The definition of success is a subjective one. But for most people it likely involves some level of career achievement, financial security so that you can provide for yourself and your family, and a posse of people in your life who love and support you. Clearly, these are things not everyone possesses. Yet according to more than two dozen high achievers, it's just a matter of being consistently focused on the right things.
1. Make sure "being successful" isn't how you measure your self-worth
"When I became a father, I was just getting my company off the ground. Of course, I was excited to fall in love with this brand-new little person in my life, but I was also concerned: If my company ever got traction, was I going to be forced into some sort of Faustian bargain, trading my business against my family? Looking back on things so far, I had it all wrong. To be a successful entrepreneur, I needed something outside of the office to become the core of my identity. To be clear, this doesn't need to be kids, or even family. All that matters is making sure your sense of self-worth is tied to something decoupled from your professional success, or failure. If 'extraordinary professional success' is what you need to feel good about yourself, you'll be reluctant or feel unbearable stress when it comes time to take the really big, important risks.
And, ironically, that will just get in the way of your success. To be clear, my advice isn't to go and have a kid before starting a company, but just to make sure the core of your identity and your sense of self-worth is tied to something more grounded than your company's valuation. Ironically, that's the best way to set yourself up for the risk-taking you'll need to maximize it."
--Ben Sigelman, co-founder and CEO at LightStep, a company that makes complex microservice applications more transparent and reliable for customers including Lyft, Under Armour, Medium, GitHub, and Twilio
2. Always be open to feedback and actively seek it out
"I try to ask for or give a piece of constructive feedback every day. It puts me in a mindset of constant growth and improvement, as well as focusing my mind on how I can help those around me grow and develop. I also make it a point to talk to at least one customer a day. This helps me stay close to our customer's needs and gain valuable insights as to how we can better serve them."
--Garrett Lord, CEO of Handshake, a career community for college students, connecting 14 million students and young alumni across 50 states with more than 400,000 employers
3. Keep it positive and stay adaptable
"Mastering the art of capturing negative thoughts and instantly creating the counter-positive statement, then repeating it three times in a row, and a few times throughout the day helps me keep my head in a positive, creative mindset. In the same vein, when confronted with challenges, I've made instant acceptance a practice so that I can adapt, adjust, and execute to keep moving forward."
--Joshua Kreitzer, CEO of Channel Bakers, an Amazon-focused ad agency that has driven more than half a billion dollars in e-commerce sales for clients including Samsung and Logitech
4. Find a hobby that keeps you competitive and in shape
"With stress and travel in the forefront of a busy executive's life, you have to spend a lot of concerted effort looking after your health. While I am constantly short of time and often in a different time zone, I practice tennis every weekend with much younger and better players to challenge myself, no matter the jet lag. I also make a point of committing to play competitive tennis at the highest level possible in national age group tennis tournaments and local leagues.
By committing to this level, it forces me to train on and off the court as much as possible. And it doesn't have to be tennis. I believe this applies to any competitive sport or physical activity."
--Dion Joannou, CEO of Accedian, a performance analytics company used by hundreds of companies, including 18 of the world's top 20 network operators, such as T-Mobile, Telefonica, Cox Communications, and SK Telecom
5. Disconnect from technology
"Some of my best ideas come to fruition during my morning and evening bicycle commutes. During those times, I have the opportunity to be in the moment and not be distracted by work or multitasking. This lets my mind flow creatively and also allows me to context switch between work and home life more effectively. If you're not a bike commuter, try getting off your phone when you're on the subway, or turning the radio off while you're driving. Just let your subconscious think freely and see where it goes."
--Bill Magnuson, co-founder and CEO of Braze, a customer-engagement platform that facilitates real-time experiences between more than 700 brands and customers
6. Have a hobby outside of work
"I love work, and it would consume every waking minute of my life if I let it (and in my last job, I did just that). But I've learned that I'm better at my job when I give my mind the space to learn new skills and find joy in other areas of life. In the last two years I've taken up gardening, which I never would've made time for when I was 25. I've loved being closer to nature and our food system, and the sense of accomplishment to watch the garden grow. It forces me to slow down and be patient, while giving me some Zen time to clear my mind for new ideas. Make sure to always find time for things that give you joy, even on the craziest of work weeks."
