Monday, June 4, 2012

FIRST JOB series: Are you starting in the right circle? Starting from the bottom to get to the top

In a world where Facebook's Mark Zuckerburg is the talk of the business world and young Hollywood icons like Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift have their own luxury homes, it can be easy to forget that most successful people really do start from the bottom. 

As a young person in today's world, it can be easy to feel this invisible pressure that you are supposed to "make a name for yourself" before you hit your 30's. 

In reality, I've talked to and interviewed a lot of successful people, and a common thread I see over and over again is that they were all willing to start from the bottom in order to do what they really wanted to do. 

I heard this best explained from one of my mentors. He wrote a version of the following illustration on a white board that I've attempted to create for you on Paint (excuse my poor paint skills - I actually worked really hard on 

This may not make any sense right now, but follow along the illustration while I explain (I'm going to explain this in terms of a metaphor/story, not to patronize you, but to have some fun and make this chart/illustration come alive. I hope you enjoy!)

Once upon a time there was a college graduate named Blue Square. Blue was so excited to graduate college with his BS in Business and Marketing and couldn't wait to share all his Blue potential with the world. He found himself on the outside, in the unemployed zone. He searched around this zone and saw many many yellow circles. Every yellow circle had a green circle and a red circle within it. He really liked the red circles, but found he couldn't get into them without getting into the yellow circle first.

So he roamed around the outside to try to get into different yellow circles. There was one yellow circle labeled "engineering." Another "nursing." Another "education." Another "business." He couldn't decide. 

So he thought long and hard about what he wanted to do, and who he was. The more he learned about himself through reading books and talking to mentors about their jobs, the more he realized he liked marketing. So he found a red marketing circle he really liked - vice president of global marketing for a big sports apparel brand. 

But he couldn't get into that red circle. Everyone told him he needed more experience in the yellow and green circles.

But the yellow circle did not sound as fun as the red circle. In fact, many of the jobs in the yellow circle sounded plain awful. While Blue was a very humble guy, he still kind of felt like he was "too good" for the yellow circle; he had a college degree after all - wasn't he supposed to jump right to red, or at the very least, green?

But every time he tried the red and green gatekeepers told him he needed more yellow experience. 

Finally on his own, the bills were starting to pile up and it was time for Blue to start paying back his student loans. He needed to get a job in one of those circles.

Finally, Blue was invited to a circle. An insurance company circle offered him an   invitation to their green inner circle as an insurance salesman. Blue could pay his bills and get into a green circle! He was so excited. That same day, however, he got an e-mail from his college mentor Dr. Orange Triangle, who told him about an invitation into a yellow circle internship program with a large sports apparel brand circle that paid a very small stipend.

What do you think Blue should do? 

Your answer may vary based on your philosophy, and there are a billion different external factors that come into play as our lives are much more complicated than little blue shapes. However, a deeper explanation of the chart (pictured again below) might help (note: every navy dash on Blue's journey represents time passing, learning from experience, and hard work). 
As my mentor explained to me, in order to get the kind of job you are looking for, you first have to define it - and then - you have to get into the right circle (i.e. industry). You can also think of it as getting on the right "ladder," as people often reference a career path as "climbing the corporate ladder." Just climbing any ladder (i.e. or entering any circle), however, is not guaranteed to lead you to the kind of job you want.

For example, if Blue gets into the insurance business, he will get into a green circle, but he will be stuck inside a very specific industry (i.e. circle), learning very specific skills. If he wants to move forward in insurance - that will be great. However, if his goal is really to get into global marketing, he will one day have to make the jump from that inner green circle into an entirely new large circle (i.e. industry), forcing him to back into the outside and have to start from the bottom in a new larger circle industry. 

This can be done, but if Blue goes on to get married, buy a house, and/or have kids while in the green insurance circle, he will have a very hard time making the leap back into the outside to find entry into the global marketing/sports brand apparel circle - a circle in which he most likely would have to start from the bottom yellow circle again. 

However, if Blue takes the internship, he will start in the outer yellow circle of a sports apparel brand where he will be able to learn about what he wants to do, and meet people in the green and red circles in that industry. He may have to travel around that yellow circle for a long, long time, doing things that are unglamorous and that do not make a lot of money. 

But as my mentor told me, for those who stick it out long enough at the bottom, get to know people, learn as much as they can, and work harder than anyone else, an opening in a green circle will eventually manifest. 

And then the process repeats to get into the red circle (i.e. some version of your dream job).

This takes time, and can be fraught with difficulties. As you travel around each circle you may try and fail to move into the next circles in your industry. This can be frusterating. But the key is that if you are in the industry where you wan to be begin with, as you move around and learn and work hard from the bottom, you will be building experience so that when an opening does arise, you will be ready. 

We can get so obsessed with being in a certain circle, making a certain salary, and doing a certain job with a certain level of status. In the end, the learning process should be the most important part. While paying the bills is definitely one of the vital reasons for getting a job, it's vital to remember that getting into the right circle to begin with - even if that means starting from the very bottom - will most likely lead to an increase in pay throughout your life. 

Because if you start in a yellow circle for which you have little interest or dedication, your chances to move up in position and salary decreases significantly - because you really won't be able to compete with those who are interested and engaged in the larger circle. 

So wherever you are, whether on the outside and unemployed, at the bottom in a circle you love, or near the top in a circle you hate, there is always time to explore. It's almost never easy, but it's always an adventure. 

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