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5 Habits of Successful Professionals

Career Column
S uccess, just like happiness and other intangible goals, is entirely self-defined. You may measure it differently from your family members, employees, colleagues, and even role models. However, no matter how people interpret success, I find that the most successful professionals tend to have the following characteristics in common.

1. Enjoying challenges

Handling challenges skillfully is a core competency of any successful professional. In fact, some of the most adept people make it a sport. These people enjoy and welcome challenges because they often provide unexpected growth opportunities. Challenges are also useful opportunities to prove yourself in the eyes of others.

Continuing to grow your skills, even in areas unrelated to work, helps you to stay involved, aware, and highly engaged in your career. Consider viewing each challenge as a different opportunity to prove yourself, learn a new skill, or otherwise mature as a professional.

2. Planning

Some degree of planning helps successful professionals to stay on course. They are also agile, correcting and calibrating the course as their career unfolds. After all, over time they learn new information, and their circumstances — personal and professional — may change. Thus, to be successful, you must plan carefully, yet also allow, and even welcome, some instances of chance and serendipity.

In the end, others won't make your career happen. You need to put in the majority of the work. This means taking charge and influencing what you can at work and in life daily, but also having the strength and wisdom to embrace what you cannot control.

3. Maintaining clear boundaries

Successful professionals have a strong sense of control and have mastered the art of setting boundaries. How else could they manage a full load of career, family, self-care, and other responsibilities?

People at the top of their game are open-minded but also aware of what they can handle, know their limits, push back strategically, and focus on their long-term goals and values. Practice identifying opportunities that may not be right for you, and learn to mindfully decline them.

4. Optimism

While some degree of pessimism may be helpful to evaluate all outcomes and think strategically, optimism helps successful professionals cope with stress and become resilient.

Consider integrating mindfulness into your daily routine, whether through meditation or simply writing down five things you are grateful for. This will help you remember the positive aspects of life and strengthen your mindset for when difficult situations arise.

Another strategy is to consider what could go right, instead of what could go wrong. Whenever you begin worrying about how a situation could misfire, take a step back to picture yourself prevailing.

5. Navigating without engaging in office politics

While it may be helpful to stay aware of office politics to maneuver them effectively, stay productive and be impactful. Successful professionals know that engaging in office politics can also quickly end a career. Gossiping or backstabbing not only waste a lot of productive resources, but it can also burn important professional bridges, carry high reputational costs, and undermine your credibility. As Michelle Obama says, "When they go low, we go high."

Strive to rise above departmental drama by focusing on your own goals and strategies. Instead of comparing yourself to others or seething over certain coworkers or company moves, concentrate on positive actions you can take on your own behalf.

Regardless of how you envision success, these habits for realizing your dreams are similar for all professionals. Whether you seek success in terms of attaining a promotion, a career change, a dream project, or even an ideal work-life balance, by following these five steps, you can find yourself closer to your goal.

About the Author

Olga V. MackOlga V. Mack, Career and Technology columnist for, is a technology strategist who enjoys advising her clients on success and growth. Currently vice president of strategy at Quantstamp and former general counsel at ClearSlide. She previously worked at Zoosk, Visa Inc., Pacific Art League of Palo Alto, and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. She is a passionate advocate for women and has founded the movement. @OlgaVMack

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