--Halle Tecco, founder and CEO of Natalist, a newly launched women's health startup making science-backed conception products that has raised $5 million in funding and supplied its Get Pregnant Bundle to hundreds of consumers
7. Find a system and stick with it
"I'm very systematic, my professional life is structured around Gino Wickman's EOS model, and my personal life is a derivative of this system. I visualize my desired future, I set long-term goals and develop a roadmap to accomplish these goals. I rely on micro goals (90 days, 30 days, seven days, and daily) to help me achieve my objectives. I'm also a very routine oriented person: wake up early, get moving (workout) and practice 10/10/10 (10 minutes of meditation, 10 minutes of reading, and 10 minutes of journaling). I try to maximize 'my time' before the day takes over. My journaling exercise revolves around gratitude (forcing me to think positive), my daily vision and the three most important objectives I need to accomplish that day. I share this with an accountability partner (a friend of mine) every morning. In my experience, I'm more likely to accomplish a task if I've committed to do so by sharing it with someone else."
--Ted Leonard, CEO of Photobucket, a digital image platform supporting more than 15 billion images for 90 million domestic and international users
8. Pre-pay yourself into win-win scenarios
"I've developed win-wins for different aspects of my life, and I prepay them so that I can't talk myself out of them. For example, I love spending time with my wife and we need to exercise so one win-win is that my wife and I train in Krav Maga together every Monday night. We also use these evenings as date nights, paying our babysitters well in advance so that, no matter how tired and grumpy we might feel, we rarely cancel the evening. Meaning, we get great exercise, a romantic (if sweaty) dinner, and a chance to really catch up with each other and strengthen our connection every single week. It's my favorite win-win."
--Ali Raja, executive vice chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, author of more than 100 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters. and United States Air Force veteran
9. Color code your calendar
"Every day, strive to 'live in your flame and not in your wax.' When you live in your flame, you are energized and excited. When you live in your wax, you are doing things that are sapping your energy. To discern between the two, I color-code my calendar for everything I do throughout the day. I break down different functions into various colors like light blue for phone calls, dark blue for face-to-face meetings, and orange for travel. Red is bad, generally reserved for discussions with attorneys. Various shades of green are the things I do that are in my flame, like writing, speaking, and interviews. Each day when I open my calendar I know what kind of day I have. This enables me to make sure that I plan my days to always have time to work in my flame. A green day proves I'm living in my flame and achieving the success I want."
--Ivan Misner, founder of BNI.com, a worldwide business networking organization that facilitated $16 billion in closed business for its members over the past 12 months
10. Make time to people watch
"This may sound odd, but three to four times per week I take 30 minutes to sit and watch humans. Human engaging with everyday life, as simple as the clothing they wear, to how they interact with technology. I also observe emotional reactions; like happiness and frustration. I'm alone when I decide to have an observation hour and I learn something from it every time. The moments I spent observing people help me translate what I see into my work, from a new twist in a story I'm writing or a more intuitive design for an iPhone app. Since the world is changing so quickly every second and people are distracted by the motion of everyday life, this regular observation hour not only helps me pause, but often reveals to me more innovative ways to create."
--Andrew Duplessie, co-founder of Tipster, a style-advice app with one billion impressions, 250 million views, and three million installs that has been acquired by DTX, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong's new venture
11. Break your habits
"A lot of my success is based upon avoiding complacency. Think about the same meal, the same exercise routine, the same route to work. While they may work well, they become boring and that can kill creativity. To stay a step ahead, I make a deliberate effort to try something new on a regular basis. Even a seemingly small change in one area, such as trying meditation or working with a new charity, can ignite a breakthrough in another part of my life. Committing to reinvention will train you to abandon rigid thought patterns and embrace risk. Bonus added, your group of contacts becomes more diverse because you've ventured out into new territory. Most important, reinvention keeps the journey fun."
--Brian Fielkow, CEO of the award-winning multimillion-dollar trucking and logistics company Jetco Delivery
12. Stop overreacting to your metrics
"I was fortunate to learn early in my career the value of not overreacting to each change in a business metric. In my own business, those measures include blog traffic, webinar registrations, and book sales. We might realize that two data points are not a trend, but I've also learned some practical methods that remind me on a daily basis to not try to explain every up and down in a metric. It's human nature to react - it feels action oriented - but that constant reacting and explaining can wear people out and it actually distracts us from and interferes with our efforts to improve performance. A method called 'process behavior charts' helps visualize metrics and provides some statistical guardrails that help us know if a metric is just fluctuating or if it's changed in a way that's worth understanding better."
