…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.
…My most precious list is one that I started about four years ago. I realized pretty quickly after I began that it would be my magnum opus, and I am in a perpetual state of updating it as I gain life experiences.
This 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 (and if you’d like to read the 2013 list you can do so here):
1. Always have integrity.
Have the courage of your convictions, and don’t be afraid to let your ideas and actions go where your principles take them.
Having a strong moral code will give you the intellectual consistency to always make professional decisions that you can live with. And at the end of your career – and for that matter your life – being able to look back on everything you did with pride is perhaps the most important metric of success there is.
I will not tell you what moral code to live by. It has been argued that many moral judgments are relative to the circumstances and cultures in which they take place. But I would submit to to you that – of all the rules on this list – always acting with integrity is the one that will pay the greatest dividends over time.
4. Remember that you are a brand. 2. Be authentic in your actions with people.
Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos once said that Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.
…In my personal experience, the surest way to define your professional brand in a positive way is to be authentic. When people know you to be genuine in your words and actions, they will in turn trust and (in most cases) respect you. With that said, over and beyond the boon to your professional reputation, the most meaningful relationships are based in authentic interaction. As such, if you dispense with superficiality you will find your interactions with others become more rich and meaningful. And to this point…
5. Network 3. Develop strong relationships.
I said a year ago that life is about engagement, but that’s incomplete. Life is about relationships. We invest in the people that are important to us because serving others is one of the biggest ways that we – as human beings – derive meaning from our existence.
…So form relationships with people. Make friends at work. Meet people on social media channels and at professional networking events. Form meaningful relationships any way that you can. Don’t do this with an expectation of anything in return save good conversation, expanded professional knowledge, and shared experiences.
Inadvertently, if you follow this advice it will probably pay dividends for you in your professional career, but it will definitely make you a more happy human being.
2. Learn from everything you do. 4. Develop new skills.
Developing rare skills is the single biggest tool one can use to to increase earning power. If you possess a valuable skill set and understand its market worth then someone will pay you for it. As someone that thinks and studies compensation more or less all the time, I’m telling you that you can take this one to the bank. It’s as good as gold.
I would also submit to you that developing new skills takes time and hard work. And to that point…
3. 5. Work hard in everything you do.
Working hard should be your default approach when faced with any task because continued discipline and perseverance in the face of adversity are what will separate you from the pack. Lots of people quit when things get hard.
Don’t let that be you. Most things that are valuable are rare and by definition not easy to obtain; this means that to gain something of value you have to keep working past the point where most people get frustrated and quit.
…At the same time, I’ll close by saying that if something isn’t a productive use of your time don’t be afraid to walk away. It’s okay to quit something that isn’t right for you.
6. Sometimes in order to live, you must be willing to die.
For the above quote we can thank the late professional poker player Amir Vahedi.
Basically, this quote means don’t be afraid to take risks just because there are consequences. Life is too short not to follow your heart, so if you want something just go for it.
…And to this point also remember that sometimes when you take risks 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.
8. Follow your passion 7. Live
I’ve spent the last year working and learning pretty much non-stop. I did this because I’m passionate about being a thought leader in the HR space and obtaining as much career success as possible.
And you know what I (finally) realized about a month ago?
2. Shocking I know.There is more to life than work. 2
…This is one of those things that’s common sense to the overwhelming majority of the population because they live it every day. But for those fellow workaholics reading this, please take my word for it when I say that wealth is not defined solely by money and status. Don’t spend your entire life working – even if you love it. Invest in other experiences as well.
Take up a hobby. And turn off your phone for a couple hours a day (or at least a week).
11. 8. When you’re ready for the next level of work start doing it.
A year ago I hadn’t quite worked out how to do this one. Now I have. It’s really about taking action. Most people wait for opportunity to come to them, but it turns out you don’t have to. When you want to make something happen just do it. If you want to learn about a new function or move up into a new role then start learning about it from others at work and/or on your own. It has never been easier to develop new skills. Resources on any subject you can think of are online (and often free). Just Google it.
When you have the skills you need to be successful in the role you’re looking for then volunteer for bigger projects at work. Or better yet, take initiative and identify new opportunities for growth in order to expand your role. And if you can’t grow internally for whatever reasons, by following my other rules (developing new skills, forming meaningful relationships, working hard etc.) your next opportunity will be ready for you when you’re ready for it.
9. Treat everyone with respect.
This would be higher, but unfortunately some people are asking for it…
Try and treat them with respect anyway.
Get to the top of your pay range ASAP. Work for what you’re worth.
Last year in this slot I advocated getting to the top of your pay range ASAP.
For many reasons it turns out this is not always practical or possible – but more importantly it has nothing to do with being adequately compensated. Pay ranges are designed by organizations to attract, reward, and retain talent in a way that is both consistent with internal equity and aligned with the broader external market. Sometimes you’ll be at the top of your pay range… but most of the time you won’t be. So don’t worry about topping your range; instead, be responsible with your money and you’ll be fine.
With that said, my experience has been that when one doesn’t feel adequately compensated for their time and labor it adversely impacts feelings of self worth. As such, for personal wellness reasons I would encourage you to (if possible) never keep working at a job where you don’t feel you’re being paid fairly for your contributions.
Finally… I will say that many times perceptions of unfairness are rolled up in jealousy. As human beings we compare ourselves to one another, and due to illusory superiority we often think it’s unjust if someone makes more money than us. This is easier said than done… but if you free yourself from jealousy of others it allows you to appreciate what you have. There will always be someone more successful. So don’t define your happiness by being the most successful. It’s pretty crowded at the top and the competition is fierce. Instead of going crazy trying to be number one, I would suggest that perhaps it’s just as well to take solace in being one of the best.
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 No longer on the list.
After 27 years I’m breaking with the Swami on this one. I think it’s more accurate to say that to be successful in your career it’s important to have clarity of focus (which I discussed the other day).
With that said, clarity of focus is something that – dependent on a variety of factors – can take years to obtain. And once we have it that doesn’t mean everything else should fall away. It just re-shuffles our priorities. And as I stated in rule number 7, it’s important to live a full and complete life. Focusing on one thing might be the way to professional success, but – as far as I can tell – it’s not the way to a life well lived.
As always, share your thoughts in the comments section below.