Secrets to your Successful Career – Part 2

Reading time: 3 minutes and 33 seconds

Career coaching, career change, find work you love, fulfill your potential, find your career genius

Don't take it personally....

Less Ordinary Living is sharing 15 secrets to career success in the 21st Century - click here to subscribe and get them delivered straight to you.

    Secret 4: Don’t take it personally

I believe that one becomes stronger emotionally by taking life less personally. If your employer criticizes your report, don’t take it personally. Instead, find out what’s needed and fix it. If your girlfriend laughs at your tie, don’t take it personally. Find another tie or find another girlfriend.” -Marilyn vos Savant

The old adage says that “business is business – it’s nothing personal”.  This is a healthy lesson for the world of work.

Whether you’re an employee, temp, contractor or entrepreneur, you’ll face criticism, rejection, anger, fear and disappointment in the world of work.

  • Your brilliant project that you worked all night on will be torn up by the partner.
  • Your best customer will suddenly quit with no explanation.
  • Your boss will unload on you for no reason.
  • Everyone in your new workplace will treat you like a pariah and make you get the tea.

How does anyone survive this?

The answer is to not take these things personally.  A few thoughts that have helped me with this:

1)   Most people spend their entire lives in a self-obsessed bubble, barely noticing people around them.  If someone is ignoring your email, 90% of the time it is not because they hate you, but because they are too busy worrying about buying their new house, the fight they had with their husband, or which pair of shoes to wear today.  Don’t take it personally

2)   Knock-backs, failures and rejections are great.  They mean you are trying.  The more you fail, the more you are likely to succeed.  The rejections don’t mean you are doomed to eternal failure.  They mean you weren’t the right person at the right time, this time.  Keep knocking on doors and the right one for you will open.

3)   You always have a choice.  If things are getting out of hand and consistently unbearable, you have a duty to yourself to find another way to make a living.  There are always better choices.

    Secret 5: Ask for help (and give it back)

I’m just no good at asking others to help – I feel like I have to do it myself”.

If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard this phrase, I’d be writing this post on the beach in Waikiki, rather than on a train in Wakefield.

If you’re an expert in everything, skip this step.  If you’re a normal human being then you’ll have strengths and things you’re not so good at.

Whatever you are hoping to get out of work – enjoyment, learning, growth, meaning – there will be times when you need to ask for help.

It’s amazing the lengths that people will go to in helping out.  Since I started my business, I’ve had friends and acquaintances help me with my marketing strategy, my PR approach, my web presence.  I’ve had a huge amount of feedback and help from people I really respect.

In my office based days, I got help on any number of things – how to use Excel, how to deal with a difficult team member, what to do when the boss melted down 24 hours before the end of a long project.  Without this support, I’m not sure I’d have made it through and I certainly wouldn’t have learned much.

The bottom line is learning to ask for help can make you better at your job, help you learn and grow, help you enjoy your work more and build solid relationships that can transcend jobs and even go beyond work.  Learn to ask for help.

In return,  help others generously if you can. Do your best to genuinely and graciously give back when you are the expert.  If you believe in karma, its good karma – if not it’s just the right thing to do.

And, no this lesson doesn’t clash with Secret Number 1 (You get out what you put in).  You will only get help if you know exactly what to ask for and who to ask. You have to actively seek the right help at the right time.

    Secret 6 Know why you are at work

If you haven’t seen the movie Office Space, it is one of the best films ever made about the world of work.  In this scene, the hero Peter tells the management consultants about his typical day at work.

Peter is the ultimate demotivated employee – “The truth is I probably only do about 15 minutes of real actual work” Peter’s attitude is “It’s not that I’m lazy, it’s just that I don’t care”.  He has no motivation to be at work.

The average human works for somewhere in the region of 75,000 hours during their career. There is no right answer for anyone to be at work, but without a good reason to be there it can become soul destroying.