--Mark Graban, guest lecturer at MIT and Wharton, and founder of the lean-management consultancy Constancy Inc., whose clients include General Motors, Dell, and Honeywell
13. Stop thinking about work
"Thinking about work 24/7 won't help you get more done. In fact, it will achieve less. It's exhausting and leaves you feeling uninspired. It's important to find something else to focus your mind on outside of your career. Mine is music. I play keyboard in a rock band. It's a great way to unwind and it allows my mind to work through all the day-to-day challenges. It's an extremely powerful way to clear all the clutter and keep me focused."
--Margaretha Welsford, sales director at Etc.Venues, a U.K. day-conference provider that hosted 18,000 events and 800,000 people in the last year and recently announced plans to enter New York City
14. Let go of being a perfectionist and become a progressionist
"If you think the only way to be successful is to be 100-percent perfect 100 percent of the time, you will burn out. It nearly happened to me. I used to be a perfectionist who focused on any little thing that went wrong vs. celebrating everything that went right. Replace thinking of yourself as a perfectionist with being a progressionist -- someone who celebrates their progress every step of the way. If you are halfway to a goal or meeting a deadline, you can say look how much further I have to go or celebrate how far you have come. When I celebrate the progress I make it releases endorphins and gets me reenergized to keep going."
--John Livesay, best-selling author of Better Selling Through Storytelling and TEDx speaker who has garnered more than one million views
15. Say yes to stress
"My go-to stress navigation technique is to connect with my deepest life purpose/passion--my quadriplegic, special-needs son. He reminds me how grateful I am to walk and talk daily and that makes everything in my world more tolerable. If you can understand your stress and determine your level of proficiency in dealing with challenges in life, you will be equipped to face difficulties head-on with the intention of winning, which is far different from fearfully avoiding life's challenges and crises. Look for triggers and have a plan in place for ensuring your success in any situation. Allow yourself to connect with your purpose, modify plans accordingly, and thereby set yourself up for even more success."
--Terry Lyles, motivational speaker, life-performance expert to professional athletes, military personnel, and business executives, and author of four books on stress, including Performance Under Pressure (2019)
16. Own your calendar
"Take pride in first scheduling the actions that are the most meaningful in your personal life, not just your professional life, balancing significance with success. If you schedule a morning run or a technology-free dinner with your family, remember that it's just as important to keep these appointments as it would be to keep a meeting with your boss."
--Cheryl Pinter-Veal, head of the NextGen leadership-development program at professional services firm Deloitte, with $46 billion in annual revenue
17. Get up early and exercise
"Three years ago, I made a commitment to myself to start my day with exercise and it has paid unforeseen dividends in body, mind and spirit. Starting your day with a regular wake up time and exercise routine helps to reset from the previous day and energize for the day ahead. I typically set my alarm for 5:40 a.m. to give me just enough time to sit in the quiet of my living room enjoying a cup of coffee and to gear up for a morning activity to get my body moving. I try to switch it up between a 2.5-mile walk, 45 minutes of yoga at home or an hour at the gym. I not only feel better physically, but I am also able to use the time to reflect and process the highs and lows from the day before and meet the new day with a sense of clarity and preparedness for the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. This daily routine is something I honor as a way to stay on track and motivated."
--Noreen Springstead, executive director of WhyHunger, an organization that has impact in 30 countries and a 44-year track record of advancing the human right to nutritious food
18. Take time to be introspective and journal
"It's very freeing at the end of a long day to take the time to process via journaling. I write out the major things that happened that day -- what things frustrated me, things that I want to refer back to during a rainy day (like a great piece of feedback), concerns and goals. This practice has not only helped me decompress my thoughts, but it's also enabled me to work out many roadblocks, whether it's related to something happening at work or personal development. If you decide to journal, it's important to really be honest with yourself."
--Ying Chen, chief product and marketing officer at Luminoso, an A.I.-powered Text Analytics company that helps global brands such as Hilton and Denso understand conversational data and act on insights like drivers of net promoter scores (NPS), and has received $29.7 million in funding
19. Have a consistent morning routine
"For years, I've gotten up at the same time every day, ate the same breakfast, and arrived at the office at roughly the same time. I hold a quick morning meeting with my team, set my to-do list, and give myself some time to get stuff done first thing when I am rested and capable."
--Dave Friedman, serial entrepreneur who recently co-founded Knox Financial, a company focused on making rental property ownership easier and more profitable that has raised $1.4 million
20. Say yes when opportunity presents itself
"With the hustle and complexity of our daily lives, it's easy to turn down opportunities waiting for the perfect fit or ideal timing. But I've found that in both my professional career and in my outside life, saying yes to opportunities has led to more open doors and a lot of great adventures. When you say no to opportunities, you are limiting yourself to the path that you're on and potentially decreasing the potential for new growth experiences. While saying yes to every opportunity may not be realistic, taking more chances and saying yes more often every day can lead to incredible experiences and possibilities that you'd never imagined."
