As you move along your career path, you sometimes need some motivation from an expert. Whether it’s from a celebrity, a respected CEO with tons of experience in your industry, or just a person who’s seen enough to know better, there’s plenty of useful advice out there on how to achieve career success.
To help inspire you, we’ve put together a list of 10 inspirational career quotes from various men and women who dreamed big, worked hard, and reached incredible heights in their fields. Their wise words should get you thinking about how to boost your confidence, get ahead at work, and make the most of your career and life.
1. ‘Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.’ – Henry Ford
This quote from Ford, the innovative industrialist that founded Ford Motor Company and developed the assembly line method of production, holds extra weight because of his accomplishments. Many successful people agree that self-belief is an essential component, but Ford’s counter here is also important. Even when all other factors are in your favour, a lack of confidence can sadly become a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.
In this context, ‘confidence’ is more than just liking yourself or thinking you have talent or creativity. Believing you have the skills to organise and enact a specific plan to achieve goals and manage difficult situations is called ‘self-efficacy’. Scientists have proven it is the key to higher performance and success.
Researchers at the University of Salford found that people often project more confidence and resilience onto colleagues than themselves. The positive aspect of this finding is that it demonstrates the importance of teamwork, where group confidence helps raise each individual’s prospects.
2. ‘Never be afraid to recruit people brighter than you are, and never be afraid to recruit people who are different than you. That is sometimes hard to do, but incredibly powerful if you want to create a team that is really effective.’ – Judith McKenna
McKenna’s career quote taps into one of the big reasons management can be entirely dysfunctional. Those who fought hard for their positions often worry that someone may eventually usurp them, so they avoid promoting anyone with talent and potential. While this may preserve the hierarchy, an incompetent string of middle managers can lead to mistakes, failures and low employee morale.
Recruiting a culturally diverse team is what any company should strive for and has been proven to increase business profitability. Be sure to improve your intercultural communication skills to help ensure success. It’s also important to embrace different work styles. You may have some personality clashes but hiring people with different strengths and social styles means you can handle a wider variety of challenges.
Many companies often fail to create this kind of diverse workforce because of hiring by committee. Rarely will an entire panel agree on one person, so once the strongest candidates are eliminated, all that is left are the blandest, inoffensive choices. Give hiring power back to department heads, or at least allow them the final decision after a committee puts forward several options.
3. ‘If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.’ – Sheryl Sandberg
Sandberg, COO of Facebook, shared this nugget of wisdom based on a job interview with the then-CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt. A graduate of Harvard Business School with an MBA, Sandberg had questioned why she should turn down higher-level jobs for a somewhat nebulous position at Google. It didn’t fit her ‘perfect job’ criteria, but Schmidt convinced her that hitching a ride on a company’s rocket ship was worth the leap of faith.
Sandberg took that advice to heart when she leapt on board the fledgeling Facebook to work for a then-23-year-old Zuckerberg. Her career is a testament to taking bigger risks for bigger rewards. Even if you aren’t as lucky as Sandberg in choosing your targets, you’ll earn valuable work experience for your next endeavour.
Getting in early on a start-up or a newly expanding company offers immense opportunity for career growth. You can learn and change with the business, often writing your job description along the way. Start-ups also value creativity and innovation and often have more progressive ideas about business operations and expansive employee benefits.
4. ‘Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.’ – Mark Twain
This is one of our oldest career quotes, but Twain’s advice to an aspiring performer is still relevant today. Self-belief is a strong component of success, but the environment you place yourself in can also be a big factor. Read the biography of any successful person, and you’ll find they had a supportive boss, friend, spouse or colleague that helped them along the way. Staying in a stagnant work environment or hanging with directionless friends who scoff at your ambitions can easily stifle your potential.
That’s why it’s important to find a mentor who is your champion as well as your teacher. Despite the common movie trope of an instructor who tortures their student into greatness, Twain felt that truly exceptional people chose a more positive path. Find a mentor who offers inspiration and support as well as constructive criticism and advice. Avoid anyone who focuses only on critique and seems threatened by your potential success.
5. ‘Your career is like a garden. It can hold an assortment of life’s energy that yields a bounty for you. You do not just need to grow one thing in your garden. You can do more than one thing in your career.’ – Jennifer Ritchie Payette
The education system and the job market are still largely based on the idea of choosing one career path and sticking to it forever. The rise in globalisation and technology continues to challenge that ‘ideal’, however. A job you chose to pursue at age 18 may not even exist ten years later, and adaptability to drastic changes at work is now essential.
Changing careers at any age is a lot less rebellious and risky than it used to be, and many workers shift the focus of their career many times. You can also grab inspiration from multihyphenate celebrities who pursue multiple paths simultaneously. This could mean working on writing a book in the hour before your morning commute, or starting a business during a summer break from teaching, or even working two part-time jobs in two different fields.
6. ‘The important thing to you is not how many years in your life, but how much life in your years!’ – Edward J. Stieglitz
The average worker will spend 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime. So, making the most of each day rests largely on what you choose to accomplish in your career. Author and researcher Jessica Pryce-Jones discovered that confidence, commitment and a positive company culture greatly contributes to employee satisfaction and fulfilment. If you feel uninspired at work and don’t trust the environment or management decisions, consider changing jobs or careers.
You may worry that it’s too late to change once you’re further along your career path. Stieglitz made the above observation in a 1947 book about ageing, offering encouragement to make the most of each year no matter what age you are.
If you’re not ready to make a drastic move, change one thing in your current situation that will put more life back into your days. Focus on what’s most important to you and what you want to accomplish. Ask about telecommuting or schedule flexibility, for example, to improve your work-life balance. Approach a supervisor at work about becoming your mentor so you can excel faster in your career. Set up a partnership between your company and a charity to facilitate volunteer work and contributions to the community.
7. ‘What sets you apart can sometimes feel like a burden, and it’s not. And a lot of the time, it’s what makes you great.’ – Emma Stone
You may not expect to get wise career quotes during an MTV Movie Awards speech, but Stone had some great advice to offer. She was addressing a teenage audience, where nonconformity and ‘not fitting in’ are common issues, but she noted that it applied in adulthood as well. While trying to blend in with the crowd can limit confrontation and anxiety, it also stifles your potential.
We often seek out jobs based on what skills we have that perfectly match what employers are looking for. It’s important to consider your differences as well. Whether it’s experience from another industry, perspective gained from being a different socioeconomic background than other candidates, innovative ideas about the direction of the business, or an unusual way of doing the work, it could be the key to that company’s success.
Seek out jobs that will embrace your unique qualities. It’s not always easy to find the right corporate environment, so be prepared to strike out on your own. Being innovative and setting your own trends are two key factors in being a successful entrepreneur.
8. ‘The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.’ – Theodore Roosevelt
Once you get good at your job, it’s tempting to just rest on your laurels and coast along doing the same thing. While this can personally lead to boredom and stagnation in your career, a lack of innovation in the workplace can also cause the failure of the entire business. Just think of all the companies that got left behind by innovations in digital photography, computer-aided design, streaming video and other technologies.
Whether it’s trying a new organisational process at work, testing an invention or starting a new career, mistakes will have consequences. It takes confidence and fortitude to work through those mistakes, learn from them and find a better path moving forward.
Remember that a crucial step to being a great leader is to own up to any errors in judgement or execution rather than trying to shift blame to others. Employees respect colleagues who acknowledge their mistakes and will work harder for a boss who is honest about their part in a project that failed.
9. ‘Be prepared to spot growth opportunities when they present themselves—because they are the key learning opportunities. You’ll know because they make you uncomfortable, and your initial impulse may be that you’re not ready. But remember: Growth and comfort never co-exist.’ – Ginni Rometty
Rometty joined IBM as a systems engineer in 1981 and became the CEO in 2012. She took several steps from technical positions to management, working in systems analysis, marketing, sales and financial departments until her ultimate ascension to running the company. Her achievements in a less progressive climate in a male-dominated industry must have been particularly uncomfortable at the time, but she persisted and succeeded.
Most of us have ambitious career goals when we begin our careers, but many factors can cause us to stall somewhere along the way. One of the keys to professional growth is lifelong learning, and Rometty here reminds us that it’s not just textbooks or classrooms that can provide it. Taking on different roles even within the same company helps you learn new skills, learn more about your industry, and make more professional contacts that can help with your career progression.
10. ‘Take criticism seriously, but not personally. Critics can be your best friends if you listen to them, and learn from them, but don’t get dragged down by them.’ – Hillary Rodham Clinton
One of the keys to being confident and successful in the workplace is to embrace constructive criticism. We generally consider it to be constructive when a colleague or boss offers a critique of your work in an effort to help you improve. Guides on good leadership typically urge managers to not berate or belittle employees, as a gentler approach usually yields better results.
Unfortunately, as Clinton has experienced a lot more than the average person, criticism doesn’t always arrive constructively. As she indicates, however, we don’t have to be crushed by the way it’s delivered. Ignoring any and all criticism stifles growth, so it’s important to pick out any common threads from your critics that point to a need to change your actions.
Picking apart the useful from the unfair can help you distance yourself from the critique. Get a second opinion from a trusted confidante who will assist in the process and keep you from spiralling into self-doubt. Achieving greater success after learning from a critique is also satisfying revenge for the hurt the remarks may have caused.
As you can see, there are some common themes in many well-known career quotes. Self-belief, teamwork, and taking calculated risks are some of the key elements of success.
We hope this helps renew your motivation to achieve your goals in both your career and life. Which quotes inspired you the most? Let us know in the comments below!