From time to time, I have a mentee say “I am interested in doing what you do. Please tell me how to do that.”
Often I struggle with that ask, because if I was honest, I’d say “You’ve got to be kidding me. Do you know what I’ve been through to get here?”
John Maxwell said it much more eloquently. He said “OK. Let me ask you a question. Are you willing to do what I did to get to do the things I do?”
Do the Things I Did
Doing things in the past created the experience required to do today, what I do. Without living through the leadership crucibles I’ve lived, I’d not have any of the material I share with clients today. Starting as a young 2nd Lieutenant in the Army, I took on management roles.
Later, joining a regional bank, I was recruited there because senior leaders inside the bank were former military officers and knew the kind of experiences I had. They could relate to the experiences and had automatic confidence in knowing I could assume a management role there too.
After 20 years in banking with successive growth roles along the way, I took an early retirement from banking and started several businesses. I knew I loved entrepreneurship, so I took the knowledge I gained at the bank (watching and working with many many client companies) and applied it in those start-ups.
It was at times a painful learning experience. Until you lay awake at night sweating the ability to make your next payroll, you have no idea what it takes to run a business on your own.
Experience earned the hard way. Plain and simple.
The same is true in many other professions. Plumbers and electricians have job grades starting with apprentice roles. You watch the masters, observe what they do, learn about the finer points. Then, with time, you test for and achieve the higher grade status in the profession.
Doctors spend years of schooling and rotations to learn about practicing medicine. You wouldn’t want a first year MD doing your heart or brain surgery. Most people I know, when the need arises for surgery, they ask the doc how many of these have you done?
Experience is a Cruel Beast
Gaining experience is the big hurdle for young people entering the job market. There aren’t that many positions available to start at the ground floor and work your way up. Yes, larger companies create starter jobs and recruit the top of the class graduates to fill those roles. They might even have training programs to grow and nurture the less experienced to fill future job needs inside the company.
However, for many, finding those experience learning opportunities is tough. Couple that with a new found impatience about career advancement and you have a frustrating situation.
Yet, there is no denying the need for experience to do the right thing in later roles. ‘Do the things I did to get to do the things I do.’ I love that.
Tips to Achieve the Success You Want
So for those who are in the early years of your careers, here are some thoughts to follow.
Understand Your Purpose
First, work on the need to understand your purpose. You were put on the earth for a reason. It was not some happy accident. You are created, wired, and pre-disposed for a purpose. Identify what that might be, then create a roadmap for fulfilling that purpose.
It won’t happen overnight or in the next 24 months. It’s a life journey. You can learn more about writing your own personal purpose statement here.
Play the Long Game
Next, learn how to play the long game. Stop worrying about tomorrow and the next immediate thing. Try to envision the picture of your future state lloooooonnnngggggg down the road. Not just tonight or tomorrow. Search for opportunities that serve that plan.
As an example, if you really want to be a consultant, get some analysts jobs first. Learn how to run studies and surveys. Compile big reports and findings for customers. Do the heavy lifting on those kinds of jobs so that you build experience in the tools of the trade.
If you think you want to be a coach, get some ‘people’ jobs first. Work your way up to become a shift supervisor at a Burger King. Learn how to deal with all kinds of people, not just your circle of friends from school.
Then find some mentors. Let them help you along the way. Don’t just ask for a 30-minute session then be done. You’re not done. You have lots to learn. Mentoring is a process that evolves over time.
You’ll notice I said mentors (plural). Find people who will help you in all areas of life, not just work things. If you’re starting out in married life, get a mentor. Need spiritual help? Find a mentor. If you have a hobby you’d like to improve on, get a mentor.
It’s not that hard to find mentors either. All of my friends are willingly helping people in all walks of life. They just need to be asked.
All of the best coaches and leaders I know are perpetual learners. They read, study, and research to keep their edge sharp. In addition, they attend workshops and participate in mastermind groups. They rely upon peer-to-peer advisory work. Lastly, they hire coaches. Similar to top tier professional athletes, great thinkers and leaders turn to coaches to help up their game.
It’s a layered effect. You achieve one level, then start working on the next level. That is true in experiential growth as well as job promotion.
Wrapping it Up
When you ask an older, more experienced person how to do what they do, you have to recognize they did what they did before, so they now can do what they do. You can’t skip the steps in between.
They wouldn’t be who they are, doing what they do today without having done what they did to get here.
I know those are tongue twisters, but you get meaning. Do the work, find the experience, then you can do the big thing you want to do, your life’s purpose.
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