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Success tips

A long career teaches you things that eventually become obvious to you. However they are not always obvious to other people. The tips are listed newest first.

My Guardian opinion piece about Home Secretary Rt Hon Suella Braverman MP — learning points
A Guardian journalist contacted me in April, about 10 years after he had interviewed me. I agreed to write a piece sharing my thoughts on Suella Braverman's anti-asylum-seeker rhetoric. The way the piece came about, and the way I wrote it, contain some lessons worth sharing.
Consume TV and radio purposefully
I grew up in a very poor family. Our television, especially the BBC, was how I knew what was happening in the world and was an important part of my education. The BBC's mission statement, “to inform, educate, and entertain”, gives an order of priority for how to consume TV and radio.
Be the very best person you can be, within the reality of your limitations
If they are below average height, most people will accept that without hesitation. However many people are very reluctant to accept that they are below average intelligence. Despite that, our limitations, whether in height or in intelligence, are real. Accepting them is hard, but a necessary part of achieving as much as you can.
Master Microsoft Word
Most users of Word know little about its advanced features. Many are weak even on basics such as the different kinds of "Paste" in Word. My career experience and need for self reliance meant that I had to master advanced Word. I recently gave a 15-minute presentation to some colleagues on Advanced Word, which you can watch on the page. It is followed by 4 short video demonstrations from the Q&A session as well as some written answers to questions. Learning how to use Word effectively, especially its advanced features, will make you more successful at work and anywhere else good documents are required.
Attend events effectively
Many people attending events behave in ways that do not advance their careers. Without being aware of it, they are choosing to stagnate. I list many behaviours that should become automatic habits. Implementing them will help you to advance your career.
Accept that on many subjects you are not entitled to have an opinion
My "Thought for the Week" shared a small, but important, point that many people miss. That is the need to be honest about the limitations of your own knowledge, but also recognising when other people are not competent to discuss something. Refusing to debate the ignorant will save you time and is better for your blood pressure.
Learn to laugh at yourself
There are very few occupations that do not require the ability to work with other people. One important component of "people skills" is showing that you are human just like everyone else. It is a big help to be able to laugh at yourself. I share two personal examples.
Choose a career you are passionate about
Several members of the Clare College Class of 1969 recently reflected on their career paths. The event was recorded, and some of the talks are now on the Clare College website. I shared my good fortune in discovering at age 23 something that I was fascinated by, would never be boring, and also happened to be well paid. My personal career journey has some important messages for younger people.
Acknowledge being well off
Many well off people still think of themselves as poor, because they only compare themselves to those who are richer. This harms society by making them less generous. It also harms them, by making them feel bad about themselves, damaging their happiness, health and longevity. Even the poorest in our society are far better off than most of the world's population.
Pay for your news
"You become what your mind consumes" by reading, watching and listening. Instead of taking in news at random, you should choose what you consume. I show how to do this even if you have limited time.
Read the Constitution of the United States of America
There is no substitute for reading the original text if you want to understand something properly. I read the USA's Constitution in my twenties. If you want to understand the world's most important country, you should do the same. I recommend how to go about it.
Set your own high standards
A Biblical quote, Ecclesiastes 9:10, has stayed with me all my life. My upbringing and early career experiences led me to internalise setting very high standards for myself. I think this attitude is vital for career success. It led me to spend over five hours to produce a 29-second Eid video for the Lib Dem Campaign for Race Equality. I believe the effort was worthwhile.
Learn to refine your message
Writing or speaking to a fixed limit is very difficult and has to be learned with practice. Being concise requires time for serious thinking. The end result can be a much better product. In particular, it forces you to identify the exact points you are seeking to make.
Control your desire to be liked
Being liked helps your career, and is also good for your physical and mental health. Naturally most of us want to be liked. However sometimes you need to prioritise other things. Deciding person by person whether you care if they like you makes you more effective.
Reflections on what made my marriage successful
In November 2018, I hosted a dinner for members of my extended family to celebrate my 40th wedding anniversary. A recent question from a reader on my page "Marriage tips for Muslim women (and men)" tied straight into something I said in my speech at the event. That question has led me to share the speech, as it also contains several other things I have learned about marriage by reflecting on my own experience.
To win a debate, reinterpret the question to suit your position
In a Durham Union Society debate, I spoke against the motion "This House Believes Class Governs Britain?" In reality, the answer is clearly yes, or clearly no, depending on how you read the question. Debating this question reminded me of a wider point. Many (but not all) political divides disappear once you are precise about the meaning of the question.
Your choices are all you can control. They make your life.
The circumstances of our birth, and many other aspects of our lives are beyond our control. We only control the choices we make. Those choices in turn determine what becomes of our lives. In my 50th "Thought for the Week" broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester, I illustrated this with the story of Ruth and Naomi.
