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What you did with what you had

​True success is never served up on a plate.

The majority of the CEOs of the world’s top companies have graduated from the school of hard knocks. Whether it is a retail leader starting on the shop floor or a social media legend starting in their garage, many of them had a tough route to the top.

You could give many differing reasons for this success, and each reason would have a degree of relevance. They were relentless in their pursuit of their dreams, they learned from their setbacks and had an ability to motivate those around them. They were always one step ahead of the competition, marching right beside their troops on the ground. All this is fantastic, but it is secondary to the true crux of their success:

They did their best with what they had.

What does that mean exactly?

Well, we are all given certain gifts in life. Some of us are great communicators. Others are wizards with numbers. Some of us are amazing problem solvers. Yet others might be excellent writers. Just to give a few examples.

Most of us have a mix of these gifts. The point I would like to make is this….

At the start of our careers, we all have potential. We all have a bare minimum of natural talents and underdeveloped skills. Those who are successful in their careers learn to use their gifts to the maximum extent. They develop them; they build on them, they find themselves branching out into related areas. They have an immense drive to grow and make the most of what they have. They never give up and are relentless in their pursuit of excellence.

Steve Jobs, Richard Branson or Elon Musk would not have stood out so much from the average 14-year-old. It was only when they became adults that they really had a chance to shine. They became great because they made the most of what they had.

Now, the interesting thing for me is that this awakening doesn't only come early in someone’s career. People can realize it much later. They can spend their majority of their careers being “average”, their hidden potential hindered by corporate mediocrity. However, one fine day, it occurs to them that they have some wonderful skills that should be put to better use. The shackles fall off, and they start to fulfill their potential.

Employers have long known that a fulfilled employee is someone who feels that they are performing to their full potential. The best employers have supportive cultures, challenging leadership schemes and super fast progression for the top performers. The worst employers are happy to maintain the status quo.

It is one thing when the employer creates the conditions in which people can push themselves to their limits. It is another thing entirely when you make the choice to do so. It’s up to you. Branson chose to do it. So did Jobs.

At the end of your career, will you have done your best with what you had?