Ten ways to be successful

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman
  • 25 AF Command Chief

I was asked a while ago for a 'top 10 list' of suggestions for Airmen who want a successful career. I finally found time to answer this Airman and I decided I'd do it open letter style. The list is certainly not all inclusive, but you may find it useful. In no particular order, here are 10 ways to be successful in our Air Force:

Be Realistic
First and foremost, measure your success in ways that matter and ways you control. Adding stripes to your sleeve or medals to your chest are no way to measure your worth and, because you don't control them, they are not realistic goals in the first place. You will be successful as an Airman when you make a difference to our mission and change the lives of those around you. Focus on making a difference and you will end up being successful no matter how many stripes we give you...at the end of your career, the uniform is coming off. When that happens, you will be happy you focused on changing lives and making a difference, and not on 'winning' the promotion game.

Be Better
There is maybe nothing more important to your success than a mindset of constant improvement. Live each day working to be better than yesterday. Being successful is not about being better than others; it is about being the best possible version of you. In every setting, in every job, in every way, try to be better. You will never be further from success than the moment you become satisfied with your performance.

Be Teachable
You cannot be better if you are not teachable. You do not have all the answers and you never will. You will have great ideas and you will have less than great ideas. No matter how many promotions you earn, this remains true. When someone asks a question or points out a different way, listen to them and learn from their input. Changing your position to a better one is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of confidence and strength.

Be Fit
Being successful requires energy and focus, and if you aren't fit across all four CAF (Comprehensive Airman Fitness) domains, your energy and focus will certainly be affected. Exercise, eat right, and sleep well. Strengthen your mind in every way you can. Be true and committed to your family and friends. Ensure you are dialed into something bigger than yourself. If you don't find time to be fit, you'll never find time to be successful.

Be Yourself
You cannot change who you are and you cannot pretend to be something you're not. Maybe for a while you can fool them, maybe even fool yourself, but at the end of the day your success must be built after YOUR fashion and no one else's. What worked for your mentor, may not work for you. Find your own path--train your weaknesses, but play your strengths. You'll go nowhere if you're disingenuous, and no matter where you find yourself, it's unlikely you'll feel successful when you get there.

Be Disagreeable
Psychologist Jordan Peterson, in a theory popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book "David and Goliath," stated innovators need to be "disagreeable." I believe this speaks directly to the DNA of being an Airman. If you want to be successful, you've got to risk being different. You can't just sit back and play it safe, you can't be afraid to rock the boat or get funny looks. When you know doing the right thing or attacking a problem in a new and innovative way is going to earn you funny looks, that is precisely when you need to do it the most.

Be Involved
Hiding away from our Air Force unless you are 'clocked in' is no way to find success as an Airman. Spend time with your teammates and spend time with your Air Force community. Play sports, sing karaoke, use the golf course, volunteer to give something back, it really does not matter. Be involved in whatever way resonates with you and you'll be happier and more successful because of it.

Be a Wingman
No one succeeds alone. Taking care of your teammates means they will take care of you when the time comes...and the time will come. Want a successful career with a shadowbox full of great memories? Then remember, memories are not made alone. Those to your left and right are easily as important as those above you, and will help you take care of those below you.

Be Accountable
There are few things that will drive success more than accepting that you and you alone are responsible for it. If something goes wrong, own it. If you face challenges, know that how you deal with them is what defines you. If you do not believe you and you alone control your success, why are you still reading this?

Finally, being a successful Airman starts with just being an Airman...a professional of arms. You must truly believe in the institution...our culture, our heritage, and our core values. Every day that you consider this just a job and not a way of life, you limit your success. If you can't put your full faith in Big Blue, sooner or later you will struggle. This business is not for everyone, and if you are not "into it," you will not be the most successful Airman you can be.