Barefoot CEO: How to build a career

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I’ve given myself 20 mins to write this, so here goes…


Last week I had another person ask me how they could earn more money. My answer was that you generally have to earn it.

A week or two before that I had someone say that they wanted to earn 3x their salary now in the next 18 months. My response to them was unless they were selling drugs, woman, body parts, or the whereabouts of Edward Snowdon, they were unlikely to achieve that in the corporate life they lived in.

Conversely, about a month ago I had one of my team tell me they wanted to earn a salary that was £10k p/y up on where they are now, within the next 3 years. My response to that was that they were underselling themselves, and I think they could earn £15 to £20k more per year if they kept on doing what they were doing (i.e. performing).

In all 3 examples, each person had what I thought was a distorted view of what it takes to build a career that gives them the financial and career opportunities they were looking for.

For myself, I look back and attribute career growth to:
1. doing the work
2. taking on more responsibility (because I displayed enough knowledge of the work to make good decisions)
3. gaining enough trust to be given the next step up
4. rinse and repeat

More often than not, phase 1 was a 1 to 5 year process of learning, and phase 3 was deeply dependant on whether I could convince people that I was capable and responsible enough to take on additional challenges / work / projects etc. In all cases, phase 1 started off with lots of manual, entry level, tedious, work; and the desire to move into phase 3 drove continually pushing the boundaries of what I could accomplish.

To simplify the above, my view is that if you’re sub-30, without dependants like children and a mortgage, and you want to take your career seriously, then you should always, always be under-paid, and over-worked and you should always pick career and personal growth over better pay.

If you unpack that, it means that you should always be growing so fast that you’re being underpaid (i.e.: your growth rate does not equal a yearly inflationary increase), and you should always be working at a capacity over what is expected of you (so you get given more opportunities because your capacity exceeds those around you).

If you do both of the above, you will be given more responsibility, more challenges, you will gain more experience, you will be exposed to more conversations and decisions, and you will eventually be asked to lead. When all of that happens, the financial benefits start to kick in, and then you are limited by what you can produce, the people you can lead, the decisions you make, the trust you engender, the problems you solve, and how fast you can grow to keep up. When all of that happens, most employers in the world will pay you more than you think you are worth today. Why? Because those people are scarce.

Put another way, when I interview and then work with people, I generally boil things down to whether I think I can give that person more responsibility, and then whether they can handle it. So if you ask yourself what you need to do to get more responsibility, and then what kind of person you need to be to handle that additional work / pressure / load etc, then you’re some of the way to figuring out what you need to do to build a career.

Hope that helps anyone sub-30 with no dependants and no mortgage ;-)

I want to share an addiction with you

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Pascal has encouraged me to write more about what’s going on. So today I’m going to talk about an addiction I have.

When things were really tough a few years ago, and to manage my personal cashflow to as low as possible, I was living off two or three egg & cress Tesco sandwiches a day. I think that’s when I started to become intolerant to wheat but that’s another story, and so are the tough times.

What is important is that one day I came across these oat flapjacks which Sainsbury’s makes, and I got hooked. They’re great tasting, there’s no flour or wheat (they do have sugar, yes, but I can cope with that because it’s better then shooting something hard into my veins), and they are a whopping £1.69 or so for a packet. And this packet can sustain the average tech geek for a day, or half a day when there is exercise.
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And so I started to buy them occasionally. Like 1 packet every few days. At the time, I had also developed a Kit-Kat habit, mainly because it was one of the things I looked forward to every day (52p Tesco, 55p Sainsbury’s, 70p at the off license, the thieves!), and because, well just because I was convinced that there were worse things I could do.

lembassmallSo over time I developed this real love for the flapjacks (and started doing less Kit-Kat), so much so that I started calling them “Lembas bread” due to their restorative powers – you know, like in The Lord of The Rings.

Shoot forward to today, and I no longer have the same desire I had for it, or the same dependancy, but I kinda see them as a all I need now.

Just last night I walked into Sainsbury’s, nodded knowingly to the guard at the door (his name is Simon), and casually picked up a stash of 4 packets, some orange juice and a slab of ham. Smash the orange juice and ham on the way home, then pop a banana protein shake and a couple Lembas bread to settle the stomach, and you’re away for the late shift.

All in the terribly exciting day of an entrepreneur fighting fires and pushing for growth.

Oh, and they’re healthy for you too…..

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