Globalising yourself and your career
I spoke to students, most of whom were international students, at Bath University. The general theme was "Global careers." I shared what my career taught me about how to become outstanding, having a global perspective, and how to overcome discrimination. The page has my self-advancing PowerPoint presentation with the audio of my talk and of the Q&A session.
Wear conference badges correctly
Having people remember you is very important for your career success. That is why at conferences when given a badge you should always wear it. You also need to wear it in the correct position, which most people are unaware of.
Integration advice for Britons of Pakistani origin
I spoke to about 30 Britons of Pakistani origin. Integration matters for society as a whole, but it also matters for each individual. We can choose how integrated we become, and take action accordingly. My 6-minute talk was recorded, and you can listen to it or read a transcript.
Advice for professionals about achieving career success
I spoke to 30 Pakistani origin professionals and young people aspiring to become professionals. I shared 10 tips for career success based on my own experience. The 12-minute talk was recorded. You can listen to it or read a transcript.
Defer gratification to succeed in life
Walter Mischel's marshmallow experiments showed that children as young as four differ in their ability to defer gratification. Those who can are far more likely to succeed in life. It is an ability you can teach yourself by taking it seriously. I made this the theme of my BBC Radio Manchester "Thought for the Week" delivered on New Year's Eve.
The importance of being selfish, to some degree
Many young people are so unselfish that their career aspirations focus entirely upon helping others. They should focus on taking care of themselves. As well as avoiding becoming a burden on others, becoming richer will enable them to help others more.
Force yourself to keep learning
A colleague decided at 40 to stop learning. Her career then died, illustrating the importance of continuous learning. I personally also dislike change, but have taught myself to embrace it. That habit considerably enhanced my career as well as my capability outside work. I believe that when people avoid learning new skills, it is because they don't think they can, or don't accept that it will raise their value in the job market.
Integration advice for individual French (and British) Muslims
Governments are responsible for making their countries fairer, and for countering discrimination. However, regardless of the performance of governments, individuals need to make the best of their lives. My six decades of experience of living in the UK have taught me much about what it takes to succeed without compromising one's personal integrity. This page is aimed at both French and British readers.
Making your New Year resolutions stick
To make a resolution work, it must really matter to you, and you must take action. Action that you can sustain permanently.
Understand that success is a matter of degree; it is not binary
Some people believe that success is binary: you are either "a success" or "a failure." Others, including me, regard success as a matter of degree. I explain why understanding that success is a matter of degree will make you happier, and will also make you more successful.
Attend the best university you can get into
While apparently obvious, many students attend lesser quality universities by choice, rather than due to financial compulsion. It is a serious mistake.
Learn to say "Yes" - it leads to many new opportunities
Sensible time management requires you to often say "No." However whenever possible, say "Yes", especially when asked to do something you have never done before. It will develop you professionally and personally.
Accept that life requires you to make choices
Many of the things we want are incompatible. Achieving personal or professional success requires you to choose which you want. Even when goals are not incompatible, you need to decide where to focus your energies.
Engaging with different people develops you, as well as making society more cohesive
Engaging with people who differ from you can be uncomfortable at first. While sticking with people like you is much easier, mixing with people who are different is a much more developing experience for you personally. It also makes society more cohesive.
Avoiding apathy requires realism
Many people today are apathetic. Some people are apathetic because they wrongly believe the world cannot be changed. Others wrongly believe the world can be changed easily and quickly, and give up when success is not immediate. Both wrong perceptions lead to apathy. The antidote to apathy is belief in the possibility of change combined with realism about how long it will take and how hard it will be.
Marriage tips for Muslim women (and men)
Having a successful marriage requires taking it seriously, and making the right decisions, both before and after the wedding. While my wife and I have been happily married for many years, I have also observed many other people in unhappy marriages. Hence I have written 10 specific pieces of advice aimed at Muslim women. 8 of those are also relevant to Muslim men.
Making a career in accountancy
My talk for Speakers for Schools at Salford City College. It recounts my own career and guides students on how to get into the profession. My accountancy career was absorbing and well paid. I mainly served large companies, but also family businesses. Entry is very competitive, and aspirants need to acquire the broad range of skills needed.
Decide which charities to support
All of us have to choose between charities because our resources are finite, while charitable needs are endless. Your giving will be more effective if you think strategically about which charities to support. I explain my own thought process and why my largest giving has been for education.
Live within your means and give to charity
Being short of money causes stress and unhappiness. Accordingly financial discipline is a habit to develop early, and it will make you happier. Giving to charity will also make you happier. Charitable giving is easiest if you build it into your personal budgeting.
Use telephones effectively
Almost everyone uses telephones, but few people receive guidance on how to use them. Accordingly many people make basic mistakes when initiating calls, receiving calls and using voicemail. However developing good telephone habits will make you more effective. You will also benefit from learning to use the more advanced features of modern telephone technology.
