Successful people struggle against career obstacles like everyone else. Though some seem to excel at everything, they overcome the same (if not more) obstacles that are facing the average person. The common denominator to their success isn’t genetic, but a learned mentality. These super achievers adapt when adversity is highest and the stories of two particular superstars can help anyone achieve their own goals.
Elon Musk – Redirecting Failure into Success
Few people leave a mark on humanity quite like Elon Musk. At a first glance, people might see him as the entrepreneurial wunderkind who turned PayPal, Tesla Motors, and Space X into profit geysers. He’s worth almost $12 billion and keeps finding new ways to revolutionize the world. Yet Elon Musk’s story started with failure. What sets him apart is the way he redirected that failure and other failures into new success.
As a young man, Musk wanted to work at Netscape, the mid-90s internet titan, seeing the internet’s revolutionary potential. Though Musk had done some coding, he lacked the computer science degree for his resume to be noticed. Even when he visited the Netscape offices, he was too shy to speak to anyone.
Rejection didn’t stop him. Musk cofounded Zip2, a web software company that helped bring newspapers online. After a year as CEO, venture capitalists invested in Zip2, but worried his lack of operational responsibilities and experience made him unfit for the role. He assented to being replaced, but went on to found PayPal with his share of Zip2’s sale to Compaq. His prior CEO experience guided his choices at PayPal until he was ousted by the CTO (in a dispute over Linux vs Windows). Yet even that led to Tesla, SpaceX, and whatever endeavors await him.
In every instance of failure, Elon Musk took the setback as temporary, seeing an opportunity instead of a misfortune. Exploring new opportunities allowed him to achieve his goals of a career in IT and a job as CEO. No problem was permanent and no lesson was worthless. Elon Musk will continue to succeed because failure will encourage him to explore new opportunities.
Sundar Pichai – Always Thinking Forward
The rise of Sundar Pichai through the ranks of Google has been an incredible success story. His early work began with work on the Google search toolbar but ultimately led him to the role of CEO. Because of his “substance over overt style” approach to business, Pichai helped realize the more abstract elements of Larry Page’s vision through clear communication and dedicated work. Has he faced career obstacles? Definitely, but the way in which he handles situations defines his success.
Throughout his time at Google, Pichai faced steep obstacles. When Microsoft launched Bing and decided to make it the home page for their Internet Explorer web browser, Google could have been devastated. Users go with the easiest path and Bing’s user base could have skyrocketed. However, Sundar Pichai was able to hold Google’s ground and even helped them gain further market share for the company.
The first step was clear in his mind: maintain Google’s visibility. Pichai set out to contact PC manufacturers in a quest to convince them to include the Google search toolbar in the browser default. Most were receptive to the idea. But he realized that was only a stopgap measure. Bing would still dominate the IE homepage while Google was relegated to the corner. That’s why he convinced Larry Page and Sergey Brin that building Chrome would help Google remain a dominant brand. His intuition and hard work paid off with 41.7% of browser usage now going through Google Chrome.
What Sundar Pichai did to overcome his career obstacles is great for achieving any goal: he responded to the situation rather than reacting. When professionals only react to a problem, they are only ever on the defensive. By convincing manufacturers to make a Google search toolbar a default, he only kept a tenuous hold on the status quo. To overcome the competition, he needed to respond with a way to eventually beat Microsoft at their own game. By taking the time to think about the future, he eliminated smaller obstacles before they even happened. That way, he was able to control the game on his terms.
Avoiding Your Own Career Goal Obstacles
Countless other stories teach us the same lesson: few career obstacles are insurmountable. Most are temporary setbacks. However, overcoming your career obstacles takes complete focus, which can be difficult to provide while you are also looking for a job.
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