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Golden Guide Career Advice: Make Greatness a Routine

Golden Guide Career Advice: Make Greatness a Routine

Lydia Lazar

hand holding compass atop mountain ridge

Golden Tip No. 1: “You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”—Aristotle

Golden Guide Career Advice is a new series from the AMA in partnership with Lydia Lazar, author of Dean Lazar’s Golden Guide: Pragmatic Career Advice for Smart Young People. A new tip in the series will be posted each Tuesday—all tips are available here.

Do you have a career question? Contact Lazar at—the answer may appear in a future post.

You decide your level of effort and your attention to detail. You will learn the most if you try your best to do A-plus work, even if it is not recognized or rewarded by others.

There is a lot of helpful advice about time and task management in the world. Of course, you can and should incorporate whatever systems of notetaking, task-alerting, technology use and scheduling that make the most sense for you. Golden Tip #1 is not about task management, however: it is about your habits of mind, heart and behavior as you rise from your bed each day to face the world.


For many of us, it is a daily struggle to stay focused and give 100% of our effort, because we fall into slumps where we think, “What does it matter?” When we are not in a good mood—whether about our jobs, our social lives, or even about the world around us—it is tempting to shrink into a protective or defensive crouch just to make it through the day. The work week seems to stretch ahead endlessly, the weekend a shimmering goal just out of reach. We plod through the weeks, counting the days to our next vacation.

Embarking on a career is like taking a hike across a forest without a map. Even as you plot your course roughly east, west, south or north, you do not know what the next turn will be—the terrain must guide your steps. Similarly, as you move ahead in work, you must “read the landscape” all the time, looking for opportunities to develop new skills and meet new people.

You already know that if you are spending all your time plotting your next vacation, there is something you need to change about your work life—but what is it? Do you need a new job, a different kind of job or, maybe, a different way of working?

Golden Tip No. 1 is a reminder that “you get what you give” in life. Giving your best effort every day to be excellent at whatever you are doing will bring you the absolute best outcome—whether that outcome is skills mastery, recognition or promotion at your current job, or the opportunity to interact with new teams and different people in a new enterprise.

Anyone can find themselves in a work situation that they want to change, and we all know people who seem to glide effortlessly from one opportunity to another. Successful people are those who take steps every day to prepare themselves so that they are ready to be “lucky” when new opportunities appear on the horizon exactly when they want to make a move.

Dean Lazar's Golden Guide

For more career tips, read Dean Lazar’s Golden Guide: Pragmatic Career Advice for Smart Young People, available on Amazon and at your local bookstore. Do you have a career question? Contact Lazar at—the answer may appear in a future post.

Lydia Lazar is founder and president of LHL Consulting. She is the former associate dean for recruitment and career services at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, and previously, dean of international law and policy overseeing international student admissions (LLM) at Chicago-Kent College of Law.