Years before Age: 10 Steps to Success

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Years before Age: 10 Steps to Success

“After 40, you should be valued for your experience, know-how and judgement, rather than for the ability to work 18 hours every day.” (Korda, Michael. “Ten Steps to Success Before 40.” Reader’s Digest. Jan 1988. 49-51). Korda, the article also states, was editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster and author of half a dozen books, including the best-sellers Power!, Success! and Queenie.

The main premise of Korda’s article is that if you do the ‘right things’ before you’re 40, you will be reap the rewards thereafter. This article was published more than 30 years ago. The time in between has certainly seen many changes and today there are many people who change their careers in their 30s. They are unable to the ‘right things’ before 40 and have had to start all over again. It is probably because they were unable to decide what careers to pursue at a time in their lives when everything was in a state of flux: they had just finished school, they were about to leave the comfort of their homes for the first time, they were leaving their friends behind and so on. It took time for them to realise, accept and have the courage to leave the profession or vocation they chose at 20 and do something that they were passionate about.

Furthermore, once a specific career path has been chosen, at whatever age, it’s not the age that matters, but the length of time spent on this path that determines success. It is safe to say that an average time to succeed in any given profession or vocation – be it writing, medicine, law, teaching or running your own company – is between 15 and 20 years. For example, it is said that, ‘Mantel, 62, is an overnight sensation 20 years in the making.’ (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/person/hilary-mantel). Rushdie suggests in his memoir, Joseph Anton, that he started his writing career in his early 20s and achieved success when he was close to 40.

Therefore, it is possible to re-word the opening line of this article and say “After 20 years at a particular profession/vocation, you should be valued for your experience, know-how and judgement.” Take this further and replace the words ‘before 40’ with ‘after 20 years’ in the rest of Korda’s article, and the 10 things he suggests you do right are very useful and inspiring. Here they are with a few modifications:

  1. Do your homework; learn everything you know about your business or profession [for 20 years]. … Nobody should have to lose sleep learning something new after [20 years].
  2. Develop your own style. … No one appears more insecure than a man or a woman trying to redesign his or her ‘look’ in midcareer.
  3. Put your emotional life in order, if possible.
  4. Know your weaknesses. Accept the things you don’t do well, can’t stand, won’t do. … Get into the kind of work you enjoy or you’re guaranteeing yourself an unhappy time [thereafter].
  5. Know your strengths.
  6. Make a start and putting away your ‘quit’ money. … Sometimes the only appropriate response to a situation is ‘Gentlemen, I quit!”
  7. Establish a network. [Build a network of friends, or at least people who rely on you and to whom you can turn when you’re in trouble]. These are colleagues for whom you do favours, whose projects you listen to … and they do the same for you.
  8. Learn to delegate.
  9. Learn to keep your mouth shut. … Don’t gossip, and don’t talk about your plans.
  10. Be loyal. … You make your way to the top not by backstabbing, but by establishing early on in your career an unshakable reputation as a true, stand-up guy or gal.

Next time someone claims to be an ‘overnight sensation’, perhaps it is wise to take a step back and analyse that person’s career path. You may realise that it’s taken more than one night for this person to reach the pinnacle of success.


Aneeta Sundararaj created and developed her website, howtotellagreatstory.com. Every day, she learns something new about storytelling, the craft or writing and the publishing world.


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