Ten short professional success tips
A long career teaches you what professional success requires. I was asked to speak to an audience of consisting mainly of Muslim doctors from Pakistan and India about the subject. I gave them 10 tips in 10 minutes. The prescriptive style helped to keep the talk short.
The paradox behind a happy marriage
Your choice of marriage partner should be made for entirely selfish reasons. However once you are married, you will only be happy if you behave very unselfishly. That paradox underlies having a happy marriage.
Helping others rewards you
The purpose of helping others is the unselfish one of helping them. However as well as spiritual benefits, there are usually tangible benefits for yourself. You will often learn something, or even just get some useful exercise. It can also be enjoyable.
Do the job you were hired to do, as well as possible
Achieving promotion normally requires doing your present job exceptionally well. This may seem obvious, but many people fail to follow this advice. The danger of trying to do something other than your assigned role is greatest when the job appears too mundane. One example is filing and another is serving as the Master of Ceremonies (MC) of a political meeting. However your performance in every role can be improved. A recent video allows me to illustrate this for an MC.
Control your weight
Being overweight has health risks and also makes career success harder. After receiving unwelcome news in my annual medical, over the last year I reduced my weight simply by counting calories. It was much easier than I expected. You can read how to do it, or watch my 28 minute PowerPoint presentation with audio.
Make yourself who you want to be
"Give me a child until seven and I will give you the man" say the Jesuits. It is partially true. However neither our genetic endowment nor past have to determine our future. We can change ourselves by deciding who we want to be and then taking action.
Control your life's direction
Success in life requires a balance between inner direction and responding to outside events. Taking up opportunities is normally a good thing to do. However you need periodically stop and take stock, to ensure that what you are doing supports your own strategic priorities.
Reduce the effect of "Confirmation bias"
Humans are good at finding evidence to confirm their existing views. We all suffer from it, and psychologists call it "Confirmation bias." However there are ways of reducing its impact so that we can think better and see the world more objectively.
Learn to cope with internet trolls
Trolls seek to provoke you with inflammatory communications. That can lead you to waste your time. Bad responses may weaken your cause, or even be defamatory. Achieving your objectives requires being selective about who you respond to, and being calm, courteous and precise when responding.
Take care of yourself
It is easy to forget that you can achieve little without your health or if you are not around. That means it is essential to take care of your health and personal safety. Furthermore your life matters not just to you, but also matters to everyone you can help.
Avoid false modesty - it can lead you astray
To succeed, you need to accurately assess how good you are. False modesty is dangerous because you can end up believing it. That will lead you to under estimate your strengths.
Accept responsibility for your decisions
Our decisions lead to outcomes which are sometimes good and sometimes bad. Successful people accept that when they get bad outcomes, they made bad decisions, and they try to make better decisions in the future. However unsuccessful people tend to put the blame for bad outcomes elsewhere. Consequently they never learn to make better decisions.
Be true to yourself: it pays to be honest for many reasons
Many people adopt a false personality for interviews and other purposes. However being authentic and true to yourself is less effort than trying to adopt a fake persona. That reduces your stress levels with health benefits and extra ability to concentrate on work. Also being found to be deceitful seriously reduces your chances to succeed in life.
Learn to say "No"
People like to hear the word "Yes." It means that turning down requests is often difficult. Success in life requires learning how to say "No" politely but clearly, instead of saying "Yes" and making yourself unhappy.
Read "The New York Review of Books"
Well rounded individuals who are knowledgeable about many things are more successful. Reading this magazine is an excellent way to broaden one's mind. The content is wide-ranging, informative and absorbing to read.
Living by principles and rules makes you happier
Unhappiness is sometimes due to personal tragedy, ill health or extreme poverty. However many people who should be happy are not. Often this comes from inability to decide what they really want. Strong personal principles and rules for living stop you making bad decisions and lead to you being happier. It does not matter whether these principles come from a religion or from elsewhere.
Use an email signature
Almost every email program allows you to create a standard "signature". A well designed signature contains useful information making it easier for the email's recipient to contact you in future. It also shows that you are professional and well organised. Getting it right will contribute year after year (in a small way) towards your success.
Attend work-related social events
Success at work requires strong collaborative relationships with colleagues and clients. Much of the relationship building happens outside the office. Those who refuse to attend work-related social events are damaging their career.
Think about your CV
Most people see only their own CV. I have seen many, most of them written in ways that would get them rejected by a recruiter. I have illustrated the failings with a real life "before" and "after" example.
Read "The Economist"
To rise to a senior position, it is not enough to be good at your technical specialism. You also need to understand current political and commercial affairs.
Use business cards effectively
There are some good habits which become second nature when you develop them. However I am always surprised by the number of people who fail to make the best use of their own and other people's business cards.
Speak proper English
You are more likely to succeed in life if your spoken English is outstandingly good. I give some simple advice on how you can improve it.
Use a good quality photograph
Many people have profiles on networking sites without a photograph. It looks unprofessional and is counter-productive.


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