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3 Steps Toward Seeing Your Career Blow Up -- in a Good Way

Personal satisfaction is the fuel for amplifying performance and galloping ahead.

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I define a successful career as one in which happiness and fulfillment play as important a role as money and prestige. After two decades in business, I've singled out three qualities that people who meet this definition have in common.

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1.) They're close to their colleagues.

It's estimated that the average Joe and Jane will devote around 90,000 hours of their lives to work. That in and of itself is a solid reason to befriend your colleagues -- I'd find life pretty unbearable otherwise -- but there are professional advantages to consider.

I know people who feel that going out of their way to build rapport with their coworkers is nothing but a big waste of time. Being polite and professional is more than enough, they say. Anything deeper is a distraction and a drag on productivity.

Related: 10 Ways Even Introverts Can Make Friends at Work

They're wrong. Friendship need not require a ton of endeavor, and the joy that it brings can energize and focus your efforts in the office. It also makes networking easier -- the more someone likes you, the more they're likely to introduce you to others.

Begin with simple gestures. Ask someone about their weekend as you refill your coffee. Invite another to lunch, and let them do the talking. Attend company parties and go out of your way to participate rather than stand in the corner with your plus-one imbibing free drinks. Building up social muscles will raise your game as a whole.

2.) They're eager to learn and progress.

"When you stop growing, you start dying." This nugget from American novelist William S. Burroughs is pure gold. Curiosity, drive and a relentless desire to improve will keep you young. It'll get you noticed, too, because enthusiasm is infectious and attractive.

Related: Why the Key to Self-Improvement Is Not Complicated

I've employed quite a few people in my time, and the ones who embody this principle stand out like flowers in a field of grass. Consider my company's senior marketing manager, Brent Singleton, for example. Within a week or two of his hiring, it was obvious we'd found someone special.

For starters, he came to the table brimming with ideas. But it didn't stop there -- he put them into practice with immediate results. Our CPA (cost per acquisition) dropped dramatically. Displeased with the performance of the digital marketing agency that handled our Google ads, he took the reigns himself and lowered costs there as well.

I later learned that Brent routinely enters contests in which he vies with other marketing experts -- including entire agencies -- to create killer ad campaigns. He does it to see how he matches up with the best of the best. "This forces you to think outside the box," he says, "which is especially important in digital marketing because you can get stuck in a strategy rut."

No one asks him to do this. When you're hungry enough for something, you don't wait to be asked. Never be content with what you know or even with what you excel at. You can always be improving. You can always add to your skillset.

3.) They align their ambitions with those of their company.

If you really want your career to explode, frame your personal ambitions with those of the business you work for. Think of your success as part and parcel of its success.

As a mindset, it's pretty straightforward. Let's say you join a high-growth startup as a software engineer, for instance. Your goal is to become a director, and you and your manager chart a clear path to its achievement.

Related: Most Employees Hate Their Career Path. Here's How to Help.

Right when you're on the cusp of promotion, a project comes up for which you have the most experience. It's a top priority for the company and will take several months to execute. You're asked to put your directorial ambitions on ice for a while and lead the project instead.

This is your moment to shine. It'll require setting your ego aside and wrapping yourself in the needs of the company in order to move it that much closer to its mission and vision.

Is that going to be easy for you to do? Hell, no. Will swallowing your disappointment and kicking butt on the project impress your leaders, prove your worth, and set you apart as a true team player with limitless potential? Hell, yes.

Possessing any of these three qualities will significantly improve the 90,000 hours you spend at work. But combining them will unlock awesome possibilities and confirm that time indeed flies when you're having fun.

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