What People with Interesting Careers Have in Common, with Srinivas Rao

Listen On:

Transcript

Mac Prichard:

Hi. This is Mac, from Mac’s list. Before we start the show, I want to let you know about my new book: Land Your Dream Job Anywhere. I’ve been helping job seekers find meaningful, well-paying work since 2001. Now I put all my best advice into one easy-to-use guide. My book shows you how to make your resume stand out in a stack of applications, where you can find the hidden jobs that never get posted, and what you need to do to ace your next job interview. Get the first chapter now for free. Visit macslist.org/anywhere.

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. I’m Mac Prichard, your host, and publisher of Mac’s List. I’m joined by my co-host Ben Forstag, our Managing Director, and Jenna Forstrom, our Community Manager. This week we’re talking about what people with interesting careers have in common.

“Interesting careers don’t happen by accident,” says Srinivas Rao, our guest expert this week. No matter what the occupation, successful people share a short list of common qualities. Srini and I talk about those traits later in the show.

You’ve probably recognized long ago that to get ahead at work, you need to master new skills. Ben Forstag has found a list of 21 skills that matter most to employers. He’ll share it with us in a moment.

How do you tell if a job ad is a scam? That’s our question of the week. It comes from Ann Marie Sheridan in Portland, Oregon. Jenna Forstrom shares her advice in a few minutes.

As always, let’s first check in with the Mac’s List team. Jenna, Ben: this week we’re talking about what people with interesting careers have in common. When you think about your own careers, what traits do you think have made a difference?

Ben Forstag:   

For me, I think I’ve always done better in my career when I’ve embraced saying ‘yes’ to things. Yes to new projects, yes to a new task, or yes to learning something new. I’m not going to gloat, here; this is not something I’ve always done throughout my career. There have been periods when I’ve been less open to that, and my stature in the organization went down because I was the person who wasn’t willing to do things. When you are willing to take on new responsibilities and new tasks, and learn new things, things that are outside your formal job description, I think really good things happen.

Mac Prichard:

I think being open to new things and taking risks are terrific traits to have. I can imagine, Ben, listeners are also thinking, “Well, I’ve been told you have to say ‘no’ to things as well.” How do you strike that balance? You want to say yes to new opportunities, but you also only have so many hours in the day. When you say ‘yes’ to something, you’re also saying ‘no’ to something else.

Ben Forstag:  

I think it’s fair, with your employers, or your boss – if they bring something new to you – it’s totally fair to say, “yes, I’m willing to take this on, but I only have eight hours a day at work; for me to do this really well, I need to not do that.” Whatever “that” is. Having that conversation and being totally forthright, I think is important. You just don’t want to be the person who’s always saying ‘no’ to other people, who’s always saying, “We’re not going to do that,” or “I’m not going to do that.” The least popular person in any organization is the person who says what they’re not going to do.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, and I think we’ve all probably had that experience working in different organizations, whether in the private or public sectors. How about you, Jenna? What stands out for you, when you think about the qualities that have helped you succeed in your career?

Jenna Forstrom:  

For me, I think it’s always being generous. When people are interested in what you’re doing and they have questions, meeting them for coffee and explaining what you’re learning, or what you’ve learned in the process of doing something, and just always asking for permission and seeking things out. When I was at Standard Insurance I really wanted to go to South by Southwest because I was their only community manager doing social media, and I knew SXSW was the place to be, for the technology track, not so much the music and rockstar-ness. I thought that would be a great place to learn.

Mac Prichard:

Come on, admit it, you went for the music track as well didn’t you?

Jenna Forstrom:      

I mean, there’s a little bit of layover and that’s a perk of going to a conference. I made a point of saying, “Hey, I really want to go to this. Here’s what I know I’m going to learn.” Then afterward I had a lunch and learn, and presented everything I had learned to my team. It spurred a lot of great conversations and relationships. It proved to be a really fruitful thing that something like Standard Insurance would have never done without being pushed a little bit.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. Well, good. I think generosity is a wonderful trait, and I’m glad you had that layover, and you got to experience the music track too. For me, it’s sort of related to your point, Jenna. It’s curiosity: asking lots of questions, and always being curious about what’s happening at the organization where I work, and where it’s going, and thinking about ways to improve that. I’ve found that’s given me the opportunity to present ideas, and it also plays into a strength I have, which is, again, curiosity. I’m always curious about where things are going. Curiosity leads to learning, and I think learning is something that we all have to do in our careers, no matter where we might work.

Thank you, both, and let’s turn to you, Ben, because every week you’re out there searching the nooks and crannies of the Internet, looking for books, websites, and tools our listeners can use in their job searches and their career. What have you uncovered for us this week?

Ben Forstag: 

Let’s play off of that idea of learning as part of a career success strategy. The resource I’m going to talk about this week is the 21 most valuable career skills right now. We hear a lot of folks say, “Yeah, I want to update my skill set. I want to learn something new. I want to be more marketable, but what skills should I learn?” It’s a big question. In fact, I think our listener last week, Jeff, asked a version of this question. “How do I figure out what skills are most marketable?”  Well, to answer this question, the magazine Money, and payscale.com, which is a resource that we’ve talked about in the past, analyzed 54 million employee profiles from 350 different industries and 15,000 different job titles from entry level workers to top executives. The compared people with the same title, age, location, experience. They tried to isolate things like specific skills. They talked about 2300 different skills they studied, and they correlated this with what skills equal the greatest increase in pay.

The result is, this authoritative list of skills with the biggest payoff in the workforce today. If you learn “x,” you will get this much amount of money, is what they essentially found. Essentially, the result is this authoritative list of the skills with the biggest payoff in the workforce. Now, they talked about 21 different skills. I’m not going to go through all of those; you can go check out the resource online for that. They’re four general types of skills that they have found that employers are particularly willing to pay for.

Mac Prichard:

Any surprises in this list of four?

Ben Forstag: 

No. I think a lot of them…. anyone who’s listened to this podcast has probably heard some of these before. I think there’s a lot of good news if you’re in the tech space, and there’s a little bit less but still some good news if you’re not in the tech space. Let me go through these four categories.

The first is making sense of big data. You might have heard the term “big data” used before, Basically, this means organizations are gathering all kinds of data about their customers, about transactions, about all this stuff. The people who can look at this systematically, and use this information to do things like target new customers or improve a service, or offer more personalized products. That’s a hot commodity that they get big pays because they can do that.

Number two is managing the bottom line. These are skills of people who understand business practices, and understand how day-to-day deals and decisions affect the organization’s future.

Number three is wrangling new technology. I think this one’s interesting because it’s not necessarily the people who work in technology; it’s the people who understand how to leverage technology. I think what they are trying to get at here is that you don’t necessarily need to be a coder but you need to know that coding is possible so that you can position coders in the right place to get the right accomplishments for the organization.

The fourth one, this is where I find a lot of solace for myself, is strategic thinking – people who can see the big picture, and put the pieces in place to get to that big picture. These are all skills that employers are demonstrably paying out more to get.

Mac Prichard:

That’s a great list. I’m reminded of our conversation about the question from Jeff on last week’s episode, where we talked about soft skills versus technical skills. When you look at this list of four areas Ben, do you think that these fall largely into the soft skill category?

Ben Forstag:   

I think some, like making sense of big data, there’s a technical and statistical element to that and you certainly need to know how to use the tools that are available for doing this. That’s probably a hard skill. When you talk about things like strategic thinking or wrangling new technology (which for me is really more of a project management challenge), I think those are more in the soft skills area. Obviously there are things that you can learn and acquire and get better at with practice and with formal education, but they’re not in that classic “you either know it or you don’t” camp, which is what I would call a hard skill.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. Okay.

Ben Forstag: 

Again, this resource is the 21 Most Valuable Career Skills Now. It’s available at time.com, and we will have the URL on the show notes.

Mac Prichard:

Well, thank you Ben. If you have a suggestion for Ben, please write him. His email address is easy to remember. It’s ben@macslist.org. Now let’s turn to you, our listeners. Jenna Forstrom, our Community Manager, joins us to answer one of your questions. Jenna, what’s in the Mac’s List mailbag this week?

Jenna Forstrom:    

This week’s question comes from Anne Marie, who asks …

Anne Marie Sheridan:

Hello. My name is Anne Marie Sheridan, and my question is, “How do you identify a company reaching out to you on LinkedIn as a scam or not, and thinking both on the American standards and the global scale?

Jenna Forstrom:   

Thank you so much for calling in, Anne Marie. I will actually admit to this. I got a temp job through a LinkedIn ad that was pitched to me, so I can attest that there are real jobs on LinkedIn. That being said, I was pitched by a person who I had a shared connection with, and so I texted that shared connection and asked how he knew this person that was emailing, or LinkedIn messaging me. Once he confirmed that he knew this person was a real human being, I was way more open to having a conversation on LinkedIn, which turned into email, and a phone call, and a real interview.

That being said, here’s some tips for finding out if a LinkedIn pitch job pitch is kind of scam-y. Think, first of all, if it aligns with what you do. If you’re in marketing and you’re getting pitched an IT engineering job, that’s kind of a red flag. They haven’t really checked you out, or they might not be real. Anything with major grammar and spelling issues, I feel like that falls under the category of becoming a Nigerian-princess-millionaire emailing you – terrible spelling, weird commas, anything like that.

Finally, have you heard of this organization? Does it seem like something reasonable happening, here? For example, I know in my friend group coming from Nike, when Under Armor announced that they were building a new facility here in Portland, they were kind of pitching to all the other Nike people. That make sense, given the local culture and them announcing that they were coming. Having HR people being like, “You do digital marketing at Nike, would you be interested in kind of getting poached to go to Under Armor?” If the organization is a real organization, they’re established, you have shared connections, and you can go back on that. Finally, trust your gut. If it feels sketchy, chances are it might be sketchy. Worst case, you miss out on a job opportunity. Best case, you miss out on a job opportunity. It’s not the end of the world. Mac and Ben, do you guys have any other tips?

Ben Forstag:   

Yeah. First of all, it’s really unfortunate that these things happen. Everyone knows that when you’re unemployed, you’re not at your strongest point in your life often, and there are people out there who do try to take advantage of folks in that situation. I would say if it seems too be good to be true, it typically is. Trust your gut. Do some research outside of LinkedIn. Look at the company web page. Look at the person who’s sending you this information. Can you find them listed anywhere else online? Things like that…

I think in general, a good approach to take – no matter where you find a job, or whether you apply to it or they come to you – is take it slow and easy. If there are any questions, have a phone call because phone calls don’t cost much. You can do that for 15 minutes and get a good sense of the organization, but don’t relocate your entire life to Dubai based on one email you got from someone on LinkedIn.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. I think that’s great advice. While Anne Marie asked about LinkedIn in particular, there are people who do prey on the unemployed either through emails, or via platforms like LinkedIn. Often, it takes a form of an exchange of emails where the prospective employer, or the person who’s pretending to be an employer, will eventually ask for confidential information. Credit card numbers, social security numbers, bank account numbers, even, in order to secure allegedly a job offer. As with any online relationship, as you say, Ben, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is and you should walk away. Don’t share any financial information. While Anne Marie didn’t bring this up, it does happen; no employer’s going to ask you for that kind of data.

Ben Forstag:

Yeah. One murky area here is with multi-level marketing organizations, which are not technically legal, but depending on who you ask, they’re varied shades of grey about the kind of value they generate for the job seeker, and for society at large. I’ve heard stories from people who said, “I was offered this job at the organization, I just had to pay $500.00 to get started. Any job that’s a real job is not going to charge you for the right to work.

Jenna Forstrom:   

Thanks guys, and thanks, Anne Marie, for calling in.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. Well thank you, both, Anne Marie and Jenna. If you have a question for Jenna, please email her. Her address is easy to remember as well. It’s jenna@macslist.org, or call our listener line. That number is (716) JOB-TALK. That’s (716) 562-8255.

We’ll be back in a moment, and when we return I’ll taking with this week’s guest, Srinivas Rao, about what people with interesting careers have in common.

Most people struggle with job hunting. The reason is simple. Most of us learn the nuts and bolts of looking for work by trial and error. That’s why I produce this podcast, to help you master the skills you need to find a great job. It’s also why I wrote my new book, Land Your Dream Job Anywhere. For 15 years of Mac’s List, I’ve helped people in Portland Oregon find meaningful, well-paying, and rewarding jobs that they love. Now, I put all of my job-hunting secrets in one book that can help you no matter where you live. You’ll learn how to get clear about your career goals, find hidden jobs that never get posted, and ace your next job interview. For more information, and to download the first chapter for free, visit macslist.org/anywhere.

Now let’s turn to this week’s guest expert, Srinivas Rao. Srini is the host and founder of The Unmistakable Creative podcast, where he’s interviewed more than 600 thought leaders and people, from all walks of life. He’s also written multiple books, including the Wall Street best seller, The Art of Being Unmistakable. He joins us today from the Los Angeles area. Srini, thanks for being on the show.

Srinivas Rao:  

Yeah. Thanks for having me.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. Our topic this week is one you’ve written about, and I know you’ve thought a lot about too. It’s what people with interesting careers have in common, and those common traits that you see no matter what field they may work in. Let’s start with the path that these people follow. It’s not a linear one, is it?

Srinivas Rao:  

No. I mean, the thing is, I think for it to be interesting it can’t be linear because a linear path is something that more or less is presented to you, right? It’s like, “Hey, here’s …” When a path is linear, effectively all you’re doing is following in somebody else’s footsteps because the path has been laid out for you; it’s been created by somebody else. By default, it’s not terrible, it’s just, the potential for it to be interesting or different or unusual in any way is kind of limited by the very structure of it. That makes going in straight line, following a straight and narrow path, and having a really interesting career kind of at odds with each other. It’s a really interesting pattern, and obviously, as you mentioned, I’ve interviewed 600+ people. I was looking back at each one of these people. Some of them have accomplished amazing things. They’ve raised fortunes as venture capitalists. They’ve built big companies. They’ve written best selling books. They’ve done just incredible things both personally, and professionally. What’s interesting is that every incarnation of their career in so many cases was completely unrelated to the one before it.

The first example that comes to mind as we’re talking about this, is Jerry Calonna. Jerry Calonna was a really well known Venture Capitalist, is still super well known. He runs a company called Reboot.io, and he was actually one of the earliest investors in a lot of the Internet companies that are sort of woven into our lives today. He and a guy named Fred Wilson, started something called Flatiron Partners. They really kind of made the Internet in a lot of ways, jokingly, they say.

What’s interesting about Jerry’s career is that he was a journalist for a while, a college professor for a while. He did all these other things before becoming a Venture Capitalist. It isn’t sort of, “Hey, I went to a top-notch IV League school and became an Investment Banker. I went to a top-notch IV League school to get a graduate degree, and I went from investment banking to venture capital.” Which, in your mind, that might be the most logical sequence to arrive at that career. Now, he actually coaches CEO’s. They call him the “CEO whisperer,” and for good reason. He’s very good at what he does. He helps CEO’s with not just business problems, with mental health problems. They do some really amazing work at Reboot.

To me, that was actually the inspiration for the piece you mentioned about people with interesting careers. I thought, “Wow. This is really odd,” but you can’t say he’s defined by this one thing. There’s far more to every one of us than can possible be expressed in one job, or one experience.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. It’s interesting you should bring that up, because we’re, in fact, taught that a linear path is the key to success. It was certainly a message that I got in high school, and even in college and early of my career. If a linear path – if people shouldn’t follow a linear path, how should they plan a career?

Srinivas Rao: 

The thing is, when you think about the idea of planning a career, and maybe my views are somewhat controversial, I think that we put a lot of pressure on people at a very early age to figure out what it is that they want to do with their lives. It’s really the rare person who’s able to say, “You know what? I’m five years old, and I know for a fact that I want to be a doctor and I’m going to do that from the moment I get into college, until the moment I finish med school.” I know this story well, because that’s my sister. She knew from the time she was five years old, but that’s such a rare thing.

The other thing is, that when you’re 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, I think that to have some semblance of an idea of what it is that you want to do with the rest of your life is ludicrous, because you’re too young. You don’t have enough data points. You don’t have enough life experience. Really, what do you know? I mean, you have really not even experienced the world at that age. I think that there are a couple of things I would say. Rather than look at anything I say as gospel, always look at it as guidance – always a compass, not a map. They’re all open to interpretation. Of course, these are things that I borrowed from multiple that I’ve interviewed, and people that I’ve talked to.

I think one is curiosity. If you’re not genuinely curious about what it is that you’re doing, it’s going to be very hard to thrive, because in those early days of whatever it is that you are doing, chances are money is not going to really be that good. If the money sucks, you might as well do something that you enjoy for shitty pay, you know? As opposed to doing something you hate for shitty pay. Hopefully it’s okay that I’ve sworn, but I think that that’s something to think about.

This is something that I’ve … This is actually worth mentioning because I wrote another piece about this, titled “Don’t Just Increase Your Earnings, Increase Your Earning Potential.” I was in college at UC Berkeley during the first dotcom boom, and I remember very distinctly going to this coffee shop somewhere in San Mateo. I met this guy who was a young entrepreneur and was just starting a company. He tells me, “I can’t pay you all that much.” “But,” he said, “I promise you, you’ll learn a lot.” The job only paid about $10 an hour. I actually didn’t go work for that guy, and I opted to go work at a job that paid $25 an hour where I didn’t learn a whole hell of a lot. They guy who offered me the job that only paid $10 an hour went on to start like three or four $100 million dollar companies.

It’s a great example, in my mind, of one of the most stupid oversights of my life and my career in that I didn’t prioritize earning potential. Here’s the thing. If you increase your skill, increase what you learn, you may not earn as much in that first job, but what you’re doing in that first job is you’re increasing your earning potential. I think that you choose to do things that increase the level of responsibility you’ll get, and increase the level of experience that you’ll get, as opposed to things that satisfy just sort of a monetary gain. Those are two things off the top of my head.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. Those are good tips. Certainly in my own experience, not everybody can afford to take a pay cut. Sometimes you have bills to pay, and financial obligations to meet.

Srinivas Rao:  

Sure.

Mac Prichard:

I’ve found that when I did take pay cuts to take jobs that were far more interesting than other positions I was offered that paid more, it turned out in the long run to be a good career move for me. It was also a lot more fun to go to work, too.

Srinivas Rao: 

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. They’ve done numerous studies around this, but it’s been shown people who are happier at work are much more effective. There is sort of a weird paradox, that, yeah, maybe you took a lower paying job but the funny thing is that if you’re happier, you’re much more likely to earn more money.

Mac Prichard:

Now, Srini, many people think when they get fired or get laid off that can signal the end of a career, but you’ve found in your conversations on your show that people who’ve experienced difficulty may actually do better in the long run. Why is that?

Srinivas Rao:  

Well I think difficulty, or setback, or adversity in some way is kind of a wake up call. It kind of forces you to reexamine your priorities and evaluate what matters to you, and evaluate sort of how you want to spend your time in your life. It’s weird, but I don’t … I keep wondering whether it’s possible to bring about change without crisis, and I think the two seem to just co-exist. Maybe you can bring it about, but I don’t think that you … What it does, is I think it lights a fire under you when something terrible happens. That, for some reason is just … The thing is, that when nothing is going particularly horrible, it’s really easy to be complacent and not realize that you’re complacent. It’s like, “Yeah, this is just the way it is.” I think you often need something that disrupts your life in order to actually make change. That, to me, has been one of those sort of consistent patterns that I’ve seen. I’ve tried to figure out whether it’s the disruption that causes the change, or these people are just like that.

The other thing is that there’s also how you respond to a particular change, which is really I think the bigger thing. You can respond to getting fired as, “Okay. This is the end of the world. Life sucks.” Believe me, I’ve had that response as well, to the other responses. Or, “Okay, this is an opportunity to find something better.” In my own life, what I found is that the opportunity to find something better didn’t happen for quite some time. Looking back, I’m like, “Wow. I had a lot to write about in a book because of all the jobs I got fired from.” If that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be where I am. The thing is, that a lot of these things that you don’t recognize in the moment what you’re getting, you only see them in retrospect. That’s a tough one. I don’t necessarily know how you deal with that. I don’t know that anything other than time allows you to deal with that.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. I’ve been through my own layoffs and firings as well. It’s taught me resilience, but it’s a hard, painful lesson to learn. In the long run I think there are benefits, but it certainly stings when it happens.

Srinivas Rao:  

Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Mac Prichard:

I’m farther along in my career, so one of the benefits of that is I get to go to high school reunions and I get to see people who I thought, certainly in my high school years, had so many disadvantages. Then you meet them 25, 30 years later and they’re doing just great – in fact, spectacular. Why does that happen, Srini? How do people go on to thrive personally and professionally, even when they start life with disadvantages?

Srinivas Rao:  

Well, you know, disadvantages, in a lot of ways, kind of take us back into crisis. A lot of disadvantages force us into situations that we wouldn’t otherwise be in, and so people who don’t have those disadvantages aren’t forced into those situations. As a result, they don’t get what they’re hoping to out of them. I think when you’ve been sort of disenfranchised by somebody, or marginalized, your motivation, I think, is just 100 times higher than a person who’s trying to make a change who hasn’t had that happen to them, or who doesn’t have some sort of weakness that they’re compensating for.

You look at somebody like me, being fired from every job I had. I think what that did, was it sort of put this work ethic into me that, “Okay. Well, if nobody else is going to look after me and I’m doing my own thing, then I’m going to make sure I work as hard as I can at doing my own thing, and make sure it leads me to somewhere that has some semblance of a career, and some foundation, and something that I can build on. I think the result, of course, of that is that you have a work ethic that you wouldn’t have had if you were trying to make this change in a state of complacency, or a state of safety and security.

Paul Graham has this amazing essay on wealth, and I return to it every six months or so. He has a book called Hackers and Painters, which everybody should read because it’s fantastic. His essays are amazing. They’re long. You can find the essay on wealth online. He said something really interesting, and it was about start-ups, and wealth, and building wealth. He said, “If you’re in a job that feels safe, then there’s no way you’re going to get wealthy, because there’s no possibility of leverage in something that feels safe,” which I thought was really fascinating. I think what happens with people with disadvantages, is that they’re forced to adapt to the world in a way that works for them. Somehow, because they’re forced to do that, it creates disproportionate advantages in their lives.

Mac Prichard:

Speaking of safety, many people, particularly those who work in large organizations but even in small ones too, are taught that they should just keep their head down and sort of get along to go along.

Srinivas Rao:  

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

In your conversations, you’ve found talking with people that folks who have bold, compelling viewpoints actually do better than those who just go along with the crowd. Why is that?

Srinivas Rao:  

This really kind of takes us into social science research. People like Sally Hogshead have done an amazing work around this, and what it is that makes us fascinating. What is it that makes us appealing and compelling to somebody? That is a bold and compelling point of view. I think it was Justine Musk who told me, she said, “If you’re going to have a bold and compelling point of view, you’re probably going to piss some people off.” Which is fine, because the people that you don’t piss off are going to be your biggest fans.” That’s how you build raving fans. The thing is, if you’re having somewhat of a lukewarm approach to this, that’s when I think you’re going to run into trouble.

What’s interesting is… Again, you have to think about context and environment, because it’s all inter-related: the same person with a bold and compelling point of view who is able to do what I do at Unmistakable Creative, and write the books that I do, and give the talks that I do… If you put me in an organization, I would be a virus to the organization because of the context. I would be outspoken, annoying, and probably eventually I would get fired again, which is why I stopped looking for jobs years ago.

I think the other thing is that safety and security is a really interesting myth. If you start to dissect our humanity – and if you haven’t read Sapiens I’d highly recommend it; I’m listening to the audio book right now, and that’s why this is fresh in my mind – so much of the world that we live in is all myth. It’s all manufactured myth, but the thing that’s happened is that there’s been enough collective agreement on the myth that we’ve accepted it as reality. The fact that you have to pay your taxes… Reality, right? Well it turns out – and guess where I learned this from? …Our incoming Secretary of State – the Bahamas has zero corporation tax. The reason I learned that is I was reading an article about Rex Tillerson, the incoming Secretary of State, and how he’s involved with some U.S./Russian oil company that has holdings in Bahamas where the corporate tax rate is zero.

On the one hand you have this entire world of people just screaming and yelling about tax evasion, and rich people doing this, but our own elected officials are taking advantage of the system. That right there is a perfect example of reality being incredibly subjective. That’s a sort of esoteric way of answering your safety and security question, but another thing to think about … Now this is something my business partner, Brian, said to me, and it really kind of hit me like a ton of bricks and I’ve been mulling over this idea for days. It’s just stated as this one thought, and he said, “You know, generations of people have spent their lives building other people’s wealth without ever questioning the insanity in that system.”

For example, if you work at a company where you own nothing. You have no equity. You have no intellectual property. When they don’t need you anymore, you still have nothing when you go away from there. You have nothing to pass on to your kids. You have nothing. The thing is, this is just kind of the way the system works, and nobody’s ever questioned it. That, to me, is just mind-boggling.

The safety and security thing is just complicated. Again, because there’s no sort of blanket answer to it. It’s not that, “Hey, everybody can do this.” If you’re barely able to put a roof over your head, and put food on the table, and keep the lights on, this conversation is completely irrelevant to you.

Mac Prichard:

In careers, you make a big distinction between completing things and commitment.

Srinivas Rao:  

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

People who are most successful, you’ve found, demonstrate that commitment. Tell us more about that.

Srinivas Rao:  

This is an idea I think I got from Chase Jarvis, who is the founder of Creative Live. It’s funny; he and I had a very interesting chat about education. I have incredibly polarizing views on education in that I think it’s just a giant disaster that’s in need of serious reform, and I’m saying this as the son of a college professor. One of the things he said, is that our education system emphasizes completion, right? You go to school Kindergarten through 12th grade and you get a piece of paper. You’ve completed K through 12. It doesn’t matter whether you learned a damn thing or not, we’re just concerned with whether or not you completed it. Same thing; you go to college, there’s a certain number of classes that are required, and at the end of it you get a piece of paper that signifies that you have completed this.

What’s interesting is that if you look at the life of a creative person, or if you look at the life of somebody who does something of grand significance, there’s not completion that drives it. There’s no moment when they’re finished because it’s this life long commitment to learning, and to growing, and to evolving. It’s a real difference in that you’re not trying to finish something, you’re trying to continue something. I don’t want to wake up and be done writing for the rest of my life, that doesn’t seem very appealing to me. Why would I want to take away something that … Why would I want to put an end to something that has brought me this much joy?

I think that’s the real difference between completion and commitment: commitment is something that you make for a lifetime. Completion is kind of one of those things, it’s like, okay something signifies that you’ve completed something and once you’re done with the completion of that thing it doesn’t matter anymore. I can tell you right now, I’ve read more books in the last probably two years than I did in my entire academic career combined, because I’m not trying to complete anything, I’m just trying to learn. Another example right now: I’ve structured my reading in an unusual way in that I made a reading list of all the books ever recommended, written by, or about billionaires. I was like, “I want to figure out what these people are thinking, and so I’m reading every book they ever recommended.”

Mac Prichard:

I’ve seen the Bill Gates list of his 10 favorite books, and I think I’ve read, made my way through six or seven of them but it’s a good list.

Srinivas Rao:  

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Well Srini, thanks for your time today. Now tell us, what’s coming up next for you?

Srinivas Rao:  

You can learn more about what I do at Unmistakable Creative podcast, and unmistakablecreative.com. I’m working on a second book, which is all about creative habits and the creative process. I think my first book really offered a compass, whereas this one is more of a map which tells you actually how to create in a world that is incredibly distraction driven, and technology focused. I’m doing a lot of speaking, and other than that just running the show and running the business.

Mac Prichard: Okay. We’ll be sure to include links to your show. I’m a big fan, as well, of your book, and your website, unmistakablecreative.com.

Srinivas Rao:  

Thanks.

Mac Prichard:

Srini, thanks for being on the show today.

Srinivas Rao:  

Yeah, my pleasure.

Mac Prichard:

We’re back in the Mac’s list studio with Jenna and Ben. Now, what were some key points you heard Srinivas make in our conversation? Ben, do you want to go first?

Ben Forstag:   

Sure. I really liked his point about finding yourself with a setback, and how that’s really an opportunity. It actually reminded me of an email we got this week from one of our readers who said, and I’m paraphrasing here. He said, basically, “I was really unhappy with my job, but I couldn’t bring myself to quit. Then I got fired, which was upsetting, but it was also like the best thing that ever happened to me, because even though I now have a lot of stress of finding a new job, it’s liberated me from that place of stasis where I was.” I think that’s really, really true. It’s happened in my career, where I was in a place where I wasn’t terribly happy but I also wasn’t terribly miserable, and you just get used to that middle ground. Sometimes you need a little pressure, or you need a crisis to make something bigger and better happen.

Mac Prichard:

Having been laid off and fired as well, I can say that it’s never easy to have that experience, but it does in the end open new doors, Obviously, if you can make the move on your own it’s I think a lot less painful, but there is opportunity there.

Ben Forstag:   

Yeah, and obviously sometimes you just have to have a job. I’ve been there too, but I know in my last job I quit, I quit when I had a wife and young son, and another one on the way at home, and I didn’t know what was going to happen next. That ended up being probably the best thing that I’d ever done in my career, because it just got me out of a really awful situation and opened a whole new range of opportunities that was available for the future.

Mac Prichard:

Well, Jenna, what are some of your thoughts?

Jenna Forstrom:    

I really liked his story about having two job offers. The $10 an hour versus the $25 an hour, and just his comment on “go with where you’re going to learn the most,” and what you’re going to be the happiest with. In the total end game of your life, you might have a better life trajectory and a lower pay, but it’s really more exciting and more fascinating versus the $25 one. I think that it made me reflect on, as the millennial of the group and getting hit up to give college students and graduates advice, something more to think about than just take the money and run.

I think it’s like, when you’re in your twenties, the dichotomy is always like, when you’re in college you have all this free time but you’re broke, so you can’t travel. Then, when you have a job, you have all this money but you don’t have time off. It’s like that cycle, and I feel like this kind of plays into it. In the long run, do you want to have an exciting career path or do you want to have a safe career path? I mean, that’s up to your personality and who you are, but it’s something to consider that I’ve never once thought of. I liked that point.

Ben Forstag:   

I think Srini’s other point there, was also that sometimes making a short term sacrifice can lead to actual more income later on as well.

Jenna Forstrom:      

Totally. Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. I actually took a 30% pay cut to work for the governor of Oregon. I never regretted it because I had a terrific experience. I learned so much, and it was such a pleasure to take that position, and to have the opportunity to do that work. Candidly, it also, it looks terrific on the resume, but I was also fortunate that I could afford to take that sacrifice. I had to make that sacrifice rather, because I had a spouse who supported that and I was still able to pay my bills. Not everybody has that opportunity. Certainly that experience has helped me in my career, so that really rang true to me when, to your point, Jenna, when he brought that up between having to choose between the $10 an hour job. That it was a lot more interesting, and offered more opportunity to learn and grow, and maybe open even bigger doors down the road versus the $25 an hour job that in the short run was going to be more rewarding financially, but might not lead to the same opportunities.

Jenna Forstrom:            

Yeah. What did you get out of it, Mac?

Mac Prichard:

I think I, like you, I really responded to his point about looking for opportunities that might require some financial sacrifice in the short run. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to do that, it can really pay off in the long run. It was a good conversation. His point about curiosity, I know we talked about this earlier in the show. I’ve always been a curious fellow, and one of the pleasures I get from work is being able to learn new things and get paid to do it.

Well great. Thank you both, and thank you, our listeners, for joining us today. If you like what you hear, please sign up for our free weekly newsletter. In every issue, we give you the key points of that week’s show. We also include links to all the resources mentioned, and you get a transcript of the full episode.

If you subscribe to the newsletter now, we’ll send you our Job Secret Checklist in one easy-to-use file. We show you all the steps you need to take to find a great job. Get your free newsletter and checklist today. Go to macslist.org/podcast. Please join us next Wednesday, when our special guest will be Marc Miller. He’ll explain how to make your LinkedIn profile stand out. Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s OK if you are still unable to answer this question, argues this week’s guest, Srinivas Rao. There’s always time to change paths and find a more personally rewarding career that resonates with your passions.

Most people try to create a linear career path; each new job is a stepping stone to ever increasing levels of responsibility. This thinking is driven by the chase for money and the expectations of others. But the real problem is that straight lines don’t always lead to interesting careers.Our interests change as we age, so we need to create opportunities to explore new directions in work.

Choosing a job you enjoy allows you to thrive. You may get paid less, but you will be more productive, engaged, and happy.

This Week’s Guest

Srinivas Rao is the host and founder of The Unmistakable Creative podcast where he’s interviewed more than 600 thought leaders and people from all walks of life.  He’s also written multiple books including the Wall Street Journal bestseller The Art of Being Unmistakable.

Srinivas is currently working on his second book, which is about the creative habits and the creative process. He says, “it will be a map of how to create in a distraction-driven world.”

Resources from this Episode