Thoughts on Success in Life
February 11, 2014
This article originally appeared in my firm’s monthly staff magazine. I was asked to contribute a piece with a subject of my choice, so I attempted to address a topic which I hope everyone will benefit from learning more about and be able to implement in a professional environment of course but also in life in general.
It was probably 20 years ago, and one of those rare moments when my father was helping me study for a difficult subject. He turned to me and said “son, life is a battle of nerves, and as long as you’re in control of yourself and your behavior, you will come out a winner”.
Perhaps at the time it didn't resonate much for a 15-year old more interested in playing basketball and plastering posters of female celebrities over his bedroom wall. It took me a few years to learn that lesson, and it changed my life. I now look back at my father and realize how many lessons I've learned from just watching him navigate through life, and I certainly owe a great deal of my success to his wisdom, whether it was wisdom gained from his advice or him setting an example.
You see my father is a true definition of a self-made man: he came from a poor family, growing up in communal living arrangements, working summers to pay for his own education, and then starting work full-time at age 17 while going to night school to study banking. By age 25, he was regional manager for one of the largest banks in Lebanon. At age 27, he led negotiations for the sale of the bank to another leading bank. His list of successes is never-ending.
There is a reason why I bring up these stories in this context: people often come to me for advice about personal development and career advancement, often encouraged by the paths I've chosen and my passion for sharing the knowledge I've accumulated. Little do these people know that much of my knowledge stems from my attempts to emulate the path my father tread.
So for the first time, I’m going to attempt to summarize in writing the most important lessons which have helped me succeed in career and in life:
Once in the past 2 years: that’s how many times I’ve lost my temper. It’s a simple concept, yet so hard to achieve. That was the first lesson I learned from my father and one I started training myself for since my first days at university at age 17.
In my career, this simple yet difficult to master skill has allowed me to nail job interviews straight off a 15-hour sleepless flight, win tough M&A negotiations with experienced professionals twice my age, stay calm and collected trading equities and derivatives in the worst capital markets climates of 2000 and 2001 (including the days following Sept 11), and most importantly, saved my marriage more times that I could remember.
Self-Awareness, Embody the Person You Want to Be
These terms often have a bad connotation, but my version is far from pushing people to become egocentric. For me, self-awareness is the ability to see oneself from the perspective of others, constantly, continuously, and with a healthy dose of criticism.
“I’m sorry, I wasn't aware”: how many times have you responded this way to someone pointing something out about your behavior, your appearance, the tone of your voice, etc. Once again, this takes years to master, but you will reach a point where you’re in that mode during all hours of consciousness. Seeing yourself and your behavior in the eyes of the person(s) sitting across the room is an extremely powerful tool to bettering yourself.
I've often been asked the question: what’s your secret? How did you become the youngest team leader for IPOs, or the youngest Investment Banking Director globally at Lehman Brothers. My response is always simple: just by being that person – if you want to achieve success and have people reward you for it, then start operating as the person you want to be! Challenge yourself and be self-critical! You’re an associate, then operate as a VP, develop your soft skills, be creative, build relationships with clients.
Have a Strong Partner in Life
That’s a biggy! Yes you may achieve monetary and career success on your own, but what passion is driving you towards that goal? It’s so one-dimensional that the slightest tremor could throw you off your path. Having a strong partner will give you more perspective, a sense of purpose, someone to share your achievements with.
Ask yourself the following: what would a fabulous day at work mean if you didn't have someone to tell that to when you get home? For me, there is no doubt in my mind: I would not have achieved what I have in life had it not been for my partner of 10 years.
This concept certainly goes beyond work: who is the first person you call or talk to when you finish an Ironman, or a marathon, or even a great book?
Don’t lie, period, just don’t, you’ll sleep better
I've worked at the most cut-throat and political investment banks, where a “dog-eat-dog” attitude is the norm, yet I never compromised on my values, including staying honest with colleagues and clients. Did that hurt me in my career? I was ranked in the top 10% among Directors globally at Lehman Brothers 2 years in a row, and old clients from 10 years ago still call me for advice, whether personal or work-related. Trust me on this one too; you do not need to be dishonest to succeed in your career.
Inspire Others and Share Knowledge
“You were a teacher in another life”. I get that a lot, and I’m certainly very passionate about it. Your success as a leader is a function of how successful your team is, not how successful you are personally.
A leader shares knowledge and elevates people, and in turn is carried him/herself on the crest of that wave. We work in an industry where knowledge is power, and people often see sharing of knowledge as giving ammunition to the enemy. Once again, I look back at my professional track record and I see no reason for such fears. Most importantly of all, however, I cannot run a DCF valuation on the satisfaction I get from seeing the amazing achievements of the various people I've mentored over the years.