Some of the most important reasons to be at work include:

  • Doing something meaningful – making a difference to the world around you
  • Learning something new – developing new skills that you can use profitably
  • Doing something you enjoy – work can provide energy and fun
  • Enjoying and being surrounded by great people – finding a great work culture
  • Making a good living – this is a good reason to work, but on its own sometimes this isn’t enough

Knowing why you are at work provides the motivation to get out of bed every day, and to get through the inevitable tough times.  If you’ve been spacing out for an hour a day and living on Facebook in the office, it may be time to take a long hard look at yourself and figure out a better way to get through those 75,000 hours.

To check out part 1 of career success secrets, click here.

If you want to get started figuring out why you are working, click here to find out more about career coaching.

Photo credit: Taylorkydd (Flickr Creative Commons)

Related posts:

  1. 15 Secrets to Thriving in the 21st Century Workplace –Part 1
  2. The Five Secrets to Finding Work that Matters
  3. Permission to Wallow Part 2- Purposeful Wallowing
  4. How to Think Big for your Life and Career – 5 lessons from Rudyard Kipling
  5. Less Ordinary Career Transition – Permission to Wallow


  1. Phil
    May 12, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    What do you think about these secrets? Have you ever taken work personally and what happened? What are the best ways to ask for help? What gets you out of bed on a Monday morning and back to work? Please comment and let me know…

  2. David
    May 12, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    Another inspired column Phil. I know plenty of people who always view their performance at work negatively because they are too hard on themselves.

    I like to see things the opposite way; without the discipline of rigorous criticism, I tend to take my foot off the gas. What has worked for me in past is viewing work like a battle, even a fight. Like going 10 rounds with a heavyweight boxer.

    The ability to take criticism and show you have the stomach for more is a feeling I relish.

  3. May 12, 2010 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    I adore that movie, Phil! For oh so many reasons. Thanks for the clip. I got a good chuckle from it. Time and again I see that it is the work culture that motivates people the most, often more than the work itself. It seems like learning, meaning, enjoyment, and a good salary are much more likely to happen if the company values its employees and gives them ownership of their work. And I’ve found that lurking underneath the resistance to ask for help is often a belief that we are not enough, and people will judge us if we do ask for help. It’s a deep story, but I think unpacking it and looking at it gives clients a chance to move beyond it.

    Thanks, Phil!
    .-= Patty – Why Not Start Now?´s last blog ..Meaning Mondays: To Mom, With Love Edition =-.

  4. May 13, 2010 at 2:49 am | Permalink

    Hey Phil,
    I like the vidoe element here as well as your very direct useful style of writing. That clip reminds me of when I was in college. Although, I graduated with a degree in Business Administration-Management, I always felt like I just got by, and realized that the corporate world would be much of the same thing, boring and dull to be frank. So I got involved in several businesses after college, and found blogging and social media as a good place to get my feet wet, After writing 2 books later and growing my blog, I never looked back. Excellent post here.

  5. May 13, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Phil, I think Secret 5. Asking for help and helping right back is a blueprint for life. As humans, despite the war mongers, we have grown and lived in peace due to our mutual love and support for each other. Giving of yourself to another in the name of helping is good for them, good for you and good for everyone. So long as the world stays true to helping each other before they help themselves the future of the human race is bright. And it musn’t go without being said, Thank You Phil for this top post containing your help to our lives.
    .-= John Sherry´s last blog ..Ten Super Sounds in Life =-.

  6. May 13, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,
    I’m definitely guilty of taking things personally. I think I put so much of myself into my work that when I get something wrong, or something I’ve done doesn’t meet someone’s expectations, I feel like it’s a direct reflection on me personally. I like your comment that the more you fail the more you succeed – I might get this printed on a t-shirt, as a reminder! Thanks.
    .-= Topi´s last blog ..A Mother’s Day to cherish =-.

