The 2 Cornerstones of Career Success

To career guru Susan Young, professional success is all about two things: communication and self-confidence. Here's her advice for rocking both.


Last Updated: Oct 1, 2015

When you ask people about the difference between high achievers and those who struggle in school or work, you’ll hear a multitude of responses. Some of the differentiators often mentioned include:

  • Motivation
  • Intelligence
  • Childhood and upbringing
  • Income
  • Education
  • Overall health
  • A bunch of good or bad breaks/luck

But to me, it’s all about communication and self-confidence. When you’re able to master these two skills, you will experience significant improvement in your life. This is especially true of your personal and professional relationships.

Consider a business leader you admire and respect—maybe it’s someone from a past internship, a professor, or a local entrepreneur. Think about successful celebrities, athletes, and politicians you admire from afar.

They are charismatic communicators who have a special style and magnetism that draws people to them. They are able to convey a compelling message that appeals to others. For people in business, it’s important to articulate an exciting message to prospects, clients, customers, and colleagues. This is critical in face-to-face communication and conversations, and in our written words as well. Our social media posts, online portfolios, and profiles must be intriguing, relevant, and personable.

Are people drawn to you? Put another way, are you drawing them in?

Communication + your brain

Effective communicators and strong leaders have another attribute in common: they have high levels of emotional intelligence. Your emotional quotient, or EQ, encompasses:

  • Compassion
  • Congeniality
  • Empathy
  • Assertiveness
  • Self-awareness

The good thing about the soft skills listed above is that they can be learned. However, there’s a challenge for young adults. Harvard researcher and best-selling author Daniel Goleman has written extensively about EQ. He says the circuits in the frontal lobe of the human brain (amygdala) control our emotions, and the amygdala isn’t fully developed until the age of 25. This part of the brain regulates the fight or flight response, and when we feel threatened, our response can be irrational. As a result, most college students and newcomers to the workforce don’t manage stress efficiently or resolve conflicts constructively. This is no fault of their own; these skills come with age, and learning from life’s mistakes and experiences. 

Self-confidence + the “worthy” factor

Similarly, self-confidence is important to success. Individuals with low self-esteem and self-worth are not leaders. You can blame everyone and everything under the sun for your lack of self-confidence. However, we’re all adults, and each of us is in control of our thoughts, behaviors, actions, and habits.

In the classic self-development book PsychoCybernetics, Dr. Maxwell Maltz (a plastic surgeon in New York in the 1960s and ’70s), wrote about his work on the inner self. He said he could repair the outer wounds and scars of people but felt more compelled to study the inner emotional pains of low self-esteem. Maltz urges us to see ourselves as positive and competent human beings.

We must acknowledge our self-worth and build our own self-confidence. Often, we brainwash ourselves to focus on the negative self-talk and mistakes we’ve made. Instead, Maltz teaches us to focus on our successes, no matter how small they may be. He reminds us to be kind and gentle with what we put in our minds.

Self-confidence and a sense of worthiness are an inside mental discipline that most people never learn. It takes attention and awareness, and no one can do the work for you. Still, the rewards are priceless.

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