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What makes someone successful in this world? Why do some people seem to excel so effortlessly? Having lived in a refugee camp as a child before immigrating to the United States, I have always thought of this country as a place of possibility — one that nurtures genius and creativity. But that success can seem elusive to so many of us. As a life and business coach, I have been blessed to work with some of the world’s most fascinating minds who have taught me so much. Here, I share 8 life lessons I’ve learned from top business leaders.

Photography provided by Jasna Burza/Emerald Rue


Let a vision be your guide

From entrepreneurs to politicians to other luminaries, my clients all have a particular vision they can see in their mind’s eye that pushes them forward. Those goals might have a financial component, but quite often, they involve helping others and take a while to build. Successful people see that vision and embody it.


Take risks and embrace the uncertainty

Most people have a deep desire for comfort and an aversion to risk. And yet, to achieve that high level of success, you need to embrace uncertainty. All the people I’ve worked with have taken risks that could have cost them everything, but they felt comfortable doing so because they believe in themselves.

In my book, Healer In Heels, I recount a conversation with Life Time CEO and Chairman Bahram Akradi. During the pandemic, his business suffered unprecedented hardship due to closures. People close to him suggested he walk away from it all, but he refused to because people’s livelihoods were at stake. Was it a risk to keep going? Yes, but it ultimately paid off for not only him but also his employees and his customers.


Be motivated by more than money 

Unsurprisingly, many of us are incentivized by financial rewards, because money and power can be great motivators. But these aren’t going to be the driver that sets you apart. All of the people I’ve observed achieving great milestones have something bigger guiding them, whether that’s legacy or a deep desire to make an impact.


Fail often

That first big failure we experience can be so painful that it deters us from letting anything like that happen ever again. And yet, the most successful people I know fail often and with a great cost to ego, reputation and bottom line. These “failures” build personal tenacity, resilience and a penchant for success. Failures don’t define who we are; they’re simply data along the way and stepping stones to success.


Don’t expect overnight success 

When we observe someone at the top of their game who has put in the work, it’s easy to want to get there right now. But to achieve something great, you have to play the long game. It’s easy to get distracted by shiny objects and instant gratification, but in reality, you need to stay focused and determined for years, if not decades. Many people give up after a while, not knowing that the “overnight” success is just around the corner.


Surround yourself with the right people

High-echelon individuals understand that their network is key, so they invest in their relationships in business and life, surrounding themselves with the right people and creating bonds that are not merely transactional. Our support system can make all the difference in moments of failure and success. We need to find people who draw the best out of us; our quality of life depends on it.


Connect with something bigger

Though they may not always show it, many brilliant people tend to be highly spiritual and embody a sense of awe. Of course, ego plays a role in drive and ambition, but these individuals also feel a profound sense of connectedness with the universe, a higher power or the unexplainable. The whisper of this world reminds them that this game of life is so much bigger than we are. That feeling guides them through hard times, gives them perspective and keeps them grounded.


Stay true to yourself and your values

This is one of the most profound life lessons for me personally, but it’s easier said than done because we’re social creatures who want to fit in. Former Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton faced fierce opposition while he was in office, but he believed in the work he was doing and was willing to endure criticism for the good of the people. He told me that a Harry Truman quote solidified that for him: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Trusting your inner compass might mean that you sometimes have to let others down, which can be very uncomfortable. But staying true to your own values without compromise will make all the difference in making your vision a reality.

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