As a very social CIO (http://www.enduserexperience.info/articles/535484/aternity-publishes-socially-savvy-cio-list/) people often ask me for coaching, mentoring, and help with career planning. If you looked at my LinkedIn profile you would see that I've achieved things earlier in my career than a lot of others in similar positions. Some are interested in recommendations for how to move their careers forward in the same way, a recipe if you like. Others want to know about different things that I've done to set myself apart or if I've had any "singular achievements" that propelled me forward.
In truth, I cannot think of any one experience that shaped me into who and what I am today. I tell folks that I view my history as a patchwork quilt of different experiences. I've done work on six different continents so it's likely that I am more culturally aware (or least sensitive) than many others. At the same time, I've been close to getting fired on at least two different positions, including my very first one out of college. That's why I say something to the effect of "Caveat Emptor" (http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/caveat+emptor) to those that take my advice. By nature I am a risk taker and am prepared to take both the good and bad that come with pushing the envelope. That's not the path for everyone, I think you would agree.
So what is the one thing that I can tell you that will help you consistently achieve your goals? Become an excellent communicator. Sounds pretty easy, right? It may not be quite as simple as you think. As someone who has kissed the Blarney Stone three times I can tell you that I am not referring to just becoming a good talker or speaker. I am saying that you really need to be able to communicate well across a number of different mediums.
The first question, if you want to learn how to get what you want out of life and your career, is: "How can I communicate without language?" Strange thing to ponder, right? I found an interesting blog by "psychoneuro" (http://psychneuro.wordpress.com/2011/11/04/thinking-without-language/) that talks about how language shapes thought. If you believe that to be true (and you should), then you know that communicating is much more than just speaking. Many people believe that 1st person communication is at least 90% non-verbal. By default you should be drawn to the conclusion that emotion is a much more primal, effective way of communicating than speaking a word. Have you ever heard someone say something to the effect of "I don't remember what s/he said but I sure do remember how it made me feel!" That's what makes music such an effective way to motivate people to do what you want. (Although I digress, what would Highlander 1986 have been like without the music of Queen?) Being an effective communicator is the key to ensuring success. Being able to connect with people on an emotional level is the foundation for successful communication.
The evolution of communication took a lot of steps before getting to the English language. Back to the question - Can you think without language? I believe the answer to that is "No". Modern day languages, especially English, serve as tools to allow humans to formulate exceedingly complex thoughts. But in an odd twist, a paradox if you must, the most complicated and powerful speakers today use a skill very similar to what the Egyptians developed through hieroglyphics.
Sometimes an idea or concept is so complicated that words cannot accurately convey the full meaning. That's why great communicators tell stories full of metaphors and allegories. By weaving a mental picture into a conversation, these individuals can convey volumes of context in a way that people can connect into. Since I am a Denver Broncos fan, I can give you a great example. Imagine if I'm trying to inspire you to take on a challenge that seems all but insurmountable. Then I say to you, this is just like "The Drive" (Google this) you might become very inspired because of the complex mental picture those two words would paint for you on both the intellectual and emotional levels. Of course, if you were a Cleveland Browns fan you might become enraged...
The ancient Egyptians developed the very first way to communicate complex ideas. Using pictures and symbols, they were able to develop a rich way of exchanging information. They didn't have phonetic letters to spell things out but they had a whole lexicon of symbols to convey information in a conceptual sense. To this day, the Chinese use the Mandarin symbolic language to do much of the same. Of course, Mandarin is much more sophisticated than hieroglyphics, but it has been in development for over 2,000 years.
If you want one singular piece of advice on how to succeed, learn how to connect with people. Learn how to engage them simultaneously on the physical, mental, and emotional levels. If you can do that I guarantee you will be a success.