The Simplest Thing You Can Do to Become Wildly Successful at Work

Friday, February 10, 2017

The holidays are behind us. The choice in how we view returning to work—whether as a dreary march toward Spring or a brand-new lease on life bursting with buds of opportunity—is completely up to us. And success at work, becoming a vital and valued leader in the eyes of our employers, is within reach.

The simplest thing you can do to become wildly successful at work is to become a reality-based thinker. Reality-based thinking is recognizing that it’s not the events that cause stress in our lives, but the stories we create about those events. The best way to eliminate any needless suffering that may stem from our own thinking is to first learn to recognize and edit your stories. For instance, treat information with a simple “good to know” and view it with a neutral approach. “No, my co-worker didn’t leave this form blank to thrust his work onto me; he may have just been absent-minded. And, if that’s the worst thing that happens today, it’s going to be a great day, because I‘ve got this covered.”

Pause and reflect any time you experience stressful thoughts and feelings about an event (“Here we go again!”) or a person (“What a micromanager, he doesn’t trust me!”). Answer the following questions as honestly and as thoroughly as you can, eliminating the thoughts that are the root cause of most of your drama:

  • What story am I telling myself right now? (Am I a helpless victim? Are you a villain?
  • What do I know for sure? (Only indisputable objective facts like “the toner cartridge is empty” not “someone used the last of the toner and didn’t care about the next person.”
  • How do I act when I believe negative stories about others and this situation? 
  • If I didn’t have that negative belief, how could I help the person or situation? 
  • What could I do right now to be helpful and add value? Am I willing to do it?

Honest reflection like this leads us exactly where we need to go to succeed at work, for ourselves, our organizations, and our relationships with co-workers. It’s worth noting that this strategy works remarkable well with personal relationships, too—when we help others instead of criticizing, resenting, or labeling them.


For you and your company to succeed, the era of the Drama King or Drama Queen must end. When we move away from the facts of our reality and let our imaginations and judgments rule our thoughts and actions, we see our circumstances in defense mode. This is where feelings and suspicions direct our actions, harming our relationships with others, even among family.

There are no innocent victims when it comes to drama. If your life is full of drama, then the best place to eliminate it is with yourself. In other words, what we allow in our lives is what we create or tolerate. Any stress and unhappiness we feel is not the result of what happens to us, but rather the result of the stories we tell ourselves about those events—stories our ego is literally making up in our heads. We ascribe negative thoughts, motives, and intentions to others, even though we can’t possibly know these things to be true.

How we respond to potentially stressful situations and people is our choice. In the long-run, our success, happiness, and energy depend on responding to the facts of a situation, not our made-up stories and suspicions about others’ character or habits. Reacting constructively and without judgement toward others—even though it may not come automatically—is the simplest way to build your team, your professional reputation, and the success of your organization.

Want to learn more? Join me March 17 for the ATD webcast, 5 Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace: Becoming a Highly Valued Employee.

Editor’s note: The information in this blog post is based on Cy Wakeman’s New York Times best-selling book, The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace: Know What Boosts Your Value, Kills Your Chances, and Will Make You Happier, (Jossey-Bass, 2013). All rights reserved. To learn more about reality-based leadership and philosophies, go to, or watch our videos on our YouTube channel.

About the Author
Rob Otrembiak is the director of the healthcare learning and development division at Cy Wakeman Inc. In this role, he forges relationships, consulting opportunities, and development solutions to train leaders at all levels in effective coaching, patient experience, outcomes, employee engagement, and performance management, using the methodologies of  Reality-Based Leadership: Ditch the Drama, Restore Sanity to the Workplace, & Turn Excuses into Results (Jossey-Bass, 2010) and  The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace: Know What Boosts Your Value, Kills Your Chances, & Will Make You Happier (Jossey-Bass, 2013), both by Cy Wakeman. 
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