  7. May 13, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Awesome sequel article Phil. Especially the part about asking for help. It’s amazing how many people have won’t ask for help for the fear of rejection but more often than not that fear has no basis. Even if it does…the simple cure is get over it and trying something else. Nice little series. I’ve not seen that movie but I’ll be sure to check it out.
    .-= Amit Sodha – The Power Of Choice´s last blog ..Video – How To Be A Great Mentor =-.

  8. May 13, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Hey Phil,

    Office space is hilarious! Love the guy that ends up in the basement.

    Don’t take it personally – the best advice for everything in life. Oh, yes! I totally took things personally in my conventional career days. We “decide” why someone’s doing something and react to our own thoughts, instead of just asking the person. Then they react to your reaction to their non-reaction and it just spirals down into a mess.

    I’ve learned to just ask people. It’s almost always a corrective emotional experience.

    Thanks! Giulietta
    .-= Giulietta the Muse´s last blog ..Is childhood an endangered species? =-.

  9. Phil
    May 13, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    @David – thanks for your comment. I agree that learning to take criticism is a great skill to develop. It helps us to rise to the challenges we face and constantly learn. I recommend a couple of articles on this my Marc Winitz of Black Belt Guide which liken this to martial arts training if you want more on that topic. Thanks again.

    @Patty – Agreed about the culture – a good culture at work can help us to thrive and grow. A toxic one can kill us from the inside. The next part will talk about always having the choice about how and where we work. Thanks for the comment.

    @Baker – I don’t think that the corporate world has to be awful – there are thousands of exciting, entrepreneurial companies out there that are great places to build a career. It is down to us to navigate our career journey though and make sure we are in a good culture. I know you are a great career navigator and applaud you for it.

    @John – you are welcome, thanks for your comment. Giving is even more important than asking for help in my book. It can change lives for the better every day. Always looking for ways to help and supplement the lives of others is a superb maxim for work and life. Again, thanks for stopping by.

    @Topi – i love the t-shirt idea. I’ve had a couple of great failures recently and they have really forced me to take a long hard look at my direction for moving forward. In fact they’ve taken away some of my anxiety about trying things because I came out the other side, still alive and in fact feeling stronger. Yes T-shirts all round – what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger!

    @Amit – thanks. There is more to come! Once I start thinking about work, I can’t help it. You’re right that the fear of asking for help can stop us from moving forward and that is just a vicious circle. Breaking that can be a real relief. Definitely check out office space – a modern classic…

  10. May 13, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,
    You offer some very empowering advice here. Being able to not take things personally is one of the most wonderfully freeing feelings I have ever experienced.

    I got a great lesson about this in the business world a while back. I was in on a development deal with 2 other partners. To make a long story short one partner bailed and we lost money. I was furious, but my other partner was unperturbed. I asked him, “aren’t you angry” he said, “eh, I’m a little peeved.” In that moment I understood what made him a winner. He didn’t take it personally. He went on to become a billionaire by the name of Eddie Zucker. Certainly I achieved my own success but his attitude had him a step ahead. All this is a great lesson for what I am up to today — I am writing a book and when working with my editor you CANNOT take anything personally. Thanks Phil!
    .-= rob white´s last blog ..YOUR MOST IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIP =-.

  11. May 14, 2010 at 5:37 am | Permalink

    I like the question you have posed: know why you are at work. Oh my gosh…75,000 hours?? It’s a lot of wasting it all away. Thanks for laying it out clearly for your readers!!
    .-= Evelyn Lim´s last blog ..Download Your Free Abundance Check Here =-.

  12. May 14, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Some very similar advice was given to me by Liz Strauss at SXSW. Sometimes we spend too much time trying to get inside other people’s heads to find out what they’re thinking about us. Truth is, most of the time they’re probably not thinking anything about us at all. They have their own worries and goals and work; they’re not usually preoccupied with judging you or trying to make you unhappy.

    Of course, you’ll also meet the occasional jerk…
    .-= Jeffrey Tang´s last blog ..The Reminder and the Foothold: A Simple Change Manifesto =-.

Leave a comment


CommentLuv badge