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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

A Reminder That Behind Every Awesome Accomplishment Is a Lot of Less Glamorous Work

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Eve L. Ewing’s first book, Electric Arches, was named to best book lists by the Chicago Tribune and NPR. It won the 2018 Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America, the 2018 Alex Award from the American Library Association, and the 2017 Chicago Review of Books Award for Poetry. Chicago Magazine called the collection of poetry, essays, and art “one of the most powerful, unique portrayals of Chicago to ever grace the page.”

Ewing, who is very active (and interactive) on Twitter, told her more than 138,000 followers that her sales goal for the book’s first year was exceeded in just three months—a fact that so confused her she thought the publisher had sent over incorrect numbers.

“Thousands of you have made a place in your life for a weird little book of poetry from a first-time author. I'm awed, humbled, and deeply grateful. Thank you,” she wrote.

But behind the sales reports and accolades, the author reminded everyone, there’s not only artistic and literary talent, but also a lot of less glamorous work. She shared a list of “skills that’ve contributed to the success of my book that have nothing to do with my writing ability:”

- taking constructive criticism
- asking for help
- meeting deadlines
- using social media
- event planning
- answering email
- using a calendar
- being friendly

You don’t have to be an award-winning writer, a sociologist who earned her PhD at Harvard University, and a professor at the University of Chicago—as Ewing is—to relate to and learn from her post.

Think about the specific items she included. How might improving your own skills in these areas influence how you do your job (whether it’s writing or something totally different)? Give yourself some credit if you already excel at one or more of them—even if you’ve yet to achieve whatever professional milestones you’ve set your sights on.

Make your own list of all the skills that are crucial to attaining your ultimate goals. It could help you expand your definition of success and create a more nuanced and forgiving way to measure your progress. Not only that, these crucial underlying skills could bolster your case next time you’re gunning for a project, a promotion, or a new job.

And finally, apply the same idea to others. If you’re a manager, think about the full array of skills your hires and direct reports need to truly be great at what they do, and make sure you talk about their performance in those terms and value all aspects of their success. And if you’re looking to emulate role models, make sure you pay attention to all the glamorous and not-so-glamorous work that goes into their triumphs.

Let Ewing’s tweet help you think about success in a more holistic way. Because there’s almost always more to it than the just the shiny parts.