Advice on How to Succeed at Anything

pauljarvisPaul Jarvis is a web designer and bestselling author, who’s obsessed with nature and hairless rats. His latest book, Everything I Know, is a guide to freelancing as a creative professional (without living on ramen noodles or settling for bad clients).


I’m often asked by just-starting-out web designers or folks looking to get into my industry for my advice. My answers over the years have varied from pointing them to Ira Glass’ quote to telling them I don’t actually know (which has been an honest answer at the time).

The more I think about this, the more I believe I’ve got a solid idea of how success can possibly work for anyone, in any industry, at a large corporation, or working for themselves.

  • Be good at what you do. If you’re not, learn. If that doesn’t work, try learning a different way. If it still doesn’t work, not everyone is good at everything, so try something else. Don’t attach emotion or negativity to something you’re not good at because everyone’s good at something. Your job is just to find what out what that something is.
  • Enjoy what you do. This doesn’t mean your job has to be an all-consuming passion or the thing you’re most stoked about in life, but it means you should at least want to do the work you’re doing, for at least a few hours a day.
  • Appreciate what you have at any level. If you’re at the top, stay humble and thankful, and grateful of where you are. If you’re at the bottom, know that everyone at the top started at the same place you’re currently at. And with some time and work, you can get there (that is, if you want to).
  • Don’t expect anything. Feeling entitled to anything past common human decency and respect comes across as gross. Pay your dues and if you want something, earn it by doing everything you can while expecting nothing. Acting like you’ve put in your time and now deservemore than someone else will get you nowhere but thought of as an ass pretty fast.
  • Work isn’t everything. Have hobbies, side projects, social lives, and completely non-sequitur parts of your day. Every day.
  • Do things for others, without asking for or even thinking about reciprocation. Do these things as often as possible.
  • Do exactly what you say you’re going to do in the exact amount of time you say it’ll take. Then go above and beyond to over deliver and deliver early.
  • If you have an issue, deal with it immediately. Confrontation sucks, but letting something stew makes everything suck more.
  • Own your mistakes. Everyone makes them, not everyone owns up to them. Be honest, offer to fix it, and move on.
  • Learn how to respectfully stick to your guns about what you know is right, based on your expertise. There’s a delicate balance if you argue in business with presenting your point and sounding like a whiner.
  • Listen. Because no one knows everything (not even me).

And that’s it (as if it was that simple).