How to Get Ahead in Life

Some people are content to just float by in life, only doing what’s necessary to live comfortably. However, not all of us are content with that! Many of us have a sincere desire to push forward, be successful, and get ahead of the rat race. That, or we have been a part of the rat race all our lives, and we’re finally ready to leave it behind us.

In this article, we will give you an assortment of different ways to get ahead in life, split into two main sections. The first is the “Things You Can Do” section, which is full of things you can change in your daily routine to get ahead. The second is the “Things You Can Change” section, which has many things that you can change about or within yourself to give yourself a leg up.

Things You Can Do

You might be surprised how much wasted time is in your routine every day. To get ahead, you’ll need to use more of your free time to improve yourself. We’ve reviewed many activities here that you can add to your daily routine. Try to make an effort to include as many of them as possible!

Take Every Advantage

Many people who are content to lag behind in life don’t accept every opportunity that comes their way. For example, during a day at the office, there might be an opportunity to stay late and do extra work for your boss. If you do this, you’ll help boost your business, and you’ll also get on your boss’s good side! However, since it would be an optional opportunity, those with less ambition than you might refuse.

If you can make a solid effort to take advantage of these opportunities that come your way, getting ahead will be easy. As you start accepting them, you’ll be surprised by how many new opportunities come out of the woodwork. If you receive an offer from a friend to volunteer for a charity drive, do it! You never know who you’ll meet there or what kinds of connections you’ll make.

Educate Yourself

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people between the ages of fifteen and forty-four spent only ten minutes reading per day on average. In comparison, the same demographic spends around two hours watching television on average. While this isn’t to say you can’t learn new things by watching TV, it’s been clinically proven that reading stimulates your brain more than TV does.

When reading a book, your brain has to translate the words that it sees into thoughts, images, and meanings. Your mind then needs to further examine these thoughts for things like connotations, subtle hints, intonations, and the like. It’s an active process for your brain. TV, on the other hand, is a passive process. Your brain needs to think less because everything’s already laid out for you on screen.

That’s not to say that watching an educational documentary isn’t still helpful. Just don’t let TV be all you do in your off time. Make time to read books every day – hopefully for more than ten minutes – and you’ll already be ahead of most of your peers.

Master Your Skills

Recently, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey where a sampling of adults was asked to choose the ten most important skills for children to succeed later in life. The results of the study are as follows:

  • 90% said communication skills were important
  • 86% said reading skills were important
  • 79% said math skills were important
  • 77% said teamwork was important
  • 75% said writing skills were important
  • 74% said logic was important
  • 58% said science knowledge was important
  • 25% said athletic skills were important
  • 24% said music skills were important
  • 23% said art skills were important

Developing skills for the future while you’re young is indeed important, but continuing to foster and improve those skills throughout your adult life is equally essential. Whether your skills lie in music, athletics, science, writing, or none of the above, you should always work on them and improve them!

According to Harvard Medical School, learning a skill can actually slow the aging of your brain. Not only does practicing your skill benefit that skill, but it also can help your brain stay in tip-top shape. For example, if your skill lies in music or art – both of which are already known to improve the function of your brain – you are exercising your melon as well as building a skill that could be marketable later.

No matter how ridiculous or unrelated it seems, pursue the skills and hobbies that you like best! Regardless of whether it relates to your current dreams and career, the mental benefit it provides will be a reward in and of itself. And who knows – maybe your painting skills will save your company’s ad campaign one day.

Make Exercise a Part of Your Routine

Exercise releases endorphins, and these endorphins boost your mood, reduce stress, and help you feel happy throughout the day. If exercise isn’t already a part of your daily routine, it should be!

There are hundreds of different kinds of exercise that you can work into your routine – enough to fit around even the most demanding day job. It can be as simple as stretching for five minutes after waking up in the morning, or, if you enjoy it, you could turn it into more of a hobby, such as working out at the gym three times per week.

In addition to directly improving your mood, adding exercise to your routine will enhance your confidence, too. As you exercise, your self-image will grow as you lose weight and build muscle. This will boost your self-esteem, and your peers will notice this about you! Confidence in a work setting can often be a great indicator of leadership potential, and this may act in your favor!


Meditation is closely related to exercise since it’s often done in conjunction with low-impact exercises like yoga. However, it can also be treated as an entirely separate activity. Numerous sources of meditation materials and voice tracks are available online now, and you can meditate to anything from soft music, to ASMR, to tracks made explicitly for meditation.

Meditation is well-known as a stress relieving activity for a reason. It can lower cortisol and release endorphins in much the same way that exercise can, but without the impact on your body. Meditation is a fantastic way to help keep a level head in the workplace, especially if you have a high-stress or corporate job.

Keep Yourself Relevant

Staying relevant is an ongoing struggle for anyone that wants to be considered successful. With the way our world grows and changes by the day, it is important for you to stay up to date on current trends, news, and technologies. The minute you fall behind on these things, you become less valuable. In the same way, if you keep yourself more up to date than your peers, you become even more valuable.

