Sunday, November 14, 2010

My $0.02 of Career Advice

When I'm asked to give career advice, I say four things:

#1 Focus. You have to choose to be great at something very specific, probably more specific than you'd like. I'd love to be good at more things. But you can't focus on too much, as mastery requires a ridiculous level of hard work.

#2 Hard work (grit). To achieve mastery, you have to outwork others in your field. You need roughly 10,000 hours to master a craft and that's just the ticket to play. Gladwell writes eloquently about this-- there are no exceptions, even among the Mozarts, Einsteins, Kobes, Gates, and Jobs.

#3 Passion. Given the required level of focus and hard work, you have to love your craft. I've never met an exception to this rule.

#4 Course correction. Paths to success are messy, not merely emerging from the logging of 10,000 hours of focused, passionate work, but from making good lifetime choices against a backdrop of tradeoffs, ambiguities, and complexities.

Now I'm looking back over this list. It sounds hard. But I'd say great results typically come only with great effort.


  1. Excellent advice for a successful career. Who can argue with passion, focus, and mastery. I would like to take an opportunity however to challenge how career overspecialization may not be good "life" advice. Financial planners will quickly recommend you "diversify" when you are investing in the market. However, have you ever heard a career counselor recommend you "diversify" your marketable skill set when investing in yourself? Probably not, but they should. The current economy proves it. When an overspecialized tech worker is laid off, it's off to the unemployment line. However, if that same tech worker had diversified their marketable skill set across industries or other specializations, they essentially hedge there bets against unemployment.

    I only bring this up because I see it time and time again. A father overspecializes to the point where the money is good, he then leverages his lifestyle based on that salary. One day, he loses his job and subsequently loses his mind and sense of purpose.

    Tucked away in a box at home is a photo of me driving at tow truck for a living in 2001, just after I was laid off from my Visual Design position in downtown SF. I've since regrouped and am back in the graphics field, but I can still always drive a tow truck again. In a way, you can choose a path to recession proof yourself by taking on more than one "career". Yes, I'm probably not IBI material.

  2. Good advice! Clear, solid and to the point. I agree with the "rule of 10,000 hours" = 5 years of work (since a typical work year consists of 2,000 hours). I believe 15 years can be expected as a cycle for a successful career in one field: 5 years to learn the trade, 5 years to develop and grow professionally, and 5 years to harvest the seeds one has sowed and enjoy the fruits of the harvest.

    I'd phrase #4 in terms of resilience and adaptiveness - one's ability to rebound quickly from mistakes and keep going towards the goal. I like the words "good lifetime choices".

    Also luck has something to do with it, especially in the definition of luck = preparedness x opportunity.

  3. This is time,pride and TRUE advice. We spend to much time all over the place. Stay fast in the right spot and hit it. Great Advice,thanks

  4. What about confidence?