How to Succeed at Business Without Really Trying

I’ve been trying to figure out what success is, what it means to be successful and why people around me are either outwardly successful or self-deprecating in their success.

I should note, personally I’ve struggled with the idea of success. I grew up in a trailer park with parents that, while loving and caring and tentative to my needs, were not educated in a higher degree or what society might consider traditionally successful. Financials were (and continue to be) an issue for a large part of my family.

Myself? Well I’m doing OK. I went to college and met someone who makes me want more for myself. I found something I’m passionate about (the crossroads of people and technology) and am well-respected in my field.

From that angle, I could say I’m successful. Compared to others? Well, that’s a funny thing. I always feel like a dullard or slacker.

But success is measured in so many ways – far beyond the padding in your wallet or the comforts of your home.

As Joss Whedon put so eloquently in his commencement speech to his Alma Mater,

“I talk about this contradiction and this tension… There’s two things I want to say about it. One, it never goes away. And if you think that achieving something, if you think that solving something, if you think a career or a relationship will quiet that voice? It will not.

If you think happiness means total peace, you will never be happy. Peace comes from the acceptance of the part of you that can never be at peace. They will always be in conflict and if you accept that, everything gets a lot better!”

That voice inside me that Joss speaks about is definitely not quiet. Every day I struggle to understand what success and happiness are and to constantly pursue things that bring me both. I wish for both success and happiness to all whom I meet. I try to mentor and advise those close to me – not to be a know-it-all or a wise-ass –  to help in some small way to bring friends and family up.

Another intelligent and experienced person once said,

“The only time you should look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.”

That’s Louis C.K. It’s from his TV show in which he plays a fictionalized version of himself. He’s speaking to his daughter in the scene. It applies to anyone, regardless of age.

So what is success? I have come to think that it’s totally subjective and any canned or preconceived notions we have as young people should be thrown out the window. An individual could be the poorest schmuck on Earth, but in his story he’s happy and therefore the most successful bum that ever lived.

A person with a highfalutin title might be unhappy and unsatisfied with their career or do something they’re not passionate about.

Don’t judge people by their title or position. I’ve met some really smart managers and some really inane leaders. I’ve met first-response service folks who are aces.

That said, I do think there are things you can do to be more successful and happy. It’s not just luck or environment. It’s awareness and a desire to do better – to move toward success and happiness.

These things have worked for me, are subjective, and should be taken with a grain of salt.


Be an Adult

Tuck your shirt in. Wear nice shoes. Learn about collar stays. Always wear a belt.

Not just dressing, act like one. Meet people in person instead of the phone or email for the first time if you can. Never yell, cuss or say something that is otherwise rude. Don’t say anything bad about your co-workers, boss, clients, or mailman in public spaces – especially the Internet.

Show Empathy

Everyone is the protagonist in their own story. Understand where they’re coming from and listen to what they have to say.

Don’t Abuse Meetings

Show up on time, be prepared and know how to set up the damn projector.

Put your devices down. Turn off the laptop. The email is not more important than this meeting (see below).
Stand up when someone enters the room and introduce yourself.

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Really Listen

When someone is talking listen. listening is not waiting for your turn to talk.

This is a huge help for appropriately understanding the work that is being asked of you. If you don’t listen, are impatient, and want to quickly jump to the end where you get out of the room so you can go build something you will be frustrated when the client asks, “What is this? I didn’t ask for this.”

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Turn of the @!*# Email

Email is not real-time. You don’t need to check it every five minutes. Turn it off on the evenings and weekends. Replying to emails at 3 in the morning is not a badge of honor. No one is going to pat your back for it.

Work to Live

Know what you should get paid. Talk about salaries with close friends. Understand what you’re getting into with a new company or position. Work a little more than what you’re paid. Show initiative. Offer to help others and when others ask, help where you can.

I’ve never worked more than 40 hours constantly at any job I’ve ever had. Am I lucky? Nope. I work hard, know my stuff, am constantly learning, and act like an adult.


When I was in college I was at a party with some folks older than me, but in the same field I was hoping to soon join. Being young and stupid about how things work, I asked what sort of advice could they give me about the field. In my nascent mind I was expecting tips about using Photoshop better or best practices around workflow or industry trends.

Instead the best advice they gave me was don’t put in 60 hours to impress your boss. It’s not worth it professionally and defiantly not worth it personally.

I think that dovetails with success and happiness. It’s not just what you do for a living. It’s the things that you do with your time on this planet. It’s the stuff during your 9-5, the evenings at home, and the weekends with friends. It’s never just one of those things, it’s all of them in moderation and consistent drive to push them all forward. Work hard, meet new people, travel, and enjoy what you have.