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Key Lessons: Success to Set Your Watch By

By Jane Wurwand
Posted: April 10, 2008, from the January 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

My first mentor was my mother, who, in the long tradition of sensible British mums, simply told me, “Learn how to do something.” So, at the age of 13, I went to work on Saturdays sweeping up hair at the local salon in my small hometown. Two years later, after my first big promotion, I would brightly tell clients at the shampoo basin, “I’m going to go live in America and be successful.” And with the clear-eyed conviction that is perhaps the sole domain of 15-year-olds, I knew I was right. Of course, I didn’t know enough then to think what I was saying actually sounded preposterous.
        I’m a big fan of life skills as a necessary complement to book smarts. This is not intended as a put-down to scholars, but simply an affirmation to those of us in hands-on professions. Our livelihood depends upon consistent delivery of services and products. We must deliver, or we can quickly find ourselves out of business. There really is nothing esoteric about it.
       This leads directly into the first, and most fundamental, of my seven lessons necessary for success. The other six will be forthcoming in the months ahead, so be prepared to follow along. However, now and without any further ado ...

Lesson one: Create a No-flake Zone
        And make sure this zone starts with you. Never, ever flake, fade, bail on or blow off a commitment. Give yourself the flake-check—how many times a day do you find yourself shrugging and using the word “whatever?” If you find yourself saying “whatever,” as in, “Oops, I missed that deadline—oh well, whatever!” or “Oops, I promised to meet her at 1:30 PM, but now it’s a little after 2 PM—whatever!” more than once every 24 hours, you may be in danger of being a flake.
       For those of you lucky enough not to know, a flake is someone who can’t stick with the plan or follow through with their responsibilities. Many qualities in life and business are subjective. This one is not.

No-flake relationships
       Don’t surround yourself with people who indulge in the kind of uncaring, unprofessional and irresponsible attitudes that are the telling signs of flake behavior. Woody Allen once said 90% of success is showing up. Personally, I’d put that number somewhere closer to 70%, but he was on the right track: Consistently suiting up and showing up puts you far ahead of the competition.
       The fact is, most people and companies often fail to deliver on their promises. Who hasn’t waited at home for an electrician or plumber, missing an entire day’s work in the process, only to learn at 5 PM that, “Oops, Betty didn’t put the work order through, so now we’ll try for tomorrow between 8 AM and 5 PM. Oh, but wait—sorry, tomorrow is Saturday, so the appointment is going to have to wait until Monday.”
       In this sense, every business really, truly is a service business. Even if you sell fish or pour concrete, it’s all about relationships, and the heart of these relationships is always trust. Trust means you make a commitment and you deliver on that commitment. Then, you do it again ... and again ... and again, until you’re doing it without even thinking about it.

Navigating the No-flake Zone
       Rule one for being successful is to never, ever be a no-show. In fact, learn how not to be late. This is a skill specifically worth cultivating. I live and work in Los Angeles, and while I madly love it here, the legendary gridlock is all too real. So take a tip from me that was learned on the sizzling asphalt of the eternally congested 405 San Diego Freeway: If you plan on making a journey that ideally takes 30 minutes, allow yourself 45 minutes or more. If you arrive painfully early, treat yourself to a latte, a stamp and a postcard, and write a quick, surprise note to a friend or family member.
       For an encouraging push into getting used to this punctual habit, treat yourself to a fantastic wristwatch if it will inspire you to check it more often. Being on time, or even a bit early—but most of all, always showing up—proves to the world that you respect their time and value your own as well.
       By following this cardinal rule of being flake-free, not only will you find yourself with more successful business relationships and returns, but also inspiring those around you to do the same. And hopefully all your good work will start to come back to you tenfold. 

Author’s Note: This is the first of a six-part series to run in Skin Inc. magazine that covers the seven hardest lessons I’ve learned about business and about life. My wish for every reader of this column is that something you see here serves as a kind of mentorship for your success, and that, in turn, you are able to pass along your learning as mentorship to someone else, perpetuating the “law of return”—getting what you share back tenfold, every time.