So I’ve been a fan of lists since I learned how to count.
I actually started a bucket list in the 3rd grade in response to a teacher’s 1. I didn’t know I should be calling it a bucket list until the 2007 movie of the same name came out.request that students draw what they wanted to be when they grew up. 1
I couldn’t decide what I wanted to be, but I knew what I wanted to do.
2. I still have a boss matrix (for the purpose of grading bosses), a critical career experiences matrix (critical career experiences I need to have in HR to be at my target TDC at select ages), and until recently I had a decision tree that I’d intended to pass on to future children to keep them from making the same mistakes I did (I stopped updating it when the context dependent footnotes I was adding to each of the outcomes became so detailed that they effectively rendered the tree useless).As I got older I transitioned to matrices, 2 but then I got tired of updating all of the elements in said matrices and abandoned most of them (I returned to lists).
My most precious list is one that I started just three(ish) years ago. I realized pretty quickly after I started it that it would be my magnum opus, and I am in a perpetual state of updating it as I gain life experiences.
The list contains (in rank order) the 10 professional rules that I live by. I would submit to you that if you follow these 10 rules there is a reasonably high probability that you’ll have a satisfying (from both an intrinsic and extrinsic rewards perspective) career.
Follow the rules or don’t follow the rules… but I want to share them with you in the hopes that they give you the same sense of clarity and purpose professionally that they’ve given me:
1. Always have integrity
Have the courage of your convictions, and don’t be afraid to let your ideas go where your principles take them. It’s easy to be inconsistent when things get tough (and sometimes even when they aren’t). It’s much harder to have a moral/ethical code and really stick to it.
This advice will not always pay dividends for you in the short term (and it’s actually the hardest piece of advice to follow on this list). But if you don’t follow any of the other rules I share today follow this one.
This is the one (really).
2. Learn from everything you do.
I’ve spoken at length (or at least in passing) on the subject of learning before. It’s the single biggest contributor to increasing extrinsic reward that there is. If you possess a valuable skill set and understand its market worth then someone will pay you for it. I’m a compensation guy, and I’m telling you that you can take this one to the bank. It’s as good as gold.
Learning isn’t just about accumulating compensable knowledge, either. Just as important as learning new skills is learning from your mistakes. Everyone refers to their screw ups as “experience“, and I’m of the thinking that this is as good a use of the word as any.
It’s okay to screw up (I actually talk about this in one of my rules below), but understand why you screwed up and learn from it.
Most people tell themselves little lies to make themselves feel better everyday. I think to do this is to be human, and won’t tell you to stop.
But never lie about your weaknesses to yourself. Be humble enough to recognize opportunities for professional (and personal) growth and seize them.
3. Work hard in everything you do – even the grunt work/stuff that doesn’t seem as if it matters.
For young graduates this is especially true. You will work on things that are beneath your capability level. Your hard work on these things may or may not be noticed (and sometimes this will make you angry).
Work hard anyway.
You’ll want to do this both because working hard should be your default approach when faced with any task (it’s a good habit) and also because when it does get noticed the ROIC is great for your career.
…And to this point please understand that anything worth having is supposed to be difficult to get. If something is both worth having and easy to get then you get this: 3
3. Ignore the political stuff and focus on the principle.
4. Remember that you are a brand (in the same way that a company or consumer product is).
I’ve talked at length about this topic before, so I’ll just say to always keep yourself marketable and build your brand equity. Much of life is about luck (right place right time etc.), and there is only one other thing that will shift the odds as dramatically in your favor as a strong personal brand, and that is the closely linked:
Network, network, network! And when your head is spinning from all the names and faces, and your voice is hoarse, and your phone is full of contacts and they stop showing you how many LinkedIn connections you have then you’ve just gotten started.
Network some more.
Life is about engagement, but most people approach life passively. They wait for it to happen to them as opposed to taking an active role in it. Don’t do this. Network with everyone you can.
Network not because you expect something from others. Just meet people for the sake of meeting people. Learn from them. Share what you know about the world with them. Sometimes you will meet interesting people and sometimes they will not be so interesting. Form relationships with the people you share common interest with (and don’t forget about the rest).
6. Sometimes in order to live, you must be willing to die.
Poker player Amir Vahedi actually authored this quote as far as I know (although for many years beforehand my aunt used to say something similar – I think this says something about the universal truth of good advice).
Basically this quote means don’t be afraid to take risks just because there are consequences. Life is not supposed to be easy, and anything worth 4. When I was in my early teens I was often paralyzed by thinking. I would think over possible outcomes to the point that I never took action. Nowhere was this more evident than with women. To solve this “decisiveness” problem I adopted a “three seconds rule”. Basically, within three seconds of seeing someone I was attracted to I took some sort of action to introduce myself. It wasn’t always pretty, but I was moving forward… well sometimes backwards. But I was always moving. Having adopted the three seconds rule into many aspects of my life over the years, I can say with confidence that if the choice is either to move or not to move, in the long run moving is the better choice. So keep moving.having is risky in some way. If you’re afraid just go for it. 4
…And to this point also remember that sometimes when you take risk things go bad. When this happens there is no shame in retreating, re-assessing (and re-loading), and trying again another day. You can’t win all the time.
7. “Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.” – Swami Vivekananda
This one works for me, but I’ll say upfront that it has some personal cost. With that said, there is no greater way to become a thought leader in something than to immerse yourself in it. Find something. Focus on it. Master it.
To do this effectively though, you’ll have to:
8. Follow your passion
If you don’t like what you’re doing do something else. I say this because if you don’t love something you can’t really be the best at it, in which case why bother? You could be doing something else instead that fully realizes your potential.
9. Treat everyone with respect
This would be higher, but some people are asking for it…
Try and treat them with respect anyway.
10. Get to the top of your pay range ASAP
I firmly believe that if you’re at the top of the pay range for your job (and most jobs at big cap companies have one) you’re either doing it very right or doing it very wrong.
There is of course a whole lot of middle here, but I’m a fan of extremes and believe in either being at the top, or else finding the bottom as quickly as possible.
…And coming from the perspective of a comp guy who breathes this stuff, I will tell you that most of the time companies will only pay you what they have to in order to maintain internal equity. So find your market value – find out what you’re really worth – and get it.
When your kid is getting ready for college/you’re 70 and have healthcare bills/whatever comes up you’ll be glad that you maximized your compensation when you were younger – and there are some very good time value of money reasons for this).
…11. When you’re ready for the next level of work start doing it.
I really believe in this one (I don’t always follow this rule, but it’s always in the back of my mind).
If you let them, people will tell you that you don’t have enough experience/talent/whatever to perform at a certain level. Don’t let them do this to you. When you’re ready to perform at the next level of responsibility, start doing it (and if you succeed in doing this, tell me how).
As always, share your thoughts below.
If you have questions about something you’ve read here (or simply want to connect) you can reach me at any of the following addresses:
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