24 Ways Ordinary People Have Achieved Extraordinary Success

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Last year, I  contacted the most successful people I know. I interviewed them on my blog, and then compiled those interviews into a book, Just Like You: 24 Interviews of Ordinary People Who’ve Achieved Extraordinary Success.

Here are 24 ways ordinary people have achieved extraordinary success, according to Just Like You.

1. Protect your reputation.

“Young lawyers need to understand that even in the beginning of their careers, they are planting seeds for their future success. All the people they interact with, friends, clients, adversaries, are future clients or referral sources.”

Russ Adler, owner of law offices of Russell E. Adler

2. Give back.

“I believe success is defined by the lives we touch. Success can be measured by the impact we make toward building a better world, and doing our part to inspire those around us to achieve greatness.”

Lisa Besserman, founder of Startup Buenos Aires

3. Bring small-business ideas to big-business boardrooms.

“If your boss sees social as a boondoggle, don’t throw caution to the wind. Tone it down, or better yet, find a new boss.”

Tami Cannizzaro, head of marketing at eBay Enterprise

4. Leave room for play.

“When I first started to explore my extracurricular passion of performing and recording as a jazz vocalist, I thought it would be best to keep it under wraps. As my confidence grew as an artist, I started to invite more friends and colleagues to the gigs, and when I invited potential clients, my deal close rate started to rise.”

John Dokes, chief marketing officer at AccuWeather and an accomplished jazz musician

5. Find a supportive life partner.

“My girlfriend-now-wife, Meg, introduced herself to my neighbor one day. A few years later, my neighbor decided to start his own fund. Eventually, he asked me to quit my job (OK, I begged him to ask me to quit my job), and I left JPMorgan to raise my first venture fund.”

Tim Flannery, VC and operator

6. Cultivate community.

“I truly believe the community above all drives the product. The bond forged through sweat and hard work is almost as strong as any other, in my opinion. I have made some lifelong friends here.”

Chris Guerrero, CrossFit affiliate head trainer and owner

7. Do what you love.

“I was the weird art kid. But I knew who I was and I was ‘allowed’ to embrace it. I went to Wesleyan University at 16 to study all aspects of art, design, dance, and theater. I studied abroad in Italy and traveled extensively. I learn by experience. These things made me who I am.”

-Sheila Haile, chief marketing officer at Cohen’s Fashion Optical

8. Take charge of your personal finances.

“At a young age, I decided that I would take my personal finances seriously. I got on top of my game and was able to buy real estate at age 19. It allowed me to build my first company.”

John Hall, CEO, Influence & Co., No. 72 in Forbes‘ “America’s Most Promising Companies”

9. Listen actively.

“I listen. I don’t look at a question list. I get into someone’s mind. If I am exhausted after an interview, I know I have done a good job.”

Chris Hansen, TV journalist and author

10. Think big, act bigger.

“I was brought up to believe that no matter what you did, as long as you did it right, you are a success.”

Jeffrey Hayzlett, primetime TV and radio host, keynote speaker, best-selling author, and global business celebrity

11. Have gratitude.

“I’m a huge believer in gratitude. I handwrite three thank-you cards each morning, and spend each dinner with my family going around the table, all sharing someone we’re grateful for that day. Gratitude is the best drug on the planet.”

Dave Kerpen, founder and CEO of Likeable Local, NY Times best-selling author, and speaker

12. Have fun!

“I mean, the great thing about pitching is that it’s fun! That is my motivation. I am always having fun! Around me is a hemisphere of fun. If you step into my hemisphere, say, within 20 feet of me, and I stop having fun, you need to get out. OK? That’s my rule. I’m having fun!”

Oren Klaff, author of Pitch Anything and managing director at Intersection Capital

13. Don’t forget where you came from.

“I have often returned to Brooklyn–especially when things were not going so well in my life–to walk the streets where I was raised and played to ground myself. It helped a lot to walk those streets.”

Bill LaRosa, CEO, executive leadership coach, business and personal growth consultant, experienced public board director, and angel investor

14. Value education.

“For me, the value of college was exposure to a huge diversity of incredibly smart people. I was blown away by how smart people were. I think you can argue that college is too expensive, but it is certainly not a waste of time.”

Lew Leone, VP and general manager at WNYW/WWOR-TV

15. Stay positive.

“I kept a positive outlook out of sheer necessity. I had gone too far down the rapid path to fail. I would have been out on the street if Mindgrub wasn’t successful, so there was no alternative than to always think positively and put my best foot forward every day.”

Todd Marks, CEO, president, and founder of Mindgrub

16. Know what real success is.

“Biggest success was playing a small part in helping everyone in our company (Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines) come home alive from Afghanistan in 2010. We were blessed with some incredible leadership and some very aggressive, but smart, Marines and sailors.”

Chris Maloney, U.S. Marine, pilot, and co-founder at Cause Engine

17. Fame, money, and title mean nothing.

“What passed for success at 23, 24, 25 doesn’t hold an ounce of weight now, at 43. I mean, it’s laughable, and I actually feel bad for people who have this measure of success, via fame or money or title.”

Jeff Pearlman, best-selling author

18. Ask for help.

“I have tons of help, and I am not afraid to ask for more. I think a mistake many women make is feeling like they have to do everything themselves.”

Dr. Roshini Raj, medical host, author, and co-founder of TULA

19. Know what you want.

“I asked myself, ‘In five or so years, do I want to be known as Ray Sanseverino, partner of Bill Rogers, or do I want to be known as Ray Sanseverino, great lawyer?’ When I answered the question that I wanted to be known for what I had accomplished, rather than feeding off someone else’s glory, I left.”

Ray Sanseverino, chair of Loeb & Loeb’s real estate department

20. Be yourself.

“My bosses always told me to be myself. That is actually one of the hardest things to do. It took me years to be comfortable with myself, and to be willing to show the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

Rosanna Scotto, anchor of Good Day New York

21. Take risks.

“Sometimes, just being in the right place at the right time helps, but you have to be prepared to jump out of your comfort zone and take a risk!”

Dennis Simmons, CEO at Wasc Holding

22. Failure is not a sin.

“Failure is not a sin; failing due to lack of preparation or effort is. Whatever you want in life, whatever challenge you take on, give it everything you’ve got. If you know you couldn’t have prepared any harder, given an ounce more energy in the drive to the goal, you’ll be fine.”

Jim Treacy, public speaker, writer, consultant, and former president and COO of Monster Worldwide

23. There is no such thing as luck.

“I am of the mindset that you create your own luck. Certainly there are instances where luck has prevailed, but I think those are the exception, not the rule. In general, hard work, preparation, commitment, focus, and perseverance are the underlying factors.”

Tom Shine, co-founder of Logo Athletic, executive at Reebok and XIX Entertainment, and angel investor

24. Stop feeling sorry for yourself.

When asked if he ever had a “why is this happening to me” moment, my father, Adrian (who was dying of ALS), replied:

“Brief. If I let it take hold–that will be the end. That will be the end of my relationship with my family, it’ll be the end of me. I’m not dying today, and I’m not dying tomorrow.”

Adrian Dessi,  my father

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