Over my years in business, I have been privileged enough to witness some amazing careers. However, all too often I see those people who have put the work in but have not been able to reach the heights of success they have dreamed of. If folk are happy with where they are in life and they come into work each morning with a smile on their face and a sense of ease in regards to their achievements, then that is fantastic. I have a special place in my heart for those in my company who are absolutely content with where they are, from the cleaning staff to the IT consultants. What I do see, however, is a lot of people who have a burning desire to achieve a lot more, who try exceptionally hard and yet, unfortunately, don’t reach that level of success they yearn for. In my experience, there are two types of people who want to become successful; those who want to achieve but don’t put the effort in which, personally, I find delusional and then there are those who do put in the time and effort. For the latter, the biggest blocker for these people I’ve found is the inability to learn effectively.
I’m passionate about helping others build and grow their careers as well as growing alongside them and bringing others with me as I expand my own business. It took me significantly longer than I thought it would become successful in my own career. I had reached a decent level of success in my twenties and yet it took me until my late thirties to reach the next level. I will admit that I had been expecting this a decade earlier. I had to dig deep into what I was missing and how I could propel myself to the next stage of success.
It was around the same time that I met up with a good friend for a beer and we were reminiscing about the old days and as it turned out, this conversation actively changed my career trajectory. We were laughing about something I forget now and then he said to me, “Do you remember when you were 21 and we were talking about how you were doing really well in sales, and I asked you what books you were reading?’” Looking back then, and still to this day, I cringe at how foolish I was. How self-confident and full of that zest of life I was at 21, because to my friend’s question, I answered, “I don’t need to read any books, I’ll read my own”. That right there was the reason for the decade delay on my path to success.
School really wasn’t my forte as I was dyslexic and the pedagogy in Australia during the 80s didn’t cater well for those who didn’t fit a conventional mould. I was repeatedly told that I was stupid, that I wouldn’t amount to anything, and I was placed in the bottom sets which was made abundantly obvious to me. This treatment never gave me any confidence academically and I naturally lost my zest for learning which of course, led me to fail school so I didn’t even have the option of applying to university. I remember a conversation with my mother where she started to cry and she said to me, “I’m really worried for you Gilles, I don’t know what to do with you, what are you going to do, how are you going to earn a living?” Now of course we know that school is not multi-dimensional, rather it’s built for a certain type of student and when I got out into the real world I realised that I didn’t have to be a doctor, lawyer, solicitor, teacher, or an accountant in order to make money. In fact, there were hundreds of millions of ways to make money, and hundreds of millions of jobs too. What I also discovered was, there were so many avenues to go down, and this was terribly exciting.
So much so, that this revelation re-kindled my passion for finding a career as I knew I didn’t have to have a conventional job to make money and on top of all of this, all of the successful and wealthy people that I met didn’t have those conventional jobs either. One of those exciting non-conventional careers that I stumbled into (and ultimately stayed in) was sales, and here again, I encountered many successful, wealthy and happy people. People who told me that in order to have a rewarding career in sales I simply had to be great with people, work really hard and be great at selling – nothing about being skilled in reading or writing. I got off to a resounding start as I’m naturally good with people and I simply needed to round that off with learning how to add value to customers with the products and services I was selling. All this combined with my renewed zest for life and newfound career meant I excelled quickly, rose through the ranks and started to manage people. It was at this point that I plateaued and stayed at the same level for a number of years. The lofty heights I was aspiring to when I started outstayed elusive. I thought I was destined to be a multi-millionaire by 30. That had been my goal when I was 21, and yet I turned 30 and was nowhere near. Then I had that pivotal conversation with my friend which was the turning point and I realised I had to learn, I had to listen, and I had to apply myself if I was to get to where I wanted to go.
With hindsight I became anti-learning because school just wasn’t for me, I didn’t know how to learn or study, any of the tricks that people use, nor the importance of it. So, when something really important to me arose later in life, I simply didn’t have the skills to learn, which seriously hindered my career. In my early to mid-thirties, I started to teach myself how to learn but quickly realised I wasn’t going to figure it out on my own. I had seen a post online that said successful CEO’s read 52 books in a year and although I couldn’t read well, I knew I could listen to audiobooks. Consequently, I did and my career was completely transformed. The great Bodhidharma said, “only one person in a million becomes enlightened without a teacher’s help.” Clearly, at 21, I arrogantly thought I was that one in a million, whereas I now know better. I believe there are so many people, not just in my industry but across a variety of sectors, that could achieve so much more if they knew how to learn, and how to appreciate learning. Now I’m in my 40s I’m actually overwhelmed by how little I know and at the same time exhilarated about what I’ve yet to learn to get me to the next level of business. The generational gap is a funny thing; the other evening, sitting out with my kids looking at the stars I asked them if they knew the name of one of the constellations to which they replied, “Hey dad let’s just Google it and find out”. It’s so apparent that this new generation is used to the process of learning as they’ve grown up with technology at their fingertips, whether that be on an iPad, a computer at school or from the Alexa’s that sit in their kitchens and living rooms. It’s a far cry from what I experienced in my childhood.
I guess really what I’m trying to say is that in my business I see many people hungry to succeed but they’re trying to figure it out on their own. If they were willing and able to pick up a book, listen to an audiobook, or watch a tutorial on YouTube or TikTok, they would be able to find the answers much more easily and thereby speed up their development, increase their skillset and furthermore, learn to have a more positive attitude. Rather than attempting to figure it out and failing repeatedly until they finally get it, with years disappearing in the process. This form of self-development, from everything I’ve listened to over the years, would progress careers at a much faster rate as you’d know exactly what to do next. Twenty years on from that overconfident 21-year-old, and ten years on from that turning point, I get up every single morning and do at least one session of 60-90 minutes of learning each day. Throughout the week on my commutes to work I put on an audiobook, the weekends see me up at 6 am and I fit in as many hours as I possibly can before the rest of the house wakes up.
The inimitable B. B. King remarked, “The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you” so pick up that book, switch on your headphones, and type that search into Google because learning is enlightening.
Keep smashing it,
What I’m listening to:
The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin
Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey