Make your own mosaic

Getting and benefiting from advice is a bit like putting together a mosaic. Somehow, you need to take all those small pieces, in different colors, that seemingly have no connection to each other, figure out which ones are relevant for you, and the create a self-expressive, coherent piece that by aggregating those little pieces in the context of your life. Like many on here, I’ve received tons of big and little pieces of advice, some of it good and some bad. So instead of just one piece of advice, I thought of taking a meta approach. So here’s just a few career-oriented themes that emerge:

It’s a small world. Whether you work in a niche industry or a huge one, and whether your market is Liechtenstein or China, curiously, there will be many people whom you will meet several times along your career journey. So I make an effort to treat people with respect, and to not make things personal. If I fall out with someone, I just need to be prepared for a scenario where she is whispering on the ears of my potential customer, partner, investor or employer.

Keep people 80% happy. Especially in a cross-functional environment, objectives and interests won’t always overlap completely. You need to do what you need to do, and you don’t want to alienate people you might need to depend upon in the future. However, a healthy tension is, well, healthy, and just about 20% of discord can keep people engaged.

Better to ask forgiveness than permission. Well-known and widely-given advice, so I will only add that in my experience, this is a great shortcut to the aforementioned 80% happiness level.

Avoid group-anxiety. There’s no use in joining a group of several others who are actively freaking out about the exact same problem, like the famous meme showing seven construction managers standing above a hole in which one person is doing the actual digging. Either you take ownership to free up others, or find out what you can do to help in other channels, or just move on. Kind of related to the next one.

Don’t be where there is no/little added value. Pretty simple, really. This obviously applies to roles in which you’re not adding value, but also to situations where you’ve stopped or slowed down your learning. Fix it or move on. To me this is a narrow, functional derivative of Seneca’s famous quote in The Shortness of Life, “Life is long if you know how to use it.”

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