Scott Adams is the creator of the Dilbert comics, also author of the book How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big, which is filled with often funny stories of trials and tribulations throughout his career.
Basically, he tried a bunch of things and set himself up for a path of continuous learning. It took him a long time to get to where he’s at, but he learned a lot along the way and this helped him become a successful animator.
One of the biggest pieces of advice he gives in his book is a framework for thinking about success. So there are two ways, in his words.
If you want an average successful life, it doesn’t take much planning. Just stay out of trouble, go to school, and apply for jobs you might like. But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths:
1. Become the best at one specific thing.
2. Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.
Option 1. You could dedicate your whole life to basketball and if you’re lucky, get into the NBA. But even if you become very very good at free throws, though, it’s still pretty darn hard to get into the top 1%.
This applies to almost every career. For example, nowadays everyone is talking about the importance of getting skills in web and app development. But if you want to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, your coding skills have to be pretty good, and you ALSO have to be in the right place, at the right time, and have the right idea.
But actually, there are very few Mark Zukerbergs in the world so it’s not really a good standard or comparison for people to develop their careers— indeed Mark’s coding skills actually don’t rank that high (according to his peers), and the factors of luck and timing played a much bigger role.
Option 2. So, let’s look at the much more realistic Option 2 to doing something exceptional. You could become pretty good at two or more things, meaning you are in the top 25% of the population for those two skills. This is relatively a much easier approach.
For example, let’s say you’re starting off your career working as a school teacher. You pour your heart into it, but you also realize that education is changing rapidly. In your spare time on the weekends, over a 2 year period you take courses on online marketing, branding, and social media marketing. You even learn some basic programming skills, learn how to develop Amazon Alexa skills, and attend some hackathons on the weekend.
Using your newly acquired toolkit, you move up as an outspoken technologist in the school, teach your students in different ways, and are given opportunities as a public speaker.
How many teachers are doing this? Not many. You don’t have much competition.
Or maybe you’re a chef working at Michelin star restaurant. How many chefs are also great photographers? How many chefs know how to fly drones? Or, how many chefs have thought about using Virtual Reality somehow to train their staff?My point is, there are an infinite number of skills and combinations you can develop with your current job. It’s simply a matter of finding something you are interested in, and that might be relevant for the future.
Success lies at the intersection of different skills.
So, how do you apply this to your life?
- Find one thing, one topic or one skill that isn’t common in your career. Spend time getting good at that 2nd skill and always challenge yourself to continuously learning outside of your job.
- Network. As they say, you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. People that are in your immediate network are going to give you generally the same ideas, so think about reaching out to people that are just acquaintances. They won’t be scared to challenge your ideas, and you’ll likely learn something new.
- Put yourself out there. The best time to look for a job is when you’re not looking for a job. As soon as get hired at a new company, you should constantly building new skills, looking for new opportunities, and keeping a close ear on the job market. That way, when something does come up, you know how to identify it and don’t miss out.
So, if you haven’t thought about this yet, or don’t know what that next skill is, don’t worry, it’s never too late. It really doesn’t matter what your career is now. It doesn’t matter if you’re graduating with a liberal arts degree, or if you’re already successful and years into your job.
You have a huge number of resources at your fingers tips with services like a Skillshare, Youtube, udemy, Quora and a host of other free online content. Start exploring different topics, find something you are interested in, and see where the rabbit hole takes you.