A Brief Answer to a Surprise Question: The 3 Cornerstones of Career Success

Monday, April 15, 2019

Santiago, Chile.- After my speech, I found myself surrounded by a cluster of people wanting to say hello or ask a question. This surprised me because these were employees, not readers. Like matriculated students attending classes, employees attend company-sponsored lectures under some degree of compulsion. They weren’t there because they were fans.

One of them, a young man who works as a telemarketer, surprised me doubly by asking a question so simple it seemed at once naïve and profound: “What do I have to do to be successful in my job?”

The thing is, this kid was serious. He believed I knew the answer. And I had the feeling that he was ready to put into practice whatever advice I was going to give him.

Other people were listening. The question begged for a long and complicated answer, but the moment demanded a brief and simple reply.

What to say?

As it happened, I’d been thinking and writing about a parallel question: What does it take for a social or cultural group to achieve economic independence? My answer to that question was about values and commitment.

To lift themselves out of poverty and acquire wealth, a social group (even a family) must place a high moral value on three ideas: hard work, saving, and learning. No amount of external financial aid will do the job if the group does not believe in and practice these values, for they are the moral and behavioral cornerstones of wealth creation.

So that’s what I went with: Hard work, saving, and learning.

I said that there are many things that one has to do to rise to the top of any profession, but there are three that are fundamental…

1. You have to work longer and harder than your peers. That means getting to work earlier, staying later, and working on weekends. It also means volunteering for tough assignments and making your boss look good. It means delivering more than you promised and meeting deadlines.

2. You have to become more skillful and more knowledgeable every day. It’s not enough to “know what you are doing.” You have to commit to becoming the most knowledgeable and most skillful employee in your area. And after you’ve accomplished that, you must commit to becoming the most knowledgeable and skillful employee in the whole business.

3. You have to believe in saving. Not money in this case, but relationships and moral debt. You have to be the person that is always doing and giving, not the one that is waiting and taking. It means helping your coworkers when asked and being a good team member when called and saying yes sometimes, even when you want to say “Enough!”

The young man seemed happy with my answer to his question. Still, I wondered if it was too glib.

There are certainly other factors involved in career success – but now that I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks, this simple three-part formula does seem to hold up.

What do you think?