How to Have a Great Career

Below are notes I've taken while reading the book. This is not a comprehensive summary but thoughts and ideas I've found valuable. I recommend reading these notes after you've read the book first to compare our thoughts. I can't stop you if you don't want to so I guess you can use the below as an idea of what you may get out of the book yourself if you read it... though if it ain't clear it's cause you didn't listen to me. 

Raw Notes


Your work is not a means to an end. Not some sort of prison or thing you must do to attain freedom. That is, if you're passionate about it. 

There are no boundaries between work and time since your work is personal. 

"The grown-up world is where talent goes to die", pg X -> Can taste the morbid tone. Its odd how people try to distinguish certain acts as "adulting" or "growing up" when it's just kids learning to take on responsibilities. They seem to just need an excuse for poor ability in taking on responsibility effectively and thus use the excuse of "being a grown-up" when what seems to be indicative is that the folks I've met (people past their 50s) are nothing more than aged kids

"It didn't make sense to me: If you like to do multiple things, I though, why wouldn't you?" | "I can't write code, yet I get to help move such fields as robotics forward by advising companies on their marketing strategies" - pg Xiii -> It's true. No one seems to be asking that question or if they do ask that question, no one is actually looking for an answer. You can have it all, just do it one at a time. Don't think in just first-level thinking (i.e. to be in tech I must know code). Find the meet-point of your skills and what a company needs. 

"It is an amazing feeling when you don't really care if it's a weekend or not" - pg Xiii -> Larry Smith on his passion and life. Passion is something you cannot stop thinking about

Part 1 - Finding Your Passion

"Typical jobs now involve wages that barely rise, workloads that leave nothing but the scraps of a personal life, and stress that grows daily. The odds of finding a "good" career are fading fast - and all because of economic competition" - pg11 -> As more of those that lack resilience flock to the place most traveled, the competitive pressures increase. With such increase effective out-performance will be close to null, with any that do shine being the result of largely wasted time and effort. The end result is just a mediocre army. 

"Can you create any significant degree of credible edge without a passionate interest in the work itself?" pg 14 -> No. The kid who lives and breathes this shit will eat you up. So move on. Without an edge, out performance will be slim. With no out performance, what's the point of doing it?

Perseverance is seen positively. Yet, a common case for its misuse seem to reside in people falling for the sunk cost fallacy. Those who commit to a certain career field end up sticking with it and pursue it just to finish what they started. Perseverance... or more so persistence in this case, is actually based on a reason of fear and false obligation compared pursuit for pure love of the field. 

What's hot now will not be hot tomorrow. Any particular skill set can become obsolete with no notice. Competition isn't going to come give you a forewarning so you can prepare. Naive. Too many career coaches only know to give advice for the moment and not a lifetime

"I need to remind them that when we look at the history of occupations, we used to see constant change. Now we see accelerating change. So do we ignore our history or try to deny it? This much is clear for sure: if we tell the young to pick a skill for a great career, we must be prepared to answer when they ask "which skill?" And, as I hope you see now, we simply cannot" pg 29

"Really strong students choose the most competitive programs to apply to, not because they care about the subject but because they naively assume that, if the admission standards are the highest, the job opportunities must be the best." pg31 -> Put this way, it sounds so stupid. I fell for this foolish social marketing stunt where it is driven by external glorifying factors. All ego + insecurity. The confident know they can get in. The smart then choose to fight the downhill battle. Because what general will put his best soldiers through an uphill battle. Short-term pain for long-term gain. I think it's a matter of difficulty but selecting best programs don't really have short term pain. Because it's easy to justify your choices, there is no explanation required for your actions. You aren't doing something non-consensus. SO it's the path of ease in the social psychology perspective

For everything you invest. Time, effort, money. Ask if you achieved the best result. If not, you failed. 

"While the "ordinary" come in vanilla, the stars come in many flavors. To begin with, the exceptional tend to have broader domain knowledge...... They have read more extensively and they have more opinions about their field" pg 35 -> Create your own flavour. There is no getting around it. You must be a learning machine that can compound knowledge. Always goes back to Mungerisms.

Characteristics of the exceptional: i) broad domain knowledge ii) mental flexibility iii) engrossed in anything new and creative iv) passionate interest

Passion isn't just some spark. Get the facts! Know what you're pursuing. Work with the available data. A test to see if you've found it: "Do you think you would do it even if you won the lottery and didn't have to work?" Coherence in your emotional + logical self is required. 

Be a thoughtful tourist. You can't see all the attractions so plan according to what you want to see and take the time you need to reach the final destination. A common advice I hear from those who've reached the top of their field is to take it slow and don't rush. 

Step 1

  • How do you spend your free time, what types of books do you gravitate toward?

  • What kind of subjects do you talk to friends about most and enjoy?

  • What personal projects do you embark on?

  • Common case is passion is attached to a kind of work rather than a specific occupation

Step 2

  • Stop, research, talk to more people

  • Have you researched all options in this field to move on?

Step 3

  • Sample (not deep dive) via reading. Look at all angles. Read in opposite spectrums

  • Talk to more people, more diverse backgrounds

  • Dig into rationale of choice. Ask "WHY?" Why do it this way, why not the other way, why not do something different now etc... The more the WHY the more engaged, the more telling of a potential interest area.

Step 4

  • separate passion vs. interest, not going to marry your partner cause they are interesting.

  • passion = cannot stop thinking about it + don't want to stop

  • Do you want to learn enough about an area that you are fascinated by? Would you want to teach it to yourself or others? -> way to test if passion or interest.

Step 5

  • Don't settle on one. Keep looking for more. If the first was a true love, you'll back to her.

  • If you have many, then combine. Make it the "top 25% in 3 areas to make own category" approach

"Recognize the minds natural tendency to resolve painful uncertainty by rushing to judgment" pg 61 -> Being decisive without proper thought is just being fearful and masking it. Learn to be really patient, then be decisive. It's not the duration but the intensity that matter in finding your passion.. but it applied to many other things too. The whole "2 years at a job" seems such a foolish prerogative that has no logical basis for achievement. If it takes you 2 years then my take is you lacked the intensity and ambition for yourself and was just complacent and lazy. 

"No one else is doing it" pg79 -> key. That which no one else does but you think should be done. That is where opportunity exists. What is the point of doing something everyone else is. 

Planning: "Did his plan have the flexibility to accommodate a change or evolution of his interests? Did it describe how he would distinguish himself from his classmates? Did it describe how he was going to choose and reach out to priority employers? Did it accommodate the possibility of grad school? What benchmarks was he using to decide if his plan was on track? How would he respond to graduating in a recession and finding no jobs available?" pg81 -> The point of plans is to eliminate single-sources of failure. Because nothing ever goes according to plan. So what Plan B, C and D? Plan for a tragedy. If it doesn't happen you are lucky. If it does, then nothing new.

Part 2 - Creating Your Career Plan

Be precise enough with your goals (i.e. not achieving happiness) but also have a broad range (i.e. don't pinpoint to 1 company). Rank your goals on what are non-negotiable and what you can be flexible on. Distinguishing between hygiene factors and true motivating factors would also be something to consider in my opinion.

Identify barriers to what would you want to achieve. Then rethink the conventional barrier and create the role as your passion will not fit established occupations. Whatever you choose should meet your high-priority goals. 

Passion in an area leads to the desire to acquire skills. I agree with this on the the sequence of development. Without a destination, you do not know what you are preparing for. 

"Toe the line; Follow the leader; If it ain't broke, don't fix it - all are examples of conventional thought hiding within cliches." pg 111 -> You must throw out the conventional thought to foster creativity. As the Mcdonald's CEO said, patents are not a competitive advantage but rather your mind's ability to be innovative is. For your competitors cannot see what you are cooking up in your mind. This puts into context who can ACTUALLY be innovative. Big companies can't. Because the bigger they are the less risk they are willing to take since they have more to lose. Yet, innovation requires large risk as you must be unconventional. Big consulting firms saying innovation is an oxymoron in itself.

The value of learning history is not to copy what has been done but use what has been done as the benchmark to build out more!

A proxy for finding out what you truly care about may be represented in whether you make time to do it. Because if you love doing something so much, I'd expect you to make time for it. When someone tells me "how do you have the time?", "Oh I don't have time for that" when it comes to reading or powerlifting I just know that is not something they care for. Which results in the true statement of I don't have time for that. Which is also the excuse the weak minded make for something they should be doing as well. 

Innovating is a means to creating your edge. It is muchhh easier to innovate when you are in an area you actually love rather than something you don't care too much for. It's also hard to sell yourself if you don't believe in what you can offer.

"The truth is, successful ventures and successful careers are much closer together" pg 131 -> Anyone who seeks to have a great career is an entrepreneur. Your career is the 'venture of you' and you are the entrepreneur that is forming it. If not, then you are letting others dictate your career.

Your personal pitch should be distinctive. 'what do you do that other people don't?' From such an activity what is the result. It is that result that should trigger a further discussion of 'How?' It is the claim you make that sets you apart from others. The result is a 'body of work', not something that could be a singular project. Because that is how you know the other person was listening to you. Let their interests fit YOUR criteria, not you MEET THEIRS. After a well scripted pitch, prepare to show what you've done. After all, talk is cheap. 

"Great careers are driven by the innovations that arise from passion" pg 141

Executing on your career plan requires constant benchmarks to re-evaluate your plan. For this you need both constancy of purpose and flexibility in execution and planning. This is required to be proactive instead of reactive. Learn to stop, then think and then act. 3 questions to consider in light of new information (pg 147):

  • Would this revision move me closer to my overriding goal of a great career? -> assess each new fact and see if it can materially impact your journey or is it some lateral you're getting sidetracked by

  • If a new choice is tangibly closer to your goal, will it involve a loss of time that will reduce your advantage? -> Real important to understand whether you'd be moving forward.

  • Will this revision limit my options? -> maintain flexibility

Any revision you choose to take one should be analyzed clearly. With full knowledge of the effects (positives outdoing the negatives materially) you can proceed to make change to a plan. 

Part 3 - Confronting Fears and Excuses

Differentiating between reasons and excuses is important. Reasons are carefully thought out and supported by facts. Excuses are just deferral tactics to mask what is essentially fear. But no one wants to accept cowardice so they adamantly try to validate excuses. You have to be honest with yourself on what is truly a valid reason and what is not. Thus, reasons can change once the underlying facts change. If your mind doesn't change when facts change, that is utter foolishness. 

"A reason becomes an excuse as soon as it stops thought and action" pg 156

Fear of the unknowable. I think it is innately human to favour certainty and predictability. This is probably why many want to work for large + established brand name firms. More know-ability.

"We continue to wish each other good luck for every possible occasion, from exams to job interviews to investments. We go so far as to wish highly trained Olympic athletes good luck. Perhaps you might conclude that this incessant wishing of good luck is no more than a social convention. But conventions reflect a widespread societal belief" pg 158 -> There is constant debate on luck vs. skill. Think Maubossin's research does an excellent job in distilling that and giving perspective. I fundamentally believe the skilled make their own luck. No luck can replace decades of deliberate practice. It's just many hold onto luck because they are too afraid and lazy to ever put in the decades of work

"I find it insulting - to call someone "lucky" because she has a job she loves, or a strong marriage, or a winning edge is to say that she somehow didn't earn it. Only the unprepared need luck." pg 159 -> amen

Harland Sanders started KFC at 65. It's never too late. It's just another excuse. All choices are yours to make. 

Nothing is a fair fight. Too many love to sit and complain about losing out on the ovarian lottery. But for fucks sakes, if you were born in an english-speaking environment you beat out most of the world. Not to mention all the sperms you out swam. As Bill Gates put it, it's not your fault if you were born poor but it is if you die poor. You can either choose to fight through obstacles and learn resiliency and train yourself to get stronger or just be a complaining loser. People shouldn't even be worrying about the competition when they haven't even gotten themselves figured out. 

There should always be a reason for why you enjoy doing something. It's not to just "pass the time". Because you are just passing the time waiting for death then. If you really wanted to die that fast you could make it happen. So, there must be an inherent reason to why you enjoy any activity. Think about it, accept it, and actually live it out. 

"We live in the Age of Victimization. We are all victims now. There are so many victims, in fact, it's hard to find the oppressors" pg 167 -> Makes sense, since anyone who has a different viewpoint will offend someone and automatically that creates more victims. More so when the victims all stick to the conventional view point and get hurt by being called out on it, instead of acknowledging their choice. 

"Great family and great career are not mutually exclusive endeavors" pg 171 -> in fact, I think that is required for success. Just based on my personal values. I think too may use family as an excuse to not achieve anything and just decide to complain about their own mediocrity. Family can be a reason to create certain limitations but once you've validated the reasons you can always work around them. You are your biggest obstacle. 

"A career is great when it offers satisfying work, impact on the world, a dependable and adequate income, and personal freedom" pg 172 -> Larry Smith's definition of a great career. Agreed. Freedom, autonomy, control, cash flow (not sudden blow up gains!), motivating work and value add to society

Workings moms = good, because daughters are more educated, and likely to be in supervisory roles with higher income than daughters of stay-at-home mothers. Sons of stay-at-home mothers spend more time on childcare and housework as adults. All would be considered progress for society as people can become closer to self-sustainability. I had considered being a full-time parent to be an option and a valid, almost required one at that. But something to consider when the time comes is on whether I truly love childcare. For if I do not, it will become a chore and salt the parent-child relationship early. I do believe just because you are a parent it does not put your family or child in the center of your world, rather it becomes a choice. As a parent, a key duty to your kid would be to also be a career role model for em. 

A strategy to a great career is to develop an edge. Like in investing, your edge is what gives you or the investment merit. If you get to the point that you are so valuable to any organization, you will hold more sway in how you want to structure your role in the company. Though, this isn't commonly the case because many firms tend to overwork their best till they break and quit. But maybe that just means they didn't have ENOUGH of an edge. They were good, just not great. But to create an edge you must counterbalance. So the notion of balancing work and life is contrary to a great career. A great career will require an edge, which will require large investment of effort + time, which will result in a need to counterbalance life and work. All for control. 

"Nature does not follow a single pathway; Neither should man" pg 177 -> Nothing is linear. It's rather the illusion of linearity that is prominent

"If a young man in love rejects his girlfriend because of a job opportunity in another country, I don't that's wise either" - pg177 -> Struck a chord with me. It was not a win-win for our relationship. It was not a win-win in my work/life coherency spectrum either. I was only able to realize the importance of this after experiencing it. 

Remember that creativity lives on the edge of conventionalism. Life is closer to being 50 shades of grey rather than black or white. An oversimplified fad of "binary-thinking" is upon us but fight for the spectrum.

"Take no risk so you can guarantee you will do nothing" pg 179

Bring your work home. Not literally but involve your loved ones in the thing you are spending 1/3 of your life doing. It can help bring perspective to yourself and actually allows for a stronger relationship where they feel more connected with you. Whether you love or hate what you do. Talking about it with your family at home can actually get feedback to problem solve or celebrate together. 

"Do you want to know intimately the people you love, or might come to love? Talking and partying with them will get you only so far, and many people indeed get no farther than this. But when you work together with someone, you really learn who they are" pg 187 -> Would believe that is why school friends and work colleagues you've been in the trenches with seem so close and last so long

A potential test on verifying a passion area may to be to speak with those who already seem to be in their passion area and ask them why they love it, what activity puts them into flow state. Listen to what they say and see if that excites you. Most won't say "it's cause I'm good at it or it's interesting", those people may not actually be in their passion area themselves. 

"Finally, there's a category of jobs with no apparent prospect of employment. These are the Outlandish Jobs, the jobs that make people laugh, perhaps, when you tell them what you're interested in doing. These are the jobs that, if you pull them off, people are fascinated. These are the jobs that convince people that anything is possible" pg 192 -> Foundation of such roles are measurable and have leverage

It's not about entering a crowded field with the sole strategy of working hard. Anyone can just work hard. First you have to devise a plan. A plan that is actionable but a plan that can also provide you with feedback along the way to constantly iterate when necessary. Quitting and writing full-time with no plan is just a gamble, not a plan. If entering a crowded field with a plan, be creative. Look at where you can add value. If everyone is looking at the same thing, then there are plenty who can add value. Where is the intersection of where no one is doing something that only you can do? Where can you create a category of one? 

Look from the shoes of your customer. See in the context of what others would pay for your work you deem a passion. Know your own value, the value you can provide to others but also what that value would be worth to them. 

Find the most important question in the field/areas you're interested in. Pick the one that is hardest. Now try to solve it. 

"If your passion is not connected to an occupation, you need to consider whether you are ready for the life of an entrepreneur. If you aren't, then you search for another passion" pg 206 -> If what you want is to make a living off of an unusual activity you have to connect with enough of those people who value it and share your enthusiasm to form a viable business. Don't do what is obvious. Greatest returns can be found where there is no consensus. Though be honest on your risk appetite and don't fight the gravity problem if it isn't in you to take on the entrepreneurial path. 

"There is never just one way, position, situation, or employer. Look resourcefully and creatively for your passion and a decent income" pg 207 -> never neglect cash flow. But be flexible and creative with your plan. 

Fear can paralyze us. To fight fear try to understand what your fear is. Boil it down to its First Principles. Once you can understand the fear, you can manage it by taking action to bypass the root of the fear. That is using fact + reason. 

One fear is the fear of wasted time. To limit this, think of the shortest possible time to any attempt (i.e. create a minimally viable product asap). It's the idea commonly adopted as the "fail fast" rule. But it's more "get valuable feedback fast so if you should succeed you have direction, and if you fail then you didn't lose much time". If you need guidance ask people who've already achieved what you want. It's about getting valuable feedback asap. Would also help to determine what would be considered a point of failure for you ahead of time as a benchmark. 

Try to make each action you take an optimal one. Think about how you can kill two birds with one stone. Don't assume you can't hit two birds with one stone. Test out such assumptions to prove them wrong. Larry Smith calls this "parallel processing". Try to bridge multiple passion areas to create your own pathway. Larry Smith loves architecture, economics, and teaching. So he found a way to teach the economics of architecture to architects at the university level. 

Find people who've already achieved what you want so that you may have role models. Having such reference points from those with similar backgrounds as you gives you a way to put forms of fear and doubt into perspective. 

"Big companies have reorgs and layoffs all the time - just because they've been around for years doesn't mean that you will be around with them for years. And pay is only higher if you look at it through a very short-term lens" pg 223

"In the long term, pursuing his passion, not immediate income, would best secure his employment and earning power." pg 224 -> I fundamentally believe that if you do something you love it will feel like play. So your form of 'deliberate practice' will be more effective than it will be for others doing the same thing as you but don't actually love it. It may also mean that I am more optimistic on the abilities of humans than some people are of for themselves. 

"This should be the greatest fear for all of us: failing to achieve the highest use of our talent" pg 227

"The greatest benefit of having to justify your choice to others is that you come to fully understand your own choice" pg 239 -> It's a form of talk therapy that I personally found extremely valuable in even going through my own ideas. Have honest discussions with the people you trust and they will bring out your fears and when you can justify your choices despite that, you understand how misbegotten some of your fears actually are. 

The more radical your idea the more you will have to constantly prototype to turn the idea over and over again. This also means you will have constant moments of doubt for being so unconventional. To fight this you will need to have constant dialogues with yourself (i.e. through affirmation) to confirm your passion, your plan and the end direction you are journeying toward. Try to visualize what your great career will look like.