--Cindy Miller, president and CEO at Stericycle, a provider of compliance-based solutions that protect people and brands, promote health, and safeguard the environment, serving more than one million customers in all 50 U.S. states and 21 countries worldwide
21. Start the day with meditation
"I start every day with a short meditation session and a run (preferably not on a treadmill). Making this commitment helps me to begin each morning with a clean slate, remembering who I am and why I do what I do. This quiet reflection allows me to ground myself from chaos and noise, making the whole day significantly more productive, and providing inspiration to do my best work by focusing on the fact that I am serving people every day."
--Mike Small, CEO, Americas, of Sitel Group, a customer-experience-management company with 75,000 people across the globe connecting brands with customers
22. Master the art of micro-enjoying moments
"I used to wait until the perfect time to relax and enjoy fun activities, family and friends until I realized that there is no perfect time. Whether at work or in personal life, you're always going to face challenges and obstacles that can be hard to put in a proverbial lockbox. While stress can be a good thing that pushes you to be a better work leader or stronger individual, I've learned that you also need to develop the ability to stay in the moment. Every day, I try to find small, 15-minute blocks to focus on joyful things. This could mean taking a walk to the local coffee shop, picking up the phone (skip the text) and calling a friend or listening to a podcast. Practicing the art of micro-enjoying life has helped me better deal with life's stresses and put into perspective what really matters."
--Robert Weiss, founding CEO of FanDragon Technologies, a provider of secure mobile ticket delivery solutions that has raised $12 million in funding
23. Commit to a morning routine which doesn't involve your phone
"It's tempting to immediately get on your phone and check email the moment you wake up, especially when you're running a start-up. Even in the early stages of my business, I made a commitment to myself to start my day by doing something that helps me relax, reset and positions me to succeed in my day. Whether that's a five-mile run or a five-minute meditation, dedicating time to those activities that make you feel good outside of work will make your time in the office that much more fulfilling and productive."
--Justin Rees, CEO, TransLoc/Journey Holding, a Ford Mobility company and provider of intelligent transportation software solutions to more than 1,200 customers in all 50 U.S. states and around the globe
24. Prioritize your day in categories
"The usual to-do list routine can become overwhelming, particularly when the list starts to span multiple pages. Categorizing your to-do list into three different prioritization levels, such as 'must do today,' 'if time allows' and 'can wait for tomorrow' allows you to see through the clutter of your daily list and focus on the items that matter most, whether it's drinks with a colleague or finalizing a presentation for investors."
--Cristina Constandache, chief revenue officer at Rakuten Viber, a messaging application with one billion registered users in 193 countries
25. Practice gratitude and read (a lot)
"I've always thought that having perspective is essential to my continued personal growth, so I make a daily effort to support it and expand it. To support it, I tell myself something that I am thankful for at least once a day. I find that this keeps me grounded and connected to the items most important in my life, but also often provides much needed perspective during challenging or stressful moments in my day. To expand my perspective, I read ... a lot. Not necessarily just books, but everything from articles on current events to long reads that take a deep dive into the most esoteric issue. Most importantly, I seek out content that is varied with respect both to the topic... and author. Regardless of whether what I'm reading is related to what I do for work, I find that pushing myself to think about things differently exercises my brain and ultimately enables me to be more creative and effective in producing solutions."
--Vamsi Bonthala, CEO of Arbor Lodging Partners, a Chicago-based national hotel investment company that recently announced a $135 million portfolio acquisition, expanding its portfolio to 25 hotels nationwide
26. Dream big, but realize entrepreneurship is a battle of the mind
"Ultimately, your mind -- not the grind -- is what will set you apart. We glorify the hustle and pretend it's fun to work 18-hour days. Wake up. When your body is screaming at you to slow down, don't ignore it. Stay true to yourself and put your mental health first. Success will follow."
--Erik Severinghaus, serial entrepreneur who's experienced three successful exits in businesses ranging from technology platforms to pizza franchises
27. Say no to meetings
"I decline any meeting invite that doesn't make it clear what the objective of the meeting is and why I am needed. Time is money might be an overused idiom, but it's unbelievably easy to become over-scheduled, and if I spend my entire day in meetings, I have little time to devote to my own tasks and priorities."
--Monica Ho, CMO of SOCi, a social and reputation-management platform used by more than 300 multilocation brands