The biggest fallacy in business: if I work hard I’ll eventually get to where I want to be.
While hard work and a myriad of other competency-based characteristics are certainly important in growing ones career, they play second fiddle to the #1 most important thing that drives our careers.
Recently I found myself engaged in a discussion I hear all too often:
“I’ve been trying to land a job doing (insert job title) but I’m not getting any responses from my job applications online.”
This was coupled with:
“I’m trying to break into (insert industry) but I have no direct industry experience and am having a hard time with people taking my capabilities serious without industry experience.”
Both of these situations and the people involved are experiencing the same thing – they haven’t built or leaned on the appropriate people to help them with their career quest.
Enter in the #1 career advancement driver: RELATIONSHIPS
The people which make up your professional ecosystem are ultimately the ones who will make the difference in your career, not just hard work.
Back to our scenario above. Applying to jobs on the internet, or the black hole of death as I commonly refer to it, does have its merits, yet by no means are online job boards the best place to land your dream job. Online job boards are built to do one thing and one thing well – weed people like you out. According to Robert Meier, President of Job Market Experts, only 2% of candidates applying for jobs online actually get an interview.
My personal experiences have shown that many people find the online job board process frustrating, cumbersome and verging on a galactic time suck.
If we can’t rely on online job boards, what options do we have? Enter back to the stage our good ole friend ‘Relationships’, our #1 suitor for career advancement.
Your education, hard work and perhaps charm will only take you so far. Relationships, the people above you, below you and your peers, are the ones that stand to make the biggest impact in your career. When we are in school, soon to graduate and looking for our first opportunity, it’s people that give us the chance, not necessarily our stellar academic performance. Our grades may assist in getting us to the conversation however the driver behind making the decision is someone who wants to give you a shot.
Same can be said in corporate America. I remember the first time I was going for a management promotion. My boss at the time told me, “it’s not the people above you that will promote you, it’s your peers and people who report to you.” That really struck home because if my boss were to ask my peers and employees what they thought of me and the response he got was less than stellar the likelihood that feedback would impact my forward progress in my career is likely to be substantial.
When you’re neck deep in your career often times it’s who you know, not what you know. The ‘who you know’ opens doors, ‘what you know’ helps you facilitate the work at hand, not landing the job itself.
What many professionals miss out on is the importance of building lasting professional relationships.
Not every relationship has the capacity to turn into something that is special and will impact your career however if carefully practiced and made a priority it is certainly possible several of your professional relationships overtime can produce fruitful results for both parties involved.
Why is it then people don’t spend more time and energy in building their ecosystem of professional relationships?
Answer: because it isn’t easy nor is it quick in producing results.
Relationships take time and investment. The best relationships have a ‘pay-it-forward’ mentality where both people see the bigger opportunity to help one another without quid pro quo. If you’ve ever read the book ‘Go Giver’ by Bob Burg, it also happens to be my favorite all time book on life and business, you know that relationships and the power of doing for others often times sets the stage for incredible life experience to come. This of course is true in business.
Relationships are hard to foster over long periods of time. It takes trust, consistency and energy. Yet when done genuinely relationships have the power to open doors that may not have been available without it.
If you’re read this and feel like it’s time for you to step up and grow your ecosystem of professional relationships follow these steps to get on the glory road of professional relationships.
1. Understand what your WHY is for building relationships? (most importantly, what can you offer to others in the process?)
2. Identify 2-3 professionals within your circle of influence, take each of them out to coffee for the purpose of building a better, tighter and more collaborative relationship
3. Go to industry networking events
4. Rinse and repeat (a couple in-person meetings or events is only the start; build into your schedule 2-3 times a month where you make it a priority to meet with people)
Last week I had an opportunity to do lunch with a long term client and friend, a lunch I always look forward too. My lunch comrade, we’ll call him ‘Johnny Appleseed’ for the sake of this article, is an engineer by trade and currently in a management role overseeing a technical design team comprised of a diverse group of folks with a variety of skill levels, career tenures, abilities and attitudes. Let’s put it this way, he’s one smart bloke.
The reason I enjoy our conversations is because we talk as real people. Titles and experiences are set aside. There’s no fluff, no PC, just straight talk, feedback, challenge and of course light hearted banter.
During lunch Johnny Appleseed inquired about how our business has been coming along. As I shared with him the great experience and opportunity I’ve had with the business we found ourselves weaving into a topic that really caught my interest. Mainly, Johnny Appleseed’s response to the topic.
Which are you – the Apple or the Seed?
