The secret to building an exceptional and outlier career

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You may have heard the saying, “you are the average of the 5 people you surround yourself with”.

I find this especially true when it comes to career outcomes and your mentors.

“Your career outcomes are similar to the 5 mentors you surround yourself with.”

Why is that?

Because your career is an ambiguous and confusing journey. The best way to learn in ambiguous situations is through apprenticeship.

By learning directly from someone with more experience, you can understand how things work and how to overcome challenges.

If you surround yourself with mentors who have average careers, you will likely be led down a similar path.

On the other hand..

  • If you want to become a top enterprise tech sales person, surround yourself with the best sales people you can find
  • If you want to become an entrepreneur, surround yourself with likeminded founders
  • If you want to find an interesting career path after college, surround yourself with people who seem to have it figured out

By surrounding yourself with the right people, the odds of achieving your goal are 10x higher, whether that’s becoming the best sales person, a founder, or one of the few college students with conviction in their career.

If you want to have an exceptional career -- the kind of career that’s truly an outlier -- surround yourself with exceptional mentors. It really is that simple.

Mentors are effective in helping you achieve your goals because of three big reasons:

First, they are your biggest advocates. Mentors are often willing to connect you to their network and champion you through the grueling recruiting process during college and beyond.

Second, mentors are there for you to ask questions as you struggle with your career journey.  Our tendency is to try to figure everything out on our own, but this often holds us back. You have to swallow your pride, be willing to admit you don’t know something, and seek their counsel to learn.

Third, mentors will passively influence you through every conversation. They will subtly nudge you to think about the most important things needed to make your aspiration a reality. These are also known as the unknown unknowns -- things you don’t even know you don’t know.

However, mentorship can be a double-edged sword. By surrounding yourself with likeminded people, you risk losing perspective because you and your circle of mentors are all obsessing over the same goal.

It doesn’t matter if you surround yourself with the right people to get ahead in your career, if you later realize you went too deep into the rabbit hole because everyone else was doing it.

To combat this, I find it helpful to have a diverse group of mentors -- many with similar interests to my own, but a few who are aspiring towards different goals. Their diverse aspirations help develop my perspective and pressure test my life goals.

These diverse mentors are the ones who grill me most about why I’m aspiring towards my definition of success and whether it’s a worthy pursuit.

Diversity of thought and mentorship matters.

Finding all of these mentors may seem impossible, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. While some people prefer formal mentorship, I’m a big subscriber to informal mentorship.

With informal mentorship, there’s no expectation for one person to help another. It’s just two people hanging out, learning from each other, and having fun.

This can be meeting people in college at a party, alumni events, through family, or even professional coffee chats.

As you build these relationships, it becomes easier to reach out and ask for help on a specific career problem. Over time, you can nurture these relationships to build a network of mentors who will advocate, respond, and influence you.

There’s so much to learn from everyone around you and informal mentorship unlocks your ability to expand your network of diverse mentors.  

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