how do we find a way when there’s no GPS to success?

Being successful is a myth.

First of all, it’s up to you to define what “success” means to you; and second of all, there is no single path to success. Everyone has his/her own journey to walk, own battle to fight. All we know is there is no overnight success. If you look closely, it takes a long time for someone to build up something, to be well known, and to be recognised. Even if it seems like a one-hit wonder.

We all come from different background and cultures. We all have different stories to tell. While we can read bibliographies from famous CEOs and be inspired in all sorts of ways, we are still responsible for walking down our own paths and create our own version of “successful journey”.


So now we have our goals. We dream big. There are a million steps before reaching there. We recognise there are a lot of skills we need to learn. A lot of people we want to ask advice from. We have no idea where to start.

ABCs for success?

I had my first taste of academic success during my first semester of my master degree. When I look back now I know exactly how I got there:

1 Mindset matters. Be ambitious and determined. Another important thing I learnt this semester: be the best student you could ever be. Stay humble.

2 Learn the rules of the game. Read the Learning Guide or Unit Outline thoroughly. Know what assignments you need to submit, when the deadlines are, and if there are any hurdle tasks (double pass threshold) that you can’t miss.

3 Learn about the standards. Read the marking criteria. Since I already set my bar high in Step 1, I only looked at the criteria for HD or D.

4 The grind. Make sure the work you do is up to the prescribed quality. Ask questions whenever you don’t understand something. Ask for feedbacks. Ask about in what ways you can improve or get the desired grade.

5 The result. It reflects the effort you have put in along the way.

Of course, there are a couple of tools and belief systems that could tremendously help us along the way. Notion is a great tool for task management and note taking. In fact I manage my whole life with it now. Complete life changer. It takes some time to set up the system that works best for you (and it will surely change as you grow). In terms of mindset, I would say the most crucial thing is to be mindful about how you spend your time. If you set yourself up correctly in Step 1, the vision to get good grades will be so clear that it becomes a default thing for you to work on academic tasks when you don’t have appointments on your calendar. You won’t even think about lying on the couch and watch Netflix because it doesn’t add value or push your closer to your goal. Mindset is important.

The path to ace in the academic field seems so straight-forward when I wrote it out like that. I can assure that I wasn’t like this during my bachelor years. I think I failed in Step 1. I didn’t even want to get good grades. Well, I wasn’t even interested in the major I chose. Epic fail.

But here’s the good news. I am the living proof that we can change and be a better version of ourselves. If I could change from being a mediocre student to a high-achiever, you can too.

However, the real world doesn’t work exactly the same as the academic world.

The Road Map

When we are trying to do something that seems impossible to achieve, we might be stuck even in the beginning. We have the end goal in mind and we even have the mindset right. We are ready to put in the sweat and grind. But we are missing Steps 2 and 3. There is no “learning guide” nor “marking criteria”. You set the rules. Or, if you are starting a business, your customers determine what makes your products and services “tick”. So there might be a marking criteria, or social standard that you can reference to. This leaves us to the guidelines. Or if you will, the road map to success.

Using the learning guide in my course as a metaphor, there are a couple of essential items I found helpful along the course:

1 Aim & Outcomes. What are you trying to achieve here? What will the users or customers be able to experience and achieve?

2 Working Approach. What is the workload you are going to contribute? How frequent are you going to grind?

3 Tasks. Identify the core tasks and respective deadlines they need to be done by. They should address the outcomes you listed in Step 1.

4 Feedback. Show your work and ask for feedback consistently to make sure what you are delivering is on the right track. While we have lecturers and tutors in school, you might consider having some accountability partners to fill that role. They will tell you if the work you produced matched their marking criteria.

Of course, this is easier said than done. I can’t even do what I preach. I feel lost all the time. In an ideal world, I would imagine myself grinding while keeping a balance in life. In reality, it is so easy to ditch the task, postpone the artificial deadlines I set for myself and call it quits whenever I feel like. Heck, I can even give up the whole project and go back to the old, predictable, mediocre life.

That’s why having the right mindset is key. Not only do I need to want something bad enough, I also need to be eager to learn and grow, and to be willing to move on from mistakes.

Trust yourself in the process

My own voice in my head is my worst enemy.

All these years I have learnt the importance of taking baby steps every single day and the result will grow exponentially. This is why good habits are so powerful. 10 push-ups per day sounds like nothing, but in one week you would have done 70 push-ups. That sounds like a good start to me. I get it, sometimes I don’t even understand why I’m doing something just for 3 minutes. One day when you look back, everything will make sense. How would I know all these years of learning and practising piano on the side would eventually land me a career change?

Self doubting is inevitable. Especially when you do something for the first time and have no idea if you are even doing it right. I’m at this stage now. But I’m not giving up. My vision and desire to succeed is big enough to drive me forward. I have no one but myself to trust. The more I do, the more I know if I am on the right track.

Final Thoughts

We find our way by actively seeking and trying. Yes, you can Google, you can ask how other people have done it, but ultimately you are the one behind the wheel. You have to be the one who turns on the engine, steps on the accelerator and moves forward. Execution matters.

Enjoy the journey!