I shared with good ole Johnny Appleseed that the consulting and coaching business has broadened my horizons on business leadership, strategy, operations and a plethora of other titillating things. Some of which I’d rather not deal with but, hey, that life. 95% of it has been great so I’m happy to deal with the other 5%.
I then brought up a situation to collect my good friend Johnny Appleseed’s thoughts. Have you ever noticed there are people out there that say,
“What I wouldn’t give for an opportunity to do that. I’d jump at it in a moments’ notice. When can we begin?” ‘That’ references a new opportunity, a calculated risk, a chance to step outside the box and do something spectacular. In our conversation ‘that’ referred to the number of conversations I’ve had with people throughout the years, especially recently, where they initially talk a big game, but as time goes on reality sets in and the same person who was so excited at first doesn’t follow through on their word, or even respond at all. Heck – maybe the underlying factor is me? Certainly room for debate there.
Which are you – the Apple or the Seed?
Johnny Appleseed gave me a delightful smirk and laughed as I shared this with him. We both knew what I was sharing with him was nothing new. People all over the world say one thing and do another all the time. I’m certainly not experiencing anything new as I’m sure you all have experienced this for yourselves at one point or another.
Yet – this was and still is different.
As I shared more, I told Johnny Appleseed that these people I’m engaged with come to me first, more times than not. They ask for my advice, suggestions or ideas on how to get to the next level, make a career leap, overcome a challenge, etc. When I share with them my advice they respond with cheers, high fives and knee slides, often times wanting to act immediately with great enthusiasm. Yet as time goes on their inspiration eventually goes by the waste side. Months go by and they’re still in the same rut they were in before. Same rut, same agonizing complaints and issues.
Which brings us back to the original question. Which are you – the Apple or the Seed?
Johnny Appleseed politely stopped me during my rant and said the following:
“Travis, it’s the classic example of the Apple vs. the Seed. People initially look at the apple and think, ‘I know apples, they taste good, make great pies, etc. Sure, I’d like an apple, matter of fact, a whole truck load of apples. Give me whatever you’ve got.’ You could give them a bunch of apples but that will only hold them over for a limited amount of time.”
Here’s where the brilliance of Mr. Johnny Appleseed comes in…
He continues, “what if we gave them a sack of apple seeds instead? They could eat apples the rest of their life, not have to worry about running out and even make their own business out of selling apples and apple related products. Sure, it will take some back breaking work to get the apple seeds planted, the trees fully developed into a thriving orchard, and so on. The end result is you’ve accomplished something great.
By taking an opportunity, you’ve then managed to build an apple empire and it was a direct result of your sweat equity – which is what you asked for originally.”
(By the by, Stemilt Growers, LLC ranked the largest apple produce company in the US and has an estimated $667 million in total revenue annually, predominantly off the sale and distribution of apples. That’s a lot of Pink Lady’s!)
As the conversation continued we both had a good laugh at the absurdity of the analogy, yet we both knew we couldn’t ignore the basic truth that came of it.
If you truly want to be great you can’t be the apple. The apple is already grown and on its decline to death in your belly or back to the ground where it will dissolve and be never more. The apple represents the hard work and determination of another person who patiently nurtured those apples so they could grow up to be great and delicious. That persons’ dedication, love and care is what brought about those apple and they’ve now sold it to you at a minor cost. You bought that apple because you knew what was in store – a tasty little treat.
But that treat only gives you a moment of gratification.
The seed on the other hand represents opportunity. It represents what is possible with some hard work and good ole fashion belief that you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it. The seed represents far more opportunity than the fully grown apple ever could amount too.
All too often I see people talk as if they are going to be the next great thing however once they find out how much work and dedication it really takes to get there they have a tendency to relinquish their dreams and settle for their current realities. It’s a damn shame.
The moral of the story, thanks to my good friend Johnny Appleseed, is if you want to be great in your career, you have to take a leap of faith and create your apple farm, orchard, what have you. Simply taking an apple (someone else’s hard work) won’t get you to the promise land.
Dreams can come true. That’s what this country was founded on and I believe that DNA still exists in the very fabric of who we are today. Each of us has that fabric woven deeply within us. Let’s leave behind all the excuses, entitlements and ‘what-ifs’ and go out there and create our own apple farms. It’s perfectly okay to still buy other people’s apples but don’t expect to become great off of someone else’s hard work.
I humbly thank Mr. Johnny Appleseed for the lesson and great reminder on what it takes to be great in this world – you’ve got to be the seed!
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.