Of success and stuff

Ten Secrets to success you won’t learn behind the desk:

I am sure we all remember when we were children being asked this question rather too frequently by grownups: What do you want to be when you grow up?  And it is from that time when you have to come up with an answer that your wanting of success is born. Everything about society tells us we need to be successful. Those ‘Employee of The Week’ posters at the grocery store tell us it doesn’t matter what you do but that it is important that you do it well and come out on top.

The pursuit if success is also contributed to by the fact that as human beings we love to be celebrated whether is it by others or ourselves. Success allows us to emerge from behind shadows and affords us recognition from our peers. Success is a driving force in changing the dynamics such as working with your boss or working for your boss.

So, what is success?

I cannot begin to talk about success without drawing from my own journey. I experienced failure at a very young age and as a result developed a complex around the word success. It took me a while to accept it as the truth when people tell me that I am successful and thank them for the compliment. I have since come to understand success not only as the delightful feeling of having accomplished a goal, but also allowing yourself to feel and believe the feeling when you get there. No success can be complete if you do not allow yourself to enjoy it.

While I may not be a successful businesswoman – I mean I don’t have millions earning interest in a fund somewhere – I have enjoyed success as a publisher of award-winning and bestselling books.

Here are ten ‘secrets’ that I believe made it possible:



Know yourself. The primary consideration in pursuing success is to define yourself first – who am I, what do I want, and what will succeeding mean to me? It is important to have these questions answered before looking for ways of being successful. Or else your pursuit of success may be fruitless.

When I was younger I used to write and read all the time. But when the time came for me to study towards a qualification, I went for engineering. It took a long period of depression, from struggling with finding meaning from my choice, for me to start moving back towards who I really am and follow a path that is for me. While I could have done well as an engineer, I doubt I would have been as successful at it as I am in publishing. I have given my all to every book I have published because this is who I am, and I love it.

Don’t ever be afraid to start over. One of the things I know for sure about life is that things don’t always work out the way you plan. If you ever find yourself on a path that your heart no longer recognises, be brave and start over. I shudder at the thought of what might have become of me had I not had the courage to start over.

No one is beneath you. You will work in organisations with a varied mix of people with different roles and it is in your best interest to remember always to uphold respect for others. Some years ago when my cousin dropped me off at the university residence she told me if I respected the cleaning ladies at res, my stay would be a pleasurable one. Of the places I have been, I have yet to meet people who know the organisation’s history as much as the long-term serving cleaner and driver. These people are a wealth of information that you will need at some point.

Get up from behind the desk. This is obvious but I thought, just in case, let me put it out there. Gluing yourself to your desk makes you seem inaccessible and unapproachable. Yes, genius, I know you have email and fancy electronic things. But emails don’t always convey what we wish to communicate. Get up and talk to the people, involve people in your decisions. This way everyone invests in the success of your project and is keener to help. Those conversations around the photocopying machine? Get in there!

Show up. So you got to work on time today? Great! But that’s not enough. What other areas of your industry do you need be seen at? In my profession a few book launches a month is a great way to keep in touch with the industry and catch up on industry gossip. These kinds of ‘showing up’ moments are important if you are offering a service or a product. People are more inclined to promote it via word of mouth if they know the person behind it. The success of what we do often depends not only on who we know, but also who knows us. Some of my bestselling books were referred to me because in some circles my name has become synonymous with publishing. Make that your aim.

Know when to log off twitter. One of the biggest traps of our time is social media. As fantastic as it is for what it is, you need to learn when to pull back. There is no current legislation dealing with social media which has SA taking precedence from the UK on cases. This leaves one very vulnerable and indeed open to being used to set an example. Just because you had not thought a tweet through does not mean you can’t lose your job over it. If I don’t like a book from another publishing house I never express these views on social media. In the event that I am drawn into conversation I go out of my way to be tactful.

Vision. You need to keep in mind that there are hundreds of students graduating with better qualifications than yours. What are you doing with your opportunity that is deserving of you holding onto that position? You need to have a vision and focus that is going to make you indispensable. Because of the history of our country, publishing and books have previously been reserved for white people. In my publishing this is an issue that I address and try to reverse, one book at a time. When I said earlier that some of my bestsellers have come from people who had been sent to me, people also know what my focus is and send people with books that address this focus. You have to be known for your distinguishing characteristics.

Flexibility. One of my friends who is a public servant told me about the one time she had to repeat dirty underwear. She had gone to Cape Town for a meeting and when she was supposed to fly back to Johannesburg her boss told her that she had to stay another day as there was someone they had to meet. She had packed just enough and could not imagine walking around with no underwear, so she wore dirty ones from the day before. While that may have been one of the most uncomfortable days of her life, her boss will always remember her for coming through when she was needed. Make your rules but be flexible enough – the world will carry on anyway.

Choose your battles. I grew up believing that I had to stand up for myself at all times and that would be how I came into the work space all feisty and ready for a fight. It is not pleasant dealing with someone who is always ready and waiting for a fight. One day my line manager called me aside and told me, ‘Thabiso, it’s admirable that you stand up for yourself and all. But the world is about compromise. Choose your battles; that way people take the times when you do fight seriously.’ Thank God I listened, because I have identified which thing I am ready to let go on and which to fight for. And because I am fighting less frequently, I am able to put forward calm logical arguments with very successful results.

Honesty. Your reputation is everything. You owe it to yourself and your hard work to always be honest with people you deal with. The last thing you want is one of the people who knows you from the time you fibbed a little talking to a prospective employer about how they know you. Money, especially, can be quite a contentious issue. So always iron out the money issues when dealing with people and hopefully everything else that follows is easy to be honest about.

I wish you all the very best in your journey to success.



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