Alumni Career Commentary

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Building Habits to Drive Your Success for Decades to Come

My husband jokes that when people find out I’m a psychologist, two things happen. Either they either close up and look nervously for an excuse—any excuse—to exit the conversation, or they open up and start sharing and sometimes over sharing…then, I sometimes joke that then I’m the one left looking for an exit! In fact, over the past decade, these extreme reactions have diminished significantly. I am seeing a new, inspired shift, especially amid smart, engaged and successful professionals, which includes a majority of Williams alumni.

Increasingly, professionals understand that success does not have to come from long nights, cut-throat competition, intense grinds or massive sacrifices to their health, sleep or family. There was a shift toward positive psychology in the 1990s and in my work, I’m now seeing the benefits of this shift.

My entire practice is with successful, driven leaders who are curious to find their leading edge. But many people are currently experiencing heightened stress. Indeed, according to a recent American Psychology Association study, 75% of adults report moderate to high levels of stress and close to half report that their stress has increased in the past year.

Despite rising stress, especially at work, I continue to encounter clients who are eager to better understand themselves, what makes them tick and how to perform at their peak. Not surprisingly, working with exceptional leaders has also given me great insight into what makes people thrive and continue to thrive over time. One of the things I’ve noticed is that the building habits for success early on is part of the formula needed to succeed. Below are just a few of the effective habits I consider to be critical to one’s present and future success.

Get in the Habit of Preparing

Prepare, prepare and prepare even more! We have all heard the mantras. Measure twice, cut once. A stitch in time, saves nine. This has never been as true as in our wired and always-on world. Many professionals face similar challenges: They face more demands but have less time and fewer resources. Preparation is one way to short-circuit potential problems down the line. In short, know what you’re facing up ahead and prepare well in advance. The sooner you have a line of sight on future obstacles, the more likely you will be to effectively dodge any pending obstacles.

Get in the Habit of Clarifying Outcomes

When you are clear on the outcomes, you can be creative and flexible on the approach. This mantra is simple and effective. When I wake up, I have a clear line of sight on what I must accomplish during the day. How I get it done is a different story. Depending on what happens over the course of the day, I may delegate more work than I had originally anticipated. I may also drop something that is less urgent to focus on a high priority outcome. By staying clear on the outcome, however, I can make smart decisions about prioritizing tasks and ensure that at the end of day, whatever happens, I’ve reached my desired outcome.

Get in the Habit of Taking Risks

It may sound counterintuitive but after thousands of hours coaching successful leaders, I have discovered that individuals who get in the habit of taking risks early on are better positioned to keep taking risks throughout their life. More importantly, these individuals have the capacity to pick up the pieces if and when they stumble or fail. Simply put, over time risk-taking behaviors build resilience, and resilience is a core quality of every leader I meet.

Get in the Habit of Asking Great Questions

The older I get, the more I realize what I don’t already know and the more I appreciate the power of great questions. What do you need to know? What are the questions you should be asking? Who are the experts you should be asking?

Knowing how to ask great questions has helped me more effectively manage my work, life and health on numerous occasions. Knowing who to asked has ensured that I get the right type of answers.

Get in the Habit of Nurturing Relationships

I have a number of classmates from Williams who are good friends, several of whom I even got to know after graduation. I have found these relationships to be invaluable. This is why I have continued to foster these relationships, despite all the demands on my time from kids and eldercare to work and travel. One former classmate helped to deliver my daughter and another classmate saved me from having a major surgery (notably, in that instance, I asked the right questions of the right person at the right time!). All of these people are part of my network and over time, they have supported me personally and professionally in more ways than I could ever innumerate. These relationships, personal and professional, not only remind me that the line between work and life is not always as clear as we think, but also that support is essential.

Success takes many forms, but it is rarely something that simply lands in your lap. The habits you form early on will help you develop the skills, mindset and values needed to ensure you find the type of success you truly desire. As I have learned, having a great team on your side is also essential.

Camille Preston ’93 is the founder and CEO of AIM Leadership. A psychologist by training and experienced leadership coach, Camille’s past and present clients include Fortune 500 companies, government and military organizations, not-for profit organizations and individuals seeking to optimize their performance. A recognized thought leader on virtual effectiveness, Camille is also a sought-after speaker and the author of two books: Rewired and Create More Flow. After Williams, she earned a PhD in Psychology from the University of Virginia and advanced training in leadership from Georgetown University.

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