The Career Manifesto

by Mike Steib

Clock Icon 11 minute read


Purpose: What to Do with Your Life

The first step toward attaining an extraordinary life and ca­reer is to discover why you want to have them in the first place. A meaningful life requires that you understand what’s driving you to commit to your own course. The impact that you can have on the world, the things that bring you true joy, and the way you want to be remembered will shape the path you choose and inform your decisions every day. In this sec­tion, we’re going to establish your purpose—what gets you out of bed every morning, what motivates you more than anything else—and solidify your commitment to pursue a career and life around that.

The Hard Things

For someone with the advantages you have been given, there is a clearly illuminated “path to success.” You work hard in school and get good grades, go to college and graduate, work for a respectable company, complete your assignments on time, and jostle for a promo­tion every few years. You lust for an important-sounding professional title, seek other people’s approval, and never, ever risk failure. Though this track may keep you quite busy, you will rarely struggle. Slowly but surely, you climb to the middle of a ladder specially designed to keep you on it, with small rewards and tokens of prestige adorning each rung. This road is an easy comfort that many people mistake for success.

There is an alternative route, too—one where you make noncon­sensus career decisions, eschewing easy jobs for new and harder chal­lenges. On this other path, you choose to do what is important to you rather than what makes you look good. You stretch yourself into areas of personal discomfort, stepping into situations that truly test your abilities. You get to know your own weaknesses the hard way, you fail often, and you grow. For the cost of challenging yourself every day, you get to know a better version of yourself.

Chances are, you are currently on something more closely resem­bling the first path—almost everyone is. But I think you want some­thing more. You did not buy a book called Seven Easy Steps for Crawling Your Way to Middle Management and Staying There; you picked up this book because, deep down, you feel you have the gifts to do something special with your life. You are just not quite sure what or how.

And you are right. You can be truly great.

I know people who have taken the first path and gone on to live perfectly satisfactory, if relatively routine, lives. However, in my ca­reer, I have also had the good fortune of knowing people who have had the kind of success that only the second path provides: they are leaders in a wide variety of fields, from business to politics, art to fit­ness, military leadership to community activism. A few have been the smartest people you’ll ever meet, but many were not. Some were privileged Ivy League graduates; others came from nothing. Early in their careers, they were all good, but you could not have pulled them out of the crowd and said, “This one will be one of the most important business leaders in the world,” “This one will be a famous filmmaker,” or “This one will change outcomes for thousands of underprivileged families.” Because what they had was not visible on their faces or on their résumés. They had a vision for their lives and a willingness to push themselves to uncomfortable limits to get there. They chose the second path.

We are taught early in our lives that the hard things we’ll face in our jobs are things like working long hours, paying attention to de­tail, meeting deadlines, enduring stress. You have probably been do­ing those things for years, so for you, they may not be hard; they may feel normal. And the truth is, none of these are the truly hard things you’ll encounter if you commit to the second path.

So what are these hard things that the vast majority of people are too complacent to do? The things that, if you commit to them, will reward you with the best version of your life?

Hard Thing 1: Telling Yourself the Truth

We invest so much energy into trying to get others to be impressed with us that we often start to believe our own marketing. We care­fully curate photos of our weekend so that everyone on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat believes we live perfect, charmed lives. We find so many ways to describe our current job to make it sound im­portant that we start to forget that, actually, it might not be impor­tant. We practice responses to the interview question, “What is your greatest weakness?” and, with a straight face, say things like, “You know, sometimes I just care too much, I’m so passionate about my work.”

We lie to ourselves. We reject criticism. We refuse to question our own beliefs. We compartmentalize our goals and dreams that we are not pursuing, convincing ourselves that we will chase them someday, like when we have more money, or when the kids are older.

