THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Susan Boyle: Career lessons from Susan Boyle's success

I never watch American Idol, or other talent shows. (I think I got my fill in the 1970s, watching year after year of the mind-numbing Miss America pageant.)

But there was too much hoopla with Susan Boyle on Britain's Got Talent, so I had to see what I was missing. I ended up watching her audition fifty times. Because every time I'm feeling slow or unmotivated or depressed, the clip cheers me up.

She recently sang in the semi-finals, and what struck me most while watching her is how much we can learn:

Everyone loves to shepherd talent.

It's very, very hard to land in the limelight on your own. So many studies of success– from Fortune 500 executives to startup entrepreneurs– all show that a key factor is finding people to help you navigate a system that requires many more skills than any one, single person could have.

If you ever wonder what you bring to someone who is mentoring you, look at the faces of the three judges when they realize (after four or five notes) that Susan is phenomenal. The joy is contagious. Mentoring is magical and electrifying to both sides. And seeing the moment on Britain's Got Talent reminds me that I should continuously seek out mentors and show them I perform well with the help they give me.

You can only shine if you aim high

Susan sang a very hard song: "I Dreamed a Dream," from Les Miserables. Simon Cowell said, "That's a big song."

It's important that she picked a big song. Because if you want to be seen as someone doing something big, you have to pick something big to do.

Seth Godin writes about The Dip, the time when things look too hard. It's the time when you are trying to do something big, and it is not happening, because doing something big doesn't happen right away.

Most people quit. That's Seth Godin's point: That you have to try something big, and you have to accept that anything big and huge requires you to have a dip– a point when you are wondering if it is worth it.

Settling for a day job does not destroy you.

We all love stories of early success. Child actors discovered in Mumbai, three-year-old girls whose singing makes you cry.

In the tech industry, being a young founder is so legendary that founders have lied about how old they are. And in mathematics, it's always news if someone discovers something later than age 30 because it so seldom happens.

We love the stories of early, magical success. But Susan Boyle is evidence that another narrative works as well. Huge talent can shine through at any age, and the world will respond. Susan Boyle did what so many people do who are not getting paid to do what they love. She kept singing while she worked day jobs. She sang because she loved singing, and she got better and better and better.

A hallmark of talent is loving to practice. And Susan Boyle's story is the narrative of the hard work that talent takes. Our lives are first, and foremost, about getting up every day and practicing what we love. What you get paid for, what you get honored for, that is secondary. And success comes for those who work hard.


Penelope Trunk has started several companies and worked for many more.