Keeping yourself relevant isn’t particularly difficult, but it does require a bit of a time investment. Not a huge one, mind you! Merely listening to a news station during your daily commute may be enough for some to stay relevant, while for others, particularly those with jobs in the sciences or the tech sector, much more research may be required to keep yourself up to date.

Stay Focused

Staying focused is one of the most important parts of getting ahead. Many times, fresh-faced college graduates are eager and ready to throw themselves into the workplace, but when they see how much is required of them, they tend to fall behind. Keeping your focus even when conditions become discouraging is a massive part of getting ahead of your competition.

Those in positions above you will recognize your efforts when you demonstrate focus. If you show that you’re a hard worker who’s willing to put in extra to get what you want, you’ll be on the fast track to getting ahead in life.

Part of staying focused is keeping up a constant pace every day. Whether you’re a workaholic who’s working seven days a week or not, it’s incredibly beneficial to keep up your momentum in any way you can. This might mean accepting some extra assignments on the weekends, or it might mean keeping yourself going with other activities. Check out our “Stop Wasting Time” section for more on this.

If you lose your focus and your momentum, it will be much more difficult to get back into the swing of things when you go back to work! Everyone knows that Monday is the universally most-hated day of the week, and part of this is because many Americans drop their responsibilities, lounge on the couch, and do nothing productive over the weekend. If you do this, you’re only sabotaging yourself!

Things You Can Change

Sometimes, rather than adding to your current routine, it can be equally as important to change what you’re already doing. In this section, we’ll try to help you pinpoint areas where you might be lacking, as well as give you ideas on what to do differently.

Look on the Bright Side

You’ve probably noticed this before: a positive person is infinitely more pleasant to be around than a negative one. You should always keep this in mind, both in social and working situations. If you’re a consistently positive person, people will naturally gravitate to you, especially in stressful situations. A level, practical, but positive head is a precious trait in any workplace.

However, be careful not to let positivity turn into forced cheerfulness. You should be confident, calm, and collected, but still able to see situations for what they are. In other words, you need to be able to see the silver linings, but don’t deny that the dark clouds exist.

Be Genuine

Genuineness and honesty are traits that nearly everyone universally appreciates. This is especially true in the workplace and social environments. Just as your friends don’t typically want you to lie to them when a dress makes them look fat, your boss doesn’t want you lying, either!

Just like we mentioned in the previous section, you should be able to see a situation for what it is, but you should also look for ways that you can exploit or improve it. If there’s an issue at the office that you think you can help solve, propose your idea in a clear, composed, and honest way to your superior. Even if they don’t like the idea, they will appreciate the way that you proposed it to them.

More than that, though, you should always foster honest habits in the workplace. Gossip and rumors tend to run rampant in places where many individuals need to work together. If you can maintain honesty here and keep yourself out of the rumor mill, you’ll be more respected by your peers, and your boss will appreciate it, too!

Stop Wasting Time

While relaxation is incredibly important for your mental health and should never be entirely cut from your routine, wasting time should definitely be cracked down upon!

The above article defines relaxing as doing something different from your usual that you enjoy. For example, this could include low-impact activities like reading, yoga, or baths soaks, or it could be a high-intensity activity like rock climbing, boxing, or running.

Here are a few more activities you can do to relax, but not waste time.

  • Cook
  • Write
  • Sew, crochet, or knit
  • Dance
  • Walk the dog
  • Paint or draw
  • Go swimming
  • Build something
  • Take a lesson in something
  • Learn martial arts
  • Meditate
  • Get a massage
  • Go hiking or camping
  • Travel somewhere

It’s all about doing something that helps you take a step back and giving yourself a new perspective on your everyday activities. Looking at the bigger picture, rather than just banging your head into it, can be an incredibly effective way of solving problems that previously stumped you or others. Take a little break, step back, and let yourself unwind a bit. Your brain and body will appreciate it!

However, do be aware of time sinks! Keeping up with social media, for example (unless you work for or with social media, in which case, carry on), can be an enormous time sink that doesn’t get you any further in life! Checking in to social media every so often is okay – especially if you’re combining it with other activities, like taking a hot bath – but don’t let it dominate your day or distract you from your goals.

You should also be aware of the short chunks of time that you waste while doing other things. For example, as we just mentioned, if you absolutely need to check social media, do it while you’re in the bath or on the toilet! This way, you’re not wasting time that you could be spending on other things.

An especially glaring example of wasted time among working Americans is in the daily commute. If you drive to work or work from home, this doesn’t really apply to you. However, if you frequently take a bus, train, or taxi, you have a span of free, uninterrupted time available on public transportation!

While it may be tempting to sit back and watch the world go by, a span of just thirty minutes per day spent on public transportation could be used for something useful, such as reading an educational book, catching up with recent news, or doing other research. If you want to, you could even use this time for social media browsing – at least then it’s not entirely wasted!

Regulate Your Sleep Schedule

Not everyone who’s successful has a regular sleep schedule. The Harvard Business Review recently found that the average American professional is actually connected to work for about seventy-two hours each week. That’s almost half of their week spent doing work!

In high-level, professional careers, such as those in business, work is demanding and hectic. This means it’s even more important to be in the best shape you can be when you walk into work. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule, or at least getting a good night’s sleep, is linked closely to your work performance. If you’re nodding off at your desk, others will take notice, and the work you do accomplish won’t be your usual quality.

Ambition Versus Creativity

If you don’t have any desire to get ahead in life, you won’t. It’s as simple as that. No matter how much you try to force yourself to rise above your peers, if you don’t have something driving that ambition, it will eventually fall flat. Because of this, you should pick something close to your heart that you want to excel in. You don’t need to be a business professional to succeed!

Discover recently conducted a survey that asked Americans what they would need to have to consider themselves “successful.” These are the findings:

  • On average, most Americans wanted to own a home that was two times the value of their current home (around $400,000)
  • On average, most Americans wanted to own a car that was two times the value of their current car (around $53,000)
  • More than half of the Americans surveyed wanted to be able to afford hired help
    • 53% of Americans wanted to hire a housekeeper
    • 40% of Americans wanted to hire a financial advisor
    • 39% of Americans wanted to hire a gardener or groundskeeper
    • 30% of Americans wanted to hire a personal trainer
    • 26% of Americans wanted to hire a personal chef
    • 16% of Americans wanted to hire a personal assistant
    • 14% of Americans wanted to hire a personal driver or chauffeur
    • 7% of Americans wanted to hire a butler
    • 21% of Americans wanted to hire a service employee that wasn’t listed
  • On average, most Americans wanted to live about four hundred miles closer to relatives and family
  • 87% of Americans wanted to be able to take more vacations
  • 51% of Americans wanted to own more expensive electronics

You don’t need to have goals like the above to be successful, but a goal like those listed above drives many people who want to get ahead in life. Money, of course, is the driving factor behind most working ambitions, since it allows us more luxuries in our daily life (i.e., if you get paid more, you can work less, or buy more!)

If you want to earn more money – regardless of whether you want to spend it on luxury furnishings, hire help, or give it to charity – you will need to be ambitious. If you can’t be ambitious, be creative. Find a niche in the market where you can become the next big thing – just like Jeff Bezos did when making Amazon.

Communicate More Effectively

Good communication skills are incredibly useful to have in all aspects of your life, whether it be with your friends, peers, superiors, or even strangers. We recommend working on these skills right away if you lack in these areas. If you already have communication skills, well, you’re ahead of the curve already!

The Corporate Finance Institute says that good communication skills are vital for any successful career. In fact, in a 2016 LinkedIn survey that they reference in their article, communication skills cap the list of the most important soft skills among employers.

The article lists several ways that you can improve your communication skills. They are as follows:

  1. Be a good listener. When talking with others, don’t zone out – listen carefully to what they say to you, and clarify any questions you might have before moving on. Doing this will make others feel important, and paying close attention to what they say the first time will save both of you time later.
  2. Be concise. Many busy employers don’t have time for wordy questions or explanations from their employees. Use just enough words to be clear and courteous, but don’t overexplain. People appreciate this more than you might realize!
  3. Watch your body language. Body language is very straightforward – we understand body cues instinctively – but many people don’t realize when they might be saying more with their body than what they mean. For example, crossing your arms is a universal symbol of discomfort. Avoiding eye contact is another sign of distress, and it can make the other person think you’re being dishonest.
  4. Be confident. When you don’t feel confident in a conversation, you often come across as unsure of yourself. This is especially weak in corporate settings, where you need to be sure of the information you’re presenting to people!
  5. Be open-minded. If someone else offers an idea that makes sense, do your best to work with them on it. While it may be tempting to back up your own ideas at all times, this can make you come across as conceited and inflexible. Keeping yourself open-minded will make you seem more friendly and approachable, too.
  6. Respect others. Even if someone else’s idea doesn’t have much merit, hear them out, then gently explain why it doesn’t work. Rudely shutting others down is an outdated workplace practice that isn’t conducive to a stress-free environment.
  7. Use media properly. Knowing when to use different mediums of communication is an essential skill in the workplace, and it’s helpful in everyday life, too. For example, texting your partner to break up with them is widely regarded as a rude and unfeeling practice. Similar rules apply in the workplace – if you have something important to talk about, do it in person, or, as a last resort, through a phone or video call.

Be More Humble

Humility is an integral part of being well-liked. This applies in all social situations, whether at work or play. No one enjoys working with someone who likes to take all the credit, especially in a team setting. Practicing humility will draw your peers to you since they know you won’t take credit for their work, and your superiors will appreciate the deference, too. Just be careful not to let it get too far – no one likes when people fish for praise or compliments.


There is no fast-and-hard way to get ahead in life. No all-encompassing shortcut will put you ahead of everyone else in your way. Fortunately, though, there are hundreds of little things you can do to single yourself out from the rest. If you’re able to implement enough of these tips in your daily life, you’ll surely see a difference!

However, it’s up to you whether you want to change your routine, change yourself, or change both. What is needed most will largely depend on the person, but as a general rule, we recommend a healthy mix of the two. Take some time to pick out what areas of your self and your life might need the most work, and put your time and effort into those areas.

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