And all the roads we have to walk are winding
And all the lights that lead us there are blinding
I am periodically asked to give career advice and it is something that honestly I’m not so comfortable doing. I believe everyone has their own unique set of circumstances, and it is very hard to make suggestions as to what people should do when I don’t really know what makes them tick and what is going on in their interior lives. So I guess the thing we can do is perhaps make some suggestions or ask questions with regard to what stirs one’s soul and how to position oneself for success no matter the endeavor.
For some people, it’s about gravitating towards money while others may be more achievement and challenge oriented and the money will be a byproduct. Others have an innate need to create and express themselves. As Jerry Garcia sings in the Grateful Dead song “Ripple”, “That path is for your steps alone.” Only you truly know. And yet, with that being said, as Liam Gallagher sings in the song referenced above, the path is not always very straight and we may find ourselves blinded by distractions, doubt, resistance, societal pressures, self-sabotage, etc. on the road to whatever our calling may be.
So if someone asks me for career advice all I can do is share my journey and philosophical underpinnings. And while I have very little to offer in terms of what people should do with their lives I do feel comfortable in identifying winning attitudes and characteristics that can go a long way to helping one become successful (and only you know what a successful career and life consist of).
I strongly encourage you to make a concerted effort to be indispensable in whatever job or work environment you’re in. Do all you can to have the powers that flag you early on as someone with very high potential and then as you progress as someone that would be a huge loss for the company if you were to go somewhere else. The higher your replacement cost, the more you are worth. It is that simple.
If I were to be even more blunt about it, then try to position yourself as Liam Neeson’s character in Taken when he says to the hostage taker who has kidnapped his daughter:
“If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.”
If you saw the movie, you came to learn that Liam Neeson walked the talk and accomplished what he set out to do. And this is what we should all strive for. Let our actions speak much more loudly than our words. Indispensable people don’t need to say more than is necessary to be successful. Focus on developing a particular set of skills and deep domain knowledge and over time you should compound your replacement value quite nicely. In the spirit of Liam Neeson, here are some characteristics, behaviors, skills, and attributes that come to mind for me based on my experience in my particular world that, if many of them are present, can create a Lollapalooza Effect as Charlie Munger likes to call it. But in this case, it can create outsized rewards and success versus disastrous outcomes. While the list is numbered, they are not in any particular order in terms of importance.
- Be a team player
- Try to suppress any need for external validation as this is ego driven, temporary, and often a sign of future problems
- Understand how to manage your boss and adapt accordingly
- Adhere to a set of values and ethics to provide guardrails for you
- Have a sense of urgency
- Be accurate
- Have a system to keep you organized
- Meet deadlines
- Take on new challenges
- Develop your writing skills as people who write well clearly stand out in today’s social media age and this helps organize your thoughts
- Speak precisely and succinctly
- Come to learn what skills magnify your company’s competitive advantage and work on mastering those that are compatible with your abilities, interests, and natural aptitude
- Listen versus waiting to speak
- Be interesting by being able to engage with many types of people
- Read a lot
- Use non-work inputs to help generate insights for your job. This can help make connections between the seemingly unconnectable and lead to breakthrough ideas
- Have a sense of humor as people like to laugh and tend to like funny people
- Keep in shape
- Emphasize healthy eating
- Practice good hygiene
- Dress well
- Be approachable
- Exude a sense of being in control
- Show grace under pressure
- Focus on responding versus reacting
- Come to understand what can trigger self-defeating behaviors and/or thoughts
- Cultivate courage – the quality of doing something “in spite of”
- Gravitate to the difficult as this will stretch your skills and compound your growth and indispensability greatly
- Analyze your errors and setbacks and learn from them. Error analysis and correction are vitally important if mastery is a goal
- Admit mistakes
- Don’t be afraid to bring up bad news and do it early
- Achieve a high credit score. This is a goal that can cultivate very positive habits.
- Don’t be an idiot on social media. It will come back to haunt you.
- Don’t hesitate to ask clarifying questions when being asked to commit to something
- Don’t be afraid to approach higher-ups when you feel you have something they should know or you feel you need to know from them
I’m sure I’m missing some other important ones and feel free to make suggestions to add to the list. Keep picturing Liam Neeson and how his particular set of skills gave him the confidence to engage in a very dangerous situation but one he felt well equipped to handle. And while I’m not suggesting we court danger or have careers so far out on the edge as his character, we can still learn a lot from him and how to approach our jobs and best position ourselves for success by making ourselves indispensable.