A sixth-grade girl was running for the post of secretary of her school class. A major part of her campaign was a speech to be given to her classmates, but she had no idea what to say. So she asked her mother for ideas.

"Well, you love to cook," her mom said. "Why don't you look in a cookbook?"

It was the stupidest idea she'd ever heard, but, desperate, the young girl followed her mother's advice. Then, flipping through the pages, it hit her: Why not write a recipe for what would make a good class secretary? Two cups of good handwriting, one cup of dependability and so on.

Jan Bolick, now a management coach, won the election. And she also learned to look in unusual places for creative solutions. As it turns out, creativity is part of the "recipe" for attaining success.

What is success? The answer might depend on whom you ask and the particular stage of their own journey. Yet, no matter your age, occupation or dream for the future, achieving success comes down to a few basic factors that will likely shape your future.

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Know what you want. Build your dream, craft your vision, write down your goals and then create a plan. Whether or not you ask for advice, never let someone talk you out of something that you have your heart set on doing. As I always say, believe in yourself even when no one else does.

Search for creative approaches. Sticking to the old formula will produce old results. If you can find a new or better way to build the proverbial mousetrap, more power to you. Even little tweaks and bright ideas can make the difference.

Avoid comparisons. You have goals and aspirations that have little to do with what your friends, neighbors or colleagues are doing. Focus on what you are trying to accomplish and your plan for making that happen.

Cultivate patience. Worthwhile success takes time. If you're in a rush, you'll cut corners and ignore warning signs. Take a step-by-step approach that's focused on long-term results. Go for quick wins only when they're realistic and valuable.

Cut out negative self-talk. Perfection often gets in the way of achievement. Successful people stick to a path of continual growth and self-improvement; they are constantly working to become a smarter, better version of themselves.

Admit your mistakes. Failure/mistakes are not fatal. When they happen, learn from them. Figure out what went wrong, if you can. Then pick yourself up, get back on your feet and keep moving forward.

Don't go it alone. Network. Get involved with a group or professional organization of individuals in your field. Include people at all stages of their careers. Stay connected through social media channels, and make an effort to meet in person regularly. Don't take these relationships for granted.

Life should teach you who you are, Oprah Winfrey said in a commencement address at Wellesley College. The media mogul and former talk-show host says for a long time she spent her life wanting to be someone else. She recalled wanting to be like legendary television personality Barbara Walters, and discovered she was not when she could not pronounce "Barbados" on air.

She said she started to laugh on air, which was not very Barbaralike. From that moment on, Oprah says she knew that she could be a better Oprah than a Barbara, and she decided to pursue just being herself once and for all. Her phenomenal success was the result of being "demoted" from news anchor to talk show host. She said, "I am just thrilled that I get paid so much money every day for just being myself. But it was a lesson long in coming, recognizing that I had the instinct, that inner voice that told me that you need to try to find a way to answer to your own truth, was the voice I needed to be still and listen to."

Mackay's Moral: Success is the difference between jumping on the bandwagon and leading the band.

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached at www.harveymackay.com, by emailing harvey@mackay.com or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.