Inside the Binge Factory Netflix Is Hiring Everybody In & Out of Hollywood To Make More TV Shows

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What do you think about gas in the tank for the long term?” asks Cindy Holland, Netflix’s vice-president of original content. It’s a Tuesday morning in May, and Holland and a handful of her direct reports are meeting in the 14th-floor San Junipero conference room of the company’s Hollywood headquarters. They’ve come to discuss renewal decisions for two existing shows, the Drew Barrymore–Timothy Olyphant zombie comedy, Santa Clarita Diet, and the recently launched remake of Lost in Space.

As Holland goes around the room, she stares at a laptop screen filled with the memos her team has prepared. She notes the mixed reviews for Lost in Space. “Do we care?” Not that much, it turns out. The show is renewed for a second season.

As they discuss story lines and other creative matters, there’s talk about “completion,” i.e., how quickly subscribers are moving through episodes to the end of the season. Holland quizzes the room about how the shows are doing internationally and if they’re under- or overperforming in certain territories. Someone mentions that Barrymore and Olyphant traveled to the Philippines to promote season two of Santa Clarita: “It’s the first time we took a show there,” she says, adding that the promotional support seemed to pay off: “We’re really, really excited about the fact that it’s traveled globally.” There’s enough gas in the tank, they decide, for a season three.

The conversation moves on to new projects, including Away, an unannounced drama from creator Andrew Hinderaker (Penny Dreadful) and executive producers Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights) and Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) that revolves around an international group of astronauts on the first-ever mission to Mars. “Do you have a clear sense of who is that core fan base?” Holland asks. “I feel it’s a pretty global show in terms of the cast and the diversity of players,” says one executive. “But I also think because there’s that epic love story at the center, it’s going to attract a female audience.” “You probably also get the sci-fi audience as well, right?” Holland says. “I don’t think we’re going to get a hard-core sci-fi action audience,” the executive replies. “That’s not what this is.”

Also on the agenda is a not-yet-announced limited series. There’s a brief debate over which of Netflix’s many content “verticals” it will fall under. “It’s kind of a hybrid between series and film in terms of the biopic nature,” one executive says. “Right now, it’s projected somewhere between period romance and the black-film vertical,” says another. Adds someone else, “It doesn’t fit squarely in either, so we think there’s a nice in-between.”

The meeting ends in less than an hour, and the futures of four of the roughly 1,000 original titles Netflix plans to make (or acquire and distribute) this year are a bit more certain.

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Netflix’s overthrow of television’s old business model began just seven years ago. That’s when the Silicon Valley company best known for mailing DVDs in little red envelopes outbid AMC and HBO for the rights to a drama from director David Fincher, a remake of the British mini-series House of Cards. It was a big deal at the time, both because of the money Netflix was spending ($100 million for two seasons) and because it was the first hint of the streaming platform’s ambitions to evolve beyond a digital warehouse for other conglomerates’ intellectual property.

House of Cards is airing its final season this fall, and Netflix now makes more television than any network in history. It plans to spend $8 billion on content this year. “I’ve never seen any one company drive the entire business in the way Netflix has right now,” says Chris Silbermann, managing director of ICM Partners and agent for Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes, who moved her production company to Netflix last year.

TV has gone through major transformations in the past — cable and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox toppled the hegemony of the Big Three broadcast networks in the 1980s, for instance — but this leap dwarfs all others. Netflix doesn’t want to be a streaming, supersized clone of HBO or FX or NBC. It’s trying to change the way we watch television. Whether it can do that while turning a profit is another matter, given the more than $6 billion in debt it’s amassed during its expansion. But Wall Street seems optimistic: In recent weeks, its overall market capitalization has at times grown past $150 billion, surpassing Disney to become the most-valued media company in the world.

CEO Reed Hastings and tech entrepreneur Marc Randolph launched Netflix in 1997, rolling out its DVD-by-mail service the next year and introducing the all-you-can-watch subscription model in 1999. The service has offered streaming since 2007. But it was the company’s move into original content that has upended so many norms of the TV business: Netflix doesn’t waste millions making pilot episodes of shows that will never air; instead, almost every project it buys is purchased with the intention of going straight to series. It invented the idea of binge-releasing — dropping full seasons of shows all at once, rather than doling out episodes week-to-week, as TV had done since I Love Lucy. Instead of selling its content to international partners, Netflix has eliminated global middlemen and set up shop in over 190 countries, allowing it to debut a new season of an American animated series (BoJack Horseman) or a German thriller (Dark) around the planet, all on the same day and at the same time. It has replaced demographics with what it calls “taste clusters,” predicating programming decisions on immense amounts of data about true viewing habits, not estimated ones. It has discovered ways to bundle enough niche viewers to make good business out of fare that used to play only to tiny markets.

And shareholders have given it the money to poach the top showrunners from ABC (Rhimes) and FX/Fox (Ryan Murphy), committing upwards of $400 million to deny those networks their biggest hitmakers. It’s greenlit series from the past two Oscar-winning directors (Damien Chazelle, Guillermo del Toro) and today’s most successful producer of network sitcoms (Chuck Lorre, whose next show for the service stars Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin). Netflix has also handed out paychecks worth, in some cases, more than $20 million to a constellation of stand-up stars (Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Ellen DeGeneres), signed the next generation of talk-show hosts (Michelle Wolf, Hasan Minhaj), and given a new home to older ones (David Letterman, Norm Macdonald). And last month, it announced a deal with Barack and Michelle Obama to make TV shows and movies.

“The first word out of everybody’s mouths in meetings is, ‘How do we deal with Netflix?’ ” says one longtime TV-industry executive. “‘How do we compete with Netflix? What are they doing?’ ” Disney’s pending purchase of much of 20th Century Fox’s film and TV assets — which has prompted a counterbid by Comcast, parent company of NBCUniversal — is in no small part a reaction to the rise of Netflix. Robert Iger, Disney’s CEO, wants the added scale 20th Century Fox’s assets will bring as he prepares to launch Disney’s own direct-to-consumer streaming service next year. The proposed AT&T–Time Warner merger is similarly designed to help AT&T take on Netflix.

Mysterious though it may seem, Netflix operates by a simple logic, long understood by such tech behemoths as Facebook and Amazon: Growth begets more growth begets more growth. When Netflix adds more content, it lures new subscribers and gets existing ones to watch more hours of Netflix. As they spend more time watching, the company can collect more data on their viewing habits, allowing it to refine its bets about future programming. “More shows, more watching; more watching, more subs; more subs, more revenue; more revenue, more content,” explains Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer. So far, it’s worked spectacularly well: Netflix has gone from around 33 million global subscribers before House of Cards premiered to over 125 million today. Wall Street analysts have predicted Netflix could flirt with 200 million subscribers by the end of 2020; by 2028, one Morgan Stanley analyst has said, 300 million is possible. “The thing that keeps me up at night is scale,” says Sarandos. “It’s a mind-boggling amount of programming that’s being produced here. How do we keep scaling it?”

One answer is cultural. “I’m building a team that’s oriented as saying ‘Yes’ in a town that’s built to say ‘No,’ ” Sarandos says. That’s not just New Age–speak. It’s practical. To stimulate volume, Sarandos and Holland have put in place an extraordinarily decentralized development and production pipeline, one that allows Netflix to operate like ten or 15 semi-independent entertainment companies — whose output all happens to be distributed by a single service.

“Two layers beneath Cindy have full greenlight” authority, Sarandos says. “The only way that we can do what we do at the quality and volume we’re doing it is to give power to my executives to make those choices.” One agent I spoke to told me that translates to at least “five or six” scripