “magic number” of hours that lead to that kind of achievement in his or her chosen field.
According to author Malcolm Gladwell, and first expressed in his book “Outliers,” it takes 10,000 hours of dedication, diligence, and practice at anything to become a master of it. Whether that’s twenty hours a week for ten years, forty hours a week for five years, or non-stop application for as long as it takes.
The premise applies to pretty much any endeavor, assuming you have the basic qualifications and the competency to pursue it. Naturally, someone who is height-challenged is never going to be a pro basketball star regardless of how many hours he works at it, and someone who can’t carry a tune can practice until she collapses and she’ll never perform at the Metropolitan Opera. But realistically pick your spot, put in your time, and you can master it.
How this applies to your business career is simple.
1. Set Your Goal
Decide what you want to achieve, and then make a plan to accomplish it. First, here are some questions to ask yourself:
Is it realistic? Optimism is a great quality, but if you don’t have the basic qualifications to do a job, dreaming won’t make it happen. If a job requires a great deal of travel, for example, are you willing to spend a lot of time away from your family? Are you able to pick up and move if the best opportunity for the career you want is centered in another city or state?
Does it complement your interests? A job may sound good on paper, but do you know what it entails day to day? Having a title doesn’t mean you’re going to like the work. We’re talking about your life here. What do you want to spend it doing?
What are its long-term prospects? Research the market for the career you want. Is it a growing field? Is there high demand for people who can do the job or is there a glut of qualified professionals doing the same work?
Will it provide the financial rewards you need? People select careers for a lot of different reasons, but at bottom, your job needs to support you during your working life and provide resources for your retirement. It’s not a small consideration.
2. Upgrade Your Education
No matter what your current full time job is, prepare for your next one by enrolling in an online MBA program to broaden your scope of knowledge and give you new tools for effective communication, critical thinking, and creative problem-solving. Not only will it hone your skills and add to your 10,000 hours, having an MBA on your resume will allow you to compete for a greater range of opportunities and give you an edge in getting where you want to go.
3. Continue to Develop Yourself
While you’re putting in your hours on the task at hand, search out opportunities to learn more and do more. Contribute as much as you can to team efforts. Ask for more responsibility. Bring new ideas to the table. Study what’s going on in your industry and related fields, and keep current on what’s happening in your own organization.
4. Prepare for the Next Step
Most goals are achieved in stages. While you’re toting up those 10,000 hours, prepare yourself for moving ahead:
Record your accomplishments. Keep track of all your successes in terms of sales figures, project results, or whatever other ways you can quantify the record of value you’ve brought to your employer. Those are what count when you’re in line for an upgrade where you are or a new position elsewhere.
Promote yourself. Let people know what you can do, not by bragging, but by sharing information that makes you look good. Everyone else is doing the same thing, so you’re letting yourself down if you don’t self-promote, too.
Enlist your boss as a mentor. Make sure he or she knows you’ve prepared yourself to move on up, and ask for advice and guidance. Any good boss will want to see you succeed.