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The 6 Key Qualities for Success

I often receive emails asking me very vague questions, such as “how do I stand out on my medical school application?” or “I did well in high school, but I’m having so much trouble in university now – what to I do?” The problem with these types of questions is that there is no good answer for them; honestly, there is no step by step formula for success.

Instead, I think a better approach is to figure out what qualities or habits one should adopt in order to be successful. This is especially important for young people in high school and postsecondary who are soon to enter the working world, but are still lost about their interests, skills and need to build their capacity.

Through my personal experiences, I have come across a remarkable number of outstanding individuals in a variety of sectors, including science, medicine, business and community service, among others. In reflecting on these individuals, I have come to realize there are 6 qualities they all tend to share in common.

1. Resourceful

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Are you succeeding? If not, maybe you’re measuring success the wrong way

Every action you undertake begins with three things:

  1. Motivation – Why are you doing this? What’s driving you? What’s the point?
  2. Goal – What do you hope to achieve? What does success look like?
  3. Action plan – How will you achieve your goal? What do you need to do?

Most of us understand this template and have learned it at some point or another. However, one key component of success that is commonly forgotten is measuring success.

Measuring success: how do we know we’re getting there?

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5 Tips for a Successful Elevator Pitch

This past Monday and this morning, I was at the 2011 Canada-Wide Science Fair encouraging this year’s participants to try out the brand new SMARTS website. (When I started SMARTS in 2004, it was a plain website with information on a couple of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) opportunities myself and a few peers has been to. Over the next several years, we became a part of Youth Science Canada and grew into a network of over 200 schools and student volunteers. This week, we launched SMARTS 2.0 – an online community to connect and support young Canadians interested in science)

We had a display booth in the science fair exhibit hall, and our goal was to provide demos to the science fair participants walking around and encourage them to join. While I didn’t start with a particular spiel, I had a well-refined elevator pitch about SMARTS by the end. For those of you unfamiliar, an elevator pitch is basically a very brief summary that you present to people to capture interest when you don’t have much time.

At some point or another, all of us need to be able to deliver an elevator pitch, or at the very least, be able to describe something in as few words as possible, but still be highly valuable in content. Maybe you are marketing a product to a potential customer. Perhaps you run into a legendary researcher in your field and you only have a few seconds to share your idea. Or maybe you are trying to convince people to donate to a cause you are fighting so hard for.

Based on my experiences, I’d like to share with you 5 thing I’ve learned about making a successful elevator pitch.

1. Introduce yourself – create a connection

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Why do we fail and how do we move forward from it?

On March 20, 2011 I challenged myself to make 30 posts in 30 days. Today is April 24, 2011, and I posted 11 times in that 30 day span. I failed in the challenge I set for myself. I apologized if I disappointed some of you who were looking forward to more frequent posting.

No matter how much we wish we could go back in time and change something, the reality is that the only we can do is make the best decision going forward. We all have mistakes, shortcomings, and failures, and we cannot change them. No one is immune to them. But we can only move forward. And we can learn from them. In today’s post I plan to dissect why we fail at the goals we set for ourselves and what we can learn from them using forward, using my recent challenge failure as an example.

Unrealistic goals

Above all, goals must be realistic. If your goals aren’t at all reasonable for you, then you’re running a race that you can’t win (sorry Usain Bolt, I’m never going to set a goal of running faster than you!). Of course, this does not mean goals must be something you are guaranteed to achieve. Being reasonable is different from being certain. It can certainly be reasonable for you to get into medical school, but there’s never a guarantee you will.

How do you know if it’s reasonable? Ask yourself – have there been people in my position that have achieved something like this before? If there has, then perhaps it’s reasonable. But even if no one has, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It might mean you just need to work harder than anyone has before. But if you need to work 1,000 times harder or grow 10 inches in height to achieve something that someone else like you can’t do, then you might need to rethink things.

Was 30 posts in 30 days unrealistic? It wasn’t impossible. But was it reasonable? Over the last 12 months, I have averaged 4.25 posts per month. I think expecting myself to increase my blogging productivity by 7 was a bit too much to expect of myself. A more realistic goal would probably be to double my average blogging frequency, so something like 8 posts/month or 2 posts/week.

Picking the right goal but the wrong plan

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Keep your eyes on the future and embrace change

*Post 11 in the 30 Posts in 30 Days Challenge

Last night I was audience to a fantastic presentation by Steve Prentice on social media and its integration in business and health.

One of the ideas he spoke about was the importance for leaders not be afraid of the future. We can’t stick to our old ways just because we are afraid to embrace changes in the world around us. If the old way really is better, then of course, keep it. But it’s a mistake to not be open minded and see opportunity in change and being willing to explore them. Finding new opportunity in change and embracing it earlier means finding new areas of growth for a business or organization. If you want to stay ahead, you have to keep up with the new opportunities that change brings.

I’m way behind in the game, but I finally give in to you LinkedIn, you win!

Two important questions

*Post 10 in the 30 Posts in 30 Days Challenge

This past Tuesday I was in a meeting, and at the very beginning, two questions were posed at me:

1. What do I want to do with my life?

2. What drives me to do what I do?

These are two extremely difficult questions, but they are also very important ones. Understanding yourself enough to be able to answer #2 is necessary for answering #1, not only with words, but with your actions too.

So I pose to you the very same questions for reflection: What do you want to do with your life? What drives you to do what you do?

Trial and error – because it’s okay to not know what you want

*Post 9 in the 30 Posts in 30 Days Challenge

Sometimes it feels like we live in such a strange world. We’re expected to know so many things about ourselves, particularly about our futures, before we even know where to begin.

One of those key moments is when we graduate high school. At this stage, we’re often expected to know what kind of job or career we want in the future, and pick a post-secondary education that works toward it. The strange thing is that we’re expected to know these things usually not really knowing what it means to do that kind of job. It’s hard to know if you’ll like something until you actually do it. I mean we can estimate and predict, but the certainty doesn’t come until you actually get the job, and by then, you’re pretty invested and it can be difficult to leave.

In medicine, that situation doesn’t end when you get in medical school. Once you get into medical school, you realize that you have to apply for residency in a few years, and for very competitive specialties (such as dermatology, plastic surgery, etc.) that means knowing early on that you want to pursue those areas so you can build your resume and put together a good application several years down the line.

In going through medical school, it has taken me more than a year to figure out what I want out of medicine, and it certainly isn’t anything close to what I thought going into medical school, and not even close to what I imagined when I first thought about medicine many years ago. It has also taken me a bit of trial and error, and doing some things I in retrospect didn’t want to do, to figure out were I’m supposed to be. But that’s okay, because sometimes trial and error is the only way we figure things out.

And I don’t expect my attitudes or desires to not change and evolve – maybe they won’t, but I need to be willing to adjust my goals and expectations as need be. Things in life don’t stop changing, and often the same applies to our thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs.

When you need help, look to your web of people

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I’ve started a new project recently that requires me to learn how to use a tool I’ve never encountered before. Learning something new is always exciting.

What’s challenging is troubleshooting – trying to solve problems in a world you’ve never been in before. Usually when I’m stuck I end up Googling and Googling until I find an answer. The beauty of the Internet is that someone out there has probably created a webpage about exactly the solution you’re looking for. The problem is that you might have to go through hundreds of webpages to find it.

However, what’s even more useful help is simply someone who already knows how to navigate that environment. Why? Because not only can they solve your problem right away, but they can explain it to you, and answer your questions.

It is almost always much faster to learn from an individual than to learn from a book. Think about the last time you had trouble with math. Was it easier consulting a textbook or asking a friend? Chances are you immediately asked a friend without considering a textbook.

The same goes for so many things outside of school. The fact is that learning from someone who actually knows that field is just way easier and more helpful a lot of the time.

However, the reality then is that your help network is only as big and as diverse as your social network is. The more people you have that you can ask, the more likely you’ll find your answer. And the more diverse your network is, the more likely you’ll be able to find someone who can solve your obscure problem.

Be organized!

*Post 7 in the 30 Posts in 30 Days Challenge

I remember in high school and university hearing about the importance of developing “organizational skills”. To be honest, I don’t think anyone has ever really taught me what that even means.

It’s only been recently when I’ve been in small group situations that I’ve realized how important (and advantageous) it is to be organized. It makes the work you have to do so much easier.

Write stuff down!

One example I’ve come across recently is brainstorming for a project. People get excited, throw around ideas, and discuss them. But far too often it’s purely a discussion and things don’t get jotted down – trust me, jot them down! It’s so easy to forget awesome ideas that it really pays to write everything down.

Sometimes I will be walking down a street just thinking to myself and some great idea will just come to me. In the past I would remind myself to come back to it later, but I’ve come to learn how dangerous relying purely on myself is (haha). Now, I instantly take out my smart phone and send myself an email or something, just so I remember to record the idea later.

Write plans

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Motivating people by making them invested

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If you’re a business owner, it’s not hard to motivate people to do their work. In fact, they often do it no questions asked. Why? Well, if you’re being paid to do a job, and you need that job, you’re going to get your work done.

It’s different when you’re working with people who are volunteering their time. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you are a student who is involved with student clubs, community work, and non-profit experiences. If you are a student leader, you’re often going to come across the challenge of motivating your volunteers to be active and complete their tasks.

At the end of the day, the leader is going to be the most invested and held accountable for the results – that’s why being a leader is so tough. If you’ve seen Donald Trump’s reality show The Apprentice, you know that the project manager for each week’s competition is always one of the individuals on the chopping block. If anything goes wrong, the leader is always going to be one of the people held accountable.

Of course, the success of any team depends on the cohesiveness of the entire team. As we all know, when you’re a volunteer with nothing really to lose, it’s easy to stray off path and get lazy. So when you are working with volunteers, how do you keep them motivated and on task?

I was talking about this very idea with Shelly the other day and she told me about a friend of hers who coordinates a large student program. One of the things he did was spend some of the budget on getting all of the executive member volunteers “business cards”. I thought this was a fantastic idea because it 1.) makes the positions seem very legitimate/professional to the executives, and more importantly, 2.) it makes the executive feel like a real part of the program, and most importantly, 3.) it makes the executive member feel invested in the program. I mean you have a business card for gosh sake, are you really going to slack off and do nothing?

We see similar concepts in business. One question often asked when starting a company and looking to build the team is, should I offer someone a salary or should I offer them equity in the company (i.e. a share of ownership in the business)? The advantage of offering someone equity is that it makes them invested in the company – their individual success (i.e. the value of their equity in th business) is dependent on the success of the business. If the business grows, so does the value of their equity in the business. This means that they have an incentive to work harder and be committed. On the contrary, someone who is paid a salary has less incentive to work harder and be invested in the company.

So the next time you are having trouble motivating people, ask yourself, can I make them invested in any way?