Wisdom//

5 Habits for Building a Successful Career

“All around you are successful people you can learn from, if you open your eyes and are willing to ask questions.”

Julia Lazebnaya / Shutterstock
Julia Lazebnaya / Shutterstock

Whether you’re seeking a new job or competing for a promotion, take it from me, defying the odds and fulfilling your dreams comes down to going all in and never settling for anything less than your best effort.  

Growing up as the child of Cuban immigrants, I was told I was ill-equipped to meet the challenges I would face in pursuit of my dream of becoming a doctor.  But for the better part of the last thirty years, I kept at it, methodically plodding along the road less traveled to become a heart transplant surgeon.

The lessons I learned and the skills I developed are universal – whatever your own career goals.  Here are five key takeaways that can help you along your own journey:

Hard Work – The Poor Man’s Genius

You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room – just the hardest working.  Are you willing the put in the extra time and effort to learn and master a subject or a discipline, even if takes you much longer than your peers?  Whether it was winning a scholarship to the Ivy League or becoming a varsity football player, my successes are all attributable to one thing – unceasing hard work.  Take this lesson to heart – whether it’s going above and beyond when it comes to researching the company you’re interviewing for, building your skills, or taking on the most challenging projects in your current job. 

Learn From The Best

Don’t re-invent the wheel.  All around you are successful people you can learn from, if you open your eyes and are willing to ask questions.  As a college student with aspirations to become a doctor, it was by observing those around me that I learned the importance of extracurricular activities, such as laboratory or clinical research, to help bolster my application to medical schools. By virtue of my incessant scavenging for the inside scoop, I amassed a stout portfolio of experiences and avoided an untold number of pitfalls along the way. To be the best, you have to learn from the best.  Look to your co-workers, your supervisors, and fellow members of industry associations and soak up their knowledge and experience!

Appearances Matter

During my grueling surgical residencies, regardless of how sleep-deprived my fellow residents and I were, we always had to appear clean-cut, well-groomed, dressed in formal attire, in full command of all the “data” (lab and test results, vital signs, and the like) for every patient under our care, and ready to tackle the litany of tasks continually being added to our to-do list.  In the Internet Age, how you present yourself in public is more important today than ever. Social media has caused the eradication of any semblance of privacy we once took for granted. Now, more than ever, the negative ramifications of lapses in what I think of as “gravitas” can be catastrophic. 

Don’t Lose Track Of Your Heart

Sometimes, your aspirations shift – so make sure you always are in tune with what you really want.  After years of grueling medical training and fellowships, I realized that my next career move needed to be based on what was best for “Brian Lima.” the person, not “Brian Lima” the heart surgeon.  I refocused, and took a position in Austin where I was able to achieve the work-life balance I needed. When you’re pursuing your dream, it’s easy lose yourself in the process. Don’t misconstrue “a calling” for something that has to be earth shattering, that has to garner lots of dollar signs, or that has to attract millions of followers on social media. On the contrary, the desire for glitz and glamour or fame and fortune should never be your primary driver. Do what you need to do to stay grounded, balanced, and attentive to the welfare of those close to you.  

No Regrets Allowed

Never second-guess decisions you made along the way that seemed like the correct move at the time! The should’ve’s, would’ve’s, could’ve’s will drive you insane, if you let them. It’s not to say you shouldn’t learn from past errors and failures, but dwelling on them to the point that you lose your edge is pointless and self-defeating.  We all make mistakes, and some matter more than others. If you’re like me, you’re also probably harder on yourself than anybody else. No matter how bad things seem, you have to force yourself to remember that what’s done is done. Discipline your thought process so you don’t keep reliving that awful or embarrassing moment. Focusing on the here and now when you’re still aching from the sting of whatever that misstep was is the way you move on, grow, and improve. Say it out loud, talk yourself through it, and take control of how you will respond to the situation. 

Whatever the next step in your career, take these lessons to heart—and know that you have what it takes to succeed!

Pre-order Dr. Brian Lima’s coming book, Heart To Beat: A Cardiac Surgeon’s Inspiring Story of Success and Overcoming Adversity―The Heart Way, here.

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