The best “insider” advice for success that most people have traditionally given aspiring emerging generations generally isn’t “Work Hard” and “Become Irreplaceable/Indispensible”. It is:
“It’s who you know!”
However, I’ve found, personally, it’s been a lot more about WHO KNOWS YOU … and WHAT YOU CAN DO! It’s not about “schmoozing”. It’s about showing up, being dependable, having “GRIT”, standing tall and staying strong in the thick of things, getting your hands dirty, and FINISHING!
- My General Science teacher in 7th grade invited me to work on a volunteer project to develop a “perfectly unbalanced” perpetual motion machine. (Wait ‘til you hear the rest of that story!)
- The Dorm Director in the men’s dorm at Muskingum College invited me to become a Dorm Counselor my Junior year and, then, invited me to be Counselor Coordinator my senior year.
- My Chemistry Prof. in college (in whose lab I was doing an extra-credit research project) connected me to the graduate program in which I received my Ph.D. (after I was turned down for medical school where nobody knew me and I had no connections).
- A member of my Ph.D. Advisory Committee planted the seed, and my advisor connected the dots, for me to do a postdoctoral fellowship and begin my career with a protégé of a Nobel Prize recipient.
- The chairman of my department connected me to the National Bladder Cancer Project when he accepted a major leadership position at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center.
- The Director of the NBCP invited me to join him in a move to Kentucky to help develop the Markey Cancer Center, where I consummated my career surviving under SIX different Directors.
But the underlying theme in all of these instances was that I had applied myself to the best of my ability in each case. I had “skin in the game”! I had a sense of PURPOSE, I DIDN’T WANT TO FAIL, I had a sense of MISSION, I DIDN’T WANT TO DISAPPOINT ANYONE … and, I guess, I craved positive affirmation … and, for sure, I “didn’t know any better”! In short, I did everything possible to make myself USEFUL.
Wonder of Wonders: It turns out that “people in charge” need to have people on board who are USEFUL – and they notice!
As a result, I never had to apply for a position and never had to ask for a promotion. On a couple occasions, new positions were created by others to accommodate my advancement – even during times when budgets were tight and positions were “frozen”.
But I’m not the only one! Similar things happen to so many other people that it’s almost become an unwritten law of the universe: people who show high levels of accountability, responsibility and intentionality get hand-picked to fill bigger shoes as they grow their capacity, as critical needs arise, and as they become increasingly INDISPENSIBLE.
True DIFFERENCE MAKERS are always “looking for work” … but rarely “looking for a job”:
A true Difference Maker is someone who goes looking for needs to fill, problems to solve, bridges to build, foundations to make stronger, and questions to be answered … and who strives continually to become ever more resourceful in addressing needs in all relevant areas of concern.
See: “A Message To Garcia” by Elbert Hubbard
This brings up a realization I never had the luxury of holding while all of this was happening around me:
Everybody needs a distinguished BOARD OF DIRECTORS for the entity:
You don’t need a box of invitations. Just become a DEDICATED, De FACTO DIFFERENCE MAKER, and let your work speak for you.
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For anyone wanting or needing a more striking testimonial on the importance of “Who You Know”, I recommend the book “Hope Unseen :: The story of the U.S. Army’s first blind active-duty Officer”, on the life of Captain Scotty Smiley. [Howard Books/Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2010, 243 p.]
Smiley’s dedication to his country, to his duty, to his friends, and to his family “peopled” his life in so many different ways that, after he lost his sight – and nearly his life – from a car bomb blast in a military ambush in Iraq, their spirits and support carried him through an incredibly long and harrowing recovery and rehabilitation process … to a point that he went on to get an MBA at Duke University and became a core faculty member on Leadership at West Point. The three-page Acknowledgements section of his book includes the names and specific roles of over 70 persons who helped put his life and his book together. They couldn’t help “helping” him. But he definitely “forced the issue” with his absolute dedication to being the very best he could be.
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A Basketball Metaphor is instructive:
In order for someone on your team to pass you the ball, you have to GET YOURSELF OPEN to receive it. But there’s another condition: Your team members have to have a HIGH LEVEL OF CONFIDENCE that you will DO SOMETHING OF VALUE with the ball, once you get it. The more OPEN you are, and the more VALUE represented by having the ball IN YOUR HANDS, and the more CONFIDENCE your team members have in you DOING SOMETHING POSITIVE with the ball, the more “TOUCHES” you will get.
FORCE THE ISSUE! BE THERE! Be THAT GOOD. Be THAT DEPENDABLE. And be a FINISHER! Quartermaster