10 Habits of History Makers

One of the best things about the career I have enjoyed at BET has been getting to see the lives of successful people up close. While these history makers have come from different backgrounds and excelled in different areas, they have shared a common trait that sets them apart from everyone else.

I’m not talking about talent, although some of them are crazy-gifted in their craft, of course. But the fact is that some of them, by their own admission, were never more than average students. What they shared with their honor-roll peers was what set them all apart—diligence and determination.

While I believe that education is a crucial door-opener for young people, especially these days, it’s not enough in and of itself. So, as you pursue learning, let me encourage you not only to push yourself academically, but to be sure that you also focus on developing attitudes and actions that can supercharge whatever qualifications you may earn.

→ Have a bigger vision
I believe in pursuing your dreams, but at the end of the day, they have to be about more than just you. Aim to be the best in your field but realize that success is sweetest when it is shared. How can others benefit in some way from what you are able to achieve? How is the world better with you in it as the best whatever-your-goal-is?

For some, that sense of responsibility to make a difference, not just make dollars, comes from faith. Whatever inspires you, keep in mind that it’s important to be open to something that is more than what you can probably see right now. That should excite you for what the future can hold and makes every day part of the adventure: this could be the day another important piece in the puzzle of your life falls into place!

Aptitude is fine, but it won’t get you very far without application.

→ Push yourself
I’m not going to name names, but he’s one of the most successful figures in the entertainment world. A household name and a bazillionaire. But he once admitted to me that he’s not really that creative or that great at what he does. “But I can work my butt off, Louis,” he told me.

That’s been part of my experience, too. I may not be smarter than everyone else, but I can outwork most of them. Aptitude is fine, but it won’t get you very far without application. Inspiration may present a great horizon, but it’s perspiration that will get you there, step by step.

→ Stretch yourself
It’s one thing to pursue something you’re good at. Developing that natural ability you have, whether it’s for dance or computer coding, makes sense. Go for it. But don’t stop there—force yourself to learn something new, something that may not come so easily.

I know that sounds different from the advice you often hear, which is to just focus on your strengths, but here’s why. When you develop a new skill or practice, it increases your confidence and broadens your horizons. It opens you up to possibilities you might never have considered otherwise. You’re more prepared to take calculated risks.

→ Make friends
It’s not all about who you know, but that certainly helps. Relationships are key to getting ahead. The more people who know you, the wider your network of possibilities because you have more ears to hear about an opportunity they think you might be good for.

When you meet someone in a position of some influence, ask them for a couple of pieces of advice related to their area of expertise. Most people love to be asked to talk about themselves! Ask for their business card. Follow up with a thank-you note. Don’t pester them, but keep in touch from time to time: maybe a quick note about how things are going and what you are looking forward to.

‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ can take you a long way.

→ Ask for help
Have you ever tried to walk past a kid’s fundraiser lemonade stand in your neighborhood without stopping to buy a glass? It’s hard, right? There’s something about young people asking for help that is difficult to ignore.
The same is true in the grown-up world. Sure, there are some people who won’t help but many will remember their young selves in you and be willing to pay back what they may have gained from someone ahead of them when they were starting out. And don’t think admitting you need help makes you look weak: it actually makes you look smart. None of us know it all, and that’s even more true when we have less experience.

→ Develop good habits
Nothing good happens by accident. Success is planned for. That means you don’t just wait to do things until you feel like it but you do them routinely because you know they are good for you.

I didn’t enjoy athletics training when I was in college—in fact, I’d mutter under my breath about it if I had enough air left in my lungs—but I knew my track scholarship depended on performing well, so I knuckled down.

Being disciplined in this way will also prepare you for the working world, where you’re expected to show up and deliver no matter your mood or motivation. Start now by taking charge of your day and deciding you’re going to be more organized—everything from keeping your room tidy to completing homework assignments on time.

→ Be prepared
Anticipating what you will face will set you up for greater success because you are going to be less likely to get caught off guard. Don’t just show up for a meeting with a “’Sup?” attitude. Think ahead about why you are going and what is going to be needed. I still end each workday by looking ahead to tomorrow, determining everything from what I am going to wear to deciding what I need to know and do.

There are side benefits to all this. Being prepared communicates respect for other people—it acknowledges that their time is important. It also means you’re more likely to be effective and to make a good impression (back to the importance of building good relationships).

→ Be nice
“Please” and “thank you” can take you a long way, especially these days when so many people are just so plain rude. Maybe everyone’s beat down by nearly three years of COVID-19 and all kinds of other hardships, but it’s unfriendly out there. They can’t even look up from their phones to say hi to you when you walk into their store; that certainly doesn’t make me want to go back in a hurry.

Maybe it’s fueled by some of the music and the movies out there, but there seems to be this idea among some young people that courtesy isn’t cool.

For the record: that’s wrong. It doesn’t take much time and effort to acknowledge someone else, to pass a greeting, to express appreciation. And you will be remembered positively as a result.

→ Be tough
Being pleasant doesn’t have to mean being a pushover. You need to learn to stand up for yourself and to keep getting back up when life knocks you down (which it will). Talent doesn’t protect you from problems. You have to develop an inner resiliency that keeps you going.

Emotional toughness doesn’t mean that you stop feeling things. They still impact you; you just don’t let them impede or disqualify you. You see that you’ve turned down a road that’s going to be hard and you decide that, while you may not like it, you’re not going to look for a detour; you’re going to press ahead and try to get through to the next intersection as soon as possible.

Talent doesn’t protect you from problems. You have to develop an inner resiliency that keeps you going.

→ Be flexible
Have a clear vision of what you want but recognize that what you see from a distance may turn out to be a little different from what you expected when you get closer. For example, I studied journalism in college because I wanted to be part of an industry that motivated, educated and inspired people.

On graduating, I couldn’t get a reporter’s gig to save my life, so I ended up in the insurance industry and from there came into the world of advertising. Many years later, I am now leveraging all that business experience and the relationships I have made into motivating, educating and inspiring people through the WayMaker community I have founded. I’m realizing my dream in ways I never could have anticipated back then.

These 10 principles aren’t part of any formal curriculum, but practicing and mastering them will help you write your best future in whatever field you’re pursuing and be a small part of making history.