The Single Most Important Professional Question You'll Ever Answer

by JD Supra Perspectives
Contact

What makes your story great? Great stories are made with great dots, and great dots come from breakout opportunities....

Invest in lines, not dots,” goes the venture capitalist’s mantra. Put another way, invest in stories, not snapshots. Who you are right now - as a person or as a company - is the result of the experiences that brought you to that place. The lines connect each milestone or important event in the story, and the upward trajectory you see in great lines make the best investment opportunities. That is, they’re all dots.

This holds true for individuals, too. As Gary Vaynerchuk says, the most important question you have to answer is, “What’s your story?” Your story, not your goals, not your greatest strength or weakness or why a tennis ball is fuzzy. It’s your story. And it’s up to you to make it great.

What makes your story great? Great stories are made with great dots, and great dots come from breakout opportunities. As LinkedIn founder (and venture capitalist, it should be noted) Reid Hoffman writes, “our professional lives are not a sequence of equally important jobs. There are always breakout projects, connections, specific experiences, and yes, strokes of luck—that lead to unusually rapid career growth.”

Think about it from the listener’s perspective. What’s compelling about you, and what will form the story in his or her mind? I hope it isn’t the merger agreement you slogged through on Tuesday morning, or the sales presentation you made in Denver two weeks ago. They could have been incredible (as far as these things can be incredible), but they shouldn’t be your narrative.

Breakout opportunities tell the story of why are you different from everyone else who does your job.

For example, when I worked in Big Law, many of my best experiences - and the ones that shape my story of professional growth from that time - all directly relate to doing something different from the typical law firm associate career path. I sought out opportunities to move to different offices (from San Diego, to New York, to London and back), through which I worked on deals all over the world and met great lawyers and clients, many of whom are still important to my career. Later, I was awarded a fellowship to help build a 1000-lawyer firm’s transactional pro bono program, where among other things I worked with an office-wide team to set up a legal clinic at Start Small Think Big, a fantastic non-profit in the Bronx.; Everyone knows what the “regular work” of a law firm associate looks like, more or less, and they probably don’t care about the parts they don’t know. I tell every law firm associate I meet to make the most of every opportunity that deviates from the standard associate track. It’s these opportunities that shape the story I tell about that part of my career. What shapes yours?

How do you find breakout opportunities?

First, you have to be very good at what you do, whatever that is and wherever you are in your career. No shortcut here. What you do every day absolutely matters, even if it is not the story itself; as Cal Newport notes, deliberate and thoughtful effort to create great work provides currency for breakout opportunities. I’m reminded of an interview I heard recently with Tim Ferriss and Ryan Holiday, where Holiday, a master marketer with an interesting reputation says, “the best way to sell a book is to write a really good book.” For our purposes, you’re the book -- the best way to get great opportunities is to work hard continually at making yourself great.

Second, you have to be known by people with whom you can create these opportunities. In short, you must “do things, tell people.”  Meet people in your company but outside your group. Meet people outside your company who are interested in something you like, whether or not it’s related to your work. I strongly advocate writing about what you know and publish it anywhere you can.  Writing for JD Supra has allowed me to reach a professional audience that fits my message; if you don’t know where to start, Medium is a great place to experiment and get feedback. Volunteer using your professional skills, or not.

Finally, say yes when you see a path to doing something interesting, even if it’s not clear how you’ll accomplish it or whether it fits snugly into your vision of your story. If you think it’s interesting enough to consider and you are looking for a way to make a mark, experiment with the opportunity to see where it goes. In the same podcast interview, Ferriss recounts a story of his early days in Silicon Valley, where he worked tirelessly as a volunteer with SVASE and TiE, non-profits serving the entrepreneurship community. By working hard and saying yes to doing everything no one else wanted to do, he met legends in the consumer products industry, one of whom encouraged him to write his first bestselling book.  That was his breakout opportunity, and it helped him build his career as a best-selling author. 

...say yes when you see a path to doing something interesting, even if it’s not clear how you’ll accomplish it or whether it fits snugly into your vision of your story.

According to Hoffman, “if you’re looking for opportunities, you’re really looking for people.” That is, work hard to be great at what you do; build relationships that make opportunities available; and when something interesting could happen, make it happen.

If you found value in this article, I’d appreciate it if you share it on LinkedIn and Twitter. Questions or comments? Please email me.  I’ll respond to every one.

*

[Josh Beser is Assistant General Counsel at Lonza, a global leader in life sciences and specialty ingredients with over 10,000 employees worldwide. Previously, Josh was a corporate associate at Bingham McCutchen LLP and Heller Ehrman LLP, representing emerging companies in the technology and life sciences industries. Connect with Josh on Twitter and LinkedIn.

JD Supra's In-House Perspective series provides in-house counsel a platform upon which to share their views and thought leadership on issues of the day, including industry news and legal developments, relationships with outside counsel, and law practice matters. To participate in the series, email news@jdsupra.com.]

[Image credit: on the walls at Shopify, via iDoneThis]

Written by:

JD Supra Perspectives
Contact
more
less

JD Supra Perspectives on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.