TL&DR: There cannot be a simple and easy recipe for success, or everyone else would be using it.
My recent chat with David Bombal about networking careers' future resulted in tons of comments, including a few complaints effectively saying I was pontificating instead of giving out easy-to-follow recipes. Here’s one of the more polite ones:
No tangible solutions given, no path provided, no actionable advice detailed.
I totally understand the resentment. Like a lot of other people, I spent way too much time looking for recipes for success. It was tough to admit there are none for a simple reason: if there was a recipe for easy success, everyone would be using it, and then we’d have to redefine success. Nobody would admit that being average is a success, or as Jeroen van Bemmel said in his LinkedIn comment:
Success requires differentiation, which cannot be achieved by copying others. As Steve Jobs put it: “Be hungry, stay foolish”
When I was still running a fast-growing company, one of my more futile endeavors was reading management magazines like Harvard Business Review, trying to get actionable ideas from their case studies. I failed consistently… until I realized that they cannot possibly give anyone a recipe because the right way to proceed depends on your circumstances and the market you’re in.
It’s the same with what certification should I go for – it depends on your local market, whether you’re aiming for a higher salary or structured knowledge, whether you’re doing short-term or long-term planning… No surprise, some people get upset when you try to articulate that because you can’t provide actionable advice.
Even worse, when desperately looking for actionable advice, one might follow whoever claims to have it. Unfortunately, a person with simple answers to complex problems could be oversimplifying1 or shouting from the high peak of Mount Stupid. They could also be turning their personal experience into a generalized step-by-step success story2 or simply making it up to make you buy their warez. In the words of H. L. Mencken: “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong” (and people who want to believe that answer).
So what could you do? Like always, focus on fundamentals (this time on ideas that make sense) instead of expecting recipes:
- Try to extract valuable ideas from whatever source.
- Try them out in your environment, and test which ones work for you.
- Be persistent. Sometimes it takes years for a successful idea to work – it took me at least half a decade to get ipSpace.net off the ground.
- Don’t focus on a single idea. You can’t waste five years waiting to see whether it works. Try several things in parallel.
I know this sounds way too similar to a step-by-step recipe, so I’ll stop right there. You might also feel charitable and agree it’s more of a system than a step-by-step recipe, and if you’re willing to look in that direction, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big might be an entertaining book to read.
On a more serious note, you might want to check out these books3 by Cal Newport:
- Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
- So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love
There’s a difference between “go for CCNx” and “in the job market I’m working in, CCNx certification seems to be a prerequisite for an entry-level networking job advertised on a job postings web site. However, you might also want to consider…” Unfortunately, there’s often a good reason for oversimplified answers – people can’t be bothered with details, and stop listening the moment you try to explain them. ↩︎
It turns out that many successful people happened to be at the right place at the right time, and had worked hard enough in the past to be able to recognize and grab the opportunity. See also Outliers. ↩︎
I like using Amazon links because they are actionable ;). None of the links contains an Amazon associate ID – if you follow my recommendations, buy a book and like it, just do something nice for a random person who needs it. ↩︎