The Three Pillars of a Successful Career (and Life)

The Three Pillars of a Successful Career (and Life)

Recently I was on a podcast and the host asked me “Deepak, what do you think are the top three things that contributed to your success.” My first answer was “I’m not successful yet and there is a long way to go.” However, it also forced me to think about what are the three most important things that contribute to career success.

The three of the most important things are Learning, Reflection and Execution.

1. Learning

It might look very obvious but continuous life-long learning is very important for career success. Most of us stop learning after we graduate from college and then we do not touch books. We live in a very competitive world and everything is changing very fast. We will not be able to compete unless we make learning new things a habit. Without learning new things, we will be outdated and thrown out by the system very soon.

I’m not just saying this because I’m in the education business. More than a teacher or online course creator, I’m a learner. I spend a lot of time reading books, watching courses, learning from my mentors and I listen to a lot of audiobooks as well.

You need to find out what is the best method of learning for you. Some prefer learning from videos, some prefer audio, some prefer classroom training and interaction and some just want to read. Your learning method can be a combination of all the above as well.

Learning new things not only makes us competitive but it also puts us in a good state of mind. When we are in a positive state of mind we are more capable of creating the reality that we want.

No one can create their future when they are sad and depressed. There are a few things that give us a positive emotional state. Things like love, gratitude, belonging, etc. put us in a positive state of mind. Knowledge and learning are as powerful as love itself. Once you learn something new, you will feel a sense of power. This builds positive momentum into your day, your week, your month, your year, your decade and your life.

Learn something every day. Ask yourself: what did I learn today? Spend at least one hour per day learning something new.

2. Reflection

Learning new things is like getting new pieces of a puzzle. When you learn new things you cannot take the learning and apply it to your life directly because your situation, resources, experience, and goals are different than the source you are learning from.

Almost all forms of learning are just pointers in the right direction than being turn-by-turn navigation of what you need to do. Some people just keep learning new things all the time and they do not make any time for thinking.

Reflecting on what you’ve learned and thoughts about your past life experience are very important to make use of the things you’ve learned. You need to let the learning sink in. Without giving time for self-reflection you are just collecting more pieces of the puzzle but you are not putting them together. You will not be able to see the bigger picture.

Imagine that you are giving directions to a delivery boy on the phone. If he has no GPS and trying to find your home, he will not want you to tell everything on a single call. He would ideally like to reach a certain checkpoint and ask directions from you again so that he can make progress in steps.

If you keep learning without giving time for reflection, you will end up getting overloaded with information. It will be overwhelming and this is the point where most people lost interest in learning. Because learning without reflection and execution becomes useless. More information will lead to more confusion.

Reflection also fuels you with motivation and inspiration. Inspiration will come from spending time in solitude and reflecting on the things you’ve learned in your life, through experience, and through books.

There are plenty of ways to reflect on things. The best way is to meditate. But meditation is difficult for a lot of people and they do not do it regularly. Have a daily habit of meditating for 20-30 minutes. It will put you in a positive state of mind. But meditation is not enough. You can also do things that keep you in the present moment.

Cooking, walking, playing with your pets, painting, motorcycling, maintaining an aquarium, etc. are activities that keep you in the flow state. A flow state is where you lose track of time. You are totally into something and suddenly you realize that a lot of time has passed.

For me, one of the best flow states is writing. I am in a state of flow as I am writing this article. All these activities calm down your conscious mind and it creates space. This space is important for letting the subconscious mind push important life-changing decisions to your conscious awareness. This is called intuition.

If most of the activities in your life are driven by intuition, you are going to have a wonderful life unfold in front of you. It takes years of practice and open-mindedness to be able to listen clearly to your intuitions and have the ability to trust your intuitions blindly and act on it.

Make sure you have enough time for reflection. If you are jumping from one thing to another, always distracting yourself either with work or with learning, you are going to lack the clarity for major decisions in your life.

Clarity is required to make tough decisions. Easy decisions lead to a tough life. Tough decisions lead to an easy life. Make the tough decisions early on in your life to create the life that you want.

3. Execution

All the learning and reflection in your life will not be of any use if you do not apply what you have learned and act on what you’ve realized. That’s why the 3rd pillar of a successful career is execution. On the other hand, if you keep working and do not learn and reflect, the amount of value you are creating with your work will diminish over time.

One of the best analogies is to think about is a woodcutter cutting a tree. If he spends all his time cutting the tree then over time his ax will become blunt and the amount of time and energy he spends in cutting the tree will increase.

He can take some time off from the cutting work and sharpen his ax. If he sharpens his ax he can be more efficient in cutting the tree and that would mean less time and energy spent in cutting the tree. However, if he spends all his time in sharpening the ax, he would have a sharp ax but no wood.

You need to strike a balance. I like to keep the balance as 30% learning, 30% reflecting and 40% working.

Assuming that you would spend on average 10 hours per day away from life and chores, you should allocate 3 hours for learning, 3 hours for reflection and only 4 hours for working. I have been following this routine for a long time and it has worked well for me. Four hours might seem like a small amount of work, but if done with full focus you will get an entire day’s work done in 4 hours.

I don’t think a 4-hour workweek is practical, but a 4-hour workday is possible and realistic. Most of our “workday” is spend on distractions anyway. If you can channelize all your energies into a focused deep work session for 4 hours, you can spend the rest of your day sharpening your ax and looking at the sky.

Most of the corporate workers who work for 10 hours a day, 60-70 hours a week for decades together have to work so hard because they have to try harder to keep the same output going. They also lock themselves in with a certain standard of lifestyle. The cost of living shoots up and then they cannot fathom the idea of quitting the job and starting a venture because everything will collapse around them. Worse, a lot of people go into debt for buying a car, house and sometimes even vacations. You don’t want to be that. Such a life sucks.

Many people who keep working all the time without sharpening their ax get a rude awakening when they get fired because they become obsolete or the company as a whole fails to adapt to changing times. Sometimes, the whole team is caught up cutting the tree all the time and they never notice how blunt their ax has become. They realize very late in their lives that they have not been doing what they enjoyed doing and they didn’t become the best in the world at a specific skill either.

Final Words

30/30/40 is the mantra for an extraordinary career. Learn, reflect, work, repeat. You need to weave this into a daily habit, else you will not be able to be consistent with it.

Consistent efforts, learning, and reflection over time will bring compounded results. Most of the magical things in life come with compounded effects. If you improve 1% every day for 365 days, you will be 37x better by the end of the year.

Imagine what three hours of learning per day can do to you if you do it for 10 years in a row. You will become the top 1% of the experts in your industry. And if you stack your skills, you will be able to even become the No.1 in your chosen field. Combine this with a lot of thinking and a lot of execution over time, you will create wonders and others will see it as a miracle.

I hope this blog post gave you some insights into how you can design your life for career success in the long term.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below 🙂

Deepak Kanakaraju