Change begins with true self-awareness, accepting all the facts, whether or not they are comfortable. Only once you do that can you begin the process of transforming your life. Throughout this book, you are going to be asked to question your values, goals, self-perceptions, and actions. You are going to tear yourself down to the core and rebuild. You will begin by honestly assessing your life and the value of the course you are on, then changing it dramatically to what you want. You will get to know the structural weaknesses of your brain that undermine your self-discipline; then you will adapt to those same structures to unlock massive personal productivity. Later, you will learn to design your interactions with your manager to gen­erate weekly constructive feedback that will open the door to break­through personal development in your career. You can be one of the truly successful people in this world who are constantly learning, changing, and reinventing, but only if you are first willing to tell yourself the hard truths about you.

Hard Thing 2: Thinking for Yourself

It sounds easy, and your mother always asked you, rhetorically, “If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?”* And, yet, our profes­sional paths so quickly fall into the groove of what our peers are do­ing, and what will appear successful to them. Everyone is getting an MBA—maybe I should, too . . . My colleague was just promoted to director—how do I get promoted to director? . . . This weekly strategy meeting doesn’t seem to accomplish anything, but if I don’t go, I am afraid I might miss some­thing . . . Ooh, an industry conference! I guess I should go, too.

However, when you study people with remarkable careers, you will notice that they rarely mimic the choices their peers are making. This book is going to urge you to make your own life plan and take deliberate steps to execute it. Because you want an extraordinary life, your choices will look strange to your colleagues. For reasons that will become clear in this book, you may sign up for the thankless task, take the job that seems less prestigious, turn down more money, and so on. Everything—from the meetings and events you attend, to the books and articles you read, to the way you use email and run meetings—may seem unusual to others. Good. As the Navy Seals say, “Get com­fortable being uncomfortable,” because discomfort is the steady state of an exceptional life. Fortunately, it rides along with its close cousins: excitement, success, and fulfillment.

Hard Thing 3: Changing Your Stripes

There are, to oversimplify, two types of personal development: ac­quiring new skills and changing behaviors. Most people, if they focus on either, focus on the first one, building proficiencies like using Excel, reading a balance sheet, or speaking Mandarin. At the same time, they reject any effort to change behaviors, viewing them as intractable per­sonality traits. They tell themselves stories about the limits of their personality, like, “Well, I’m an introvert, so I can’t be expected to have a large personal network” or, “I am a big-picture person, not a details one; you can’t blame me for those mistakes” or, “I’m passionate—if that rubs people the wrong way, so be it.”

I once worked with a smart, buttoned-up, and diligent manager with a high IQ but a low level of emotional intelligence (EQ): he could not get his team excited or his colleagues to embrace him. He always refused feedback on the topic, saying, “Look, I’m not a rah-rah leader type, I’m an operator,” as if he were describing some unchange­able truth, like his height. His core talents had gotten him this far in his career, and he didn’t believe it was necessary—or he wasn’t will­ing—to make uncomfortable changes. His career plateaued.

I knew another manager, about the same age, with the same intro­verted disposition. Unlike our other colleague, this manager was com­mitted to improving the way he engaged with others. He scheduled drinks virtually every week with various teammates or customers, where he forced himself to be vulnerable and engage at a personal level that was unnatural for him. He recorded birthdays in his calendar and would, at first somewhat awkwardly, call and wish you a happy birth­day. Even though his natural personality was to expect everyone to be like him and do good work without having to be congratulated for it, he taught himself always to take time to acknowledge the accomplish­ments of others and thank them for their efforts. Today he is an impor­tant C-level executive, well liked, and widely respected.

This book will challenge you to change your mind-set and your behaviors for greater success. It will give you the tools to question your beliefs and values, improve the way you know and connect with other people, and seek out the feedback you need to constantly im­prove. It will stretch you to change your fundamental behaviors in ways that might scare you. It will provide you with the playbook for being healthier and more energetic, happy, and present. This book is not about acquiring new skills; it is about truly changing your stripes, becoming a better version of yourself.

Hard Thing 4: Forming New Habits

Roughly 40 percent of what we do in life is based on deeply ingrained habits. Changing those habits requires focused and relentless effort. Watching TV too late, snoozing through your alarm in the morning, and not exercising are habits. Spending your whole day toiling around in your email in-box and passively attending whichever meetings you are invited to are habits. So are waking up at five a.m., expressing gratitude, working out, laying out your goals, accomplishing your most important task for the day, eating a healthy breakfast, and arriv­ing at your desk already having done more than your colleagues will do all day.

One goal of this book is to provide you with the techniques to develop successful habits. Acquiring them will take willpower and persistence—but once you have developed them, they will be yours forever. These habits will be the foundation for the achievement of your life’s goals.

Hard Thing 5: Doing It

I enjoy seeing friends and colleagues who need advice on work, fam­ily, and so on. Last year, two former colleagues, Sam and Joy,* hap­pened to email me the same week, each asking if they could talk to me about their new business ideas. A few days later, I saw Sam, who shared his idea, showed me an analysis of the market, and asked what I thought. I thought it was good, suggested a few next steps, and of­fered to be his first customer. A few weeks after that, he was still thinking about the market size, contemplating different strategies for how to acquire customers, running it by colleagues and his classmates from Harvard Business School. Two more months passed, and he was busy with work, still thinking about the idea, but also questioning whether it was “a big enough market opportunity to pursue aggres­sively.” Sam is still in the same job at the same company; there is no new business, no exciting new life. What happens to a dream deferred? This one died quietly in a PowerPoint deck.

A month or so after I heard from Sam, I saw Joy. Joy had been an assistant at our former company. She had a business idea, too, and it had to do with raw juice for kids. I encouraged her to try it and of­fered to introduce her to someone in retail who could help. “Oh,” she said, “I already lined up some retailers; I just went store to store and got commitments so we could launch something. That part was pretty easy. But selling juice turns out not to be the real opportunity . . .” She went on to tell me about some process that is required to make raw juice, and how there are few factories that do it and she had a six-month wait to get her juice processed. I braced myself for another conversation with a disappointed aspiring entrepreneur, waiting for her to tell me that with the six-month delay, she was losing focus or may give up on the whole thing. But instead she said, “So I asked the retailers to introduce me to some juice makers, and I learned they all had the same problem with this process, and I asked them if they would be interested in having access to another vendor who could do this. I had a few sign letters of intent to pay to have their juice pro­cessed and brought them to the bank, which gave me a loan against the LOIs. I’m close—I just need two more LOIs to buy the machine you need to process the juice.” Joy had an idea, went out and asked people to work with her on it, kept pressing, and within the year was well on her way to being the proud owner of a gigantic million-dollar juice pasteurizing machine.

The difference between Sam and Joy is that Sam thought about making a change but never took the actions needed to make it real; Joy just did it, and kept doing it, adapting and pushing forward at ev­ery roadblock. Which one do you think is going to find success in life?

We all dream about where we want to be in five or ten years. We all have tucked away a secret fantasy to do something we have never done—play an instrument, start a nonprofit, go back to school, write a book. We make New Year’s resolutions. We assume something will happen, that someday some unforeseen event will transpire, we will become less busy, less tired, less worried about money, we will make some change, and that secret goal will somehow materialize.

It doesn’t work that way.

People convince themselves that they will someday take on a new challenge, tolerate a new risk, pursue a dream, but somehow, someday never comes. This book is committed to a different outcome for you. For you, someday is today. Today we are going to take the difficult steps of setting our goals, identifying the new behaviors and habits needed to achieve them, and then immediately committing to the first actions to get started. We are going to perform the quintessential action: we are going to do it.

You deserve an extraordinary career, a meaningful life, fulfill­ment, and true happiness. You have all of the capabilities to achieve it. You just have to be willing to make the commitment to do the Hard Things. Before you turn the page, I want you to say to yourself, “I want an extraordinary life.”

Now repeat after me: “So I will do the Hard Things.”

Say it again.

"All right, let's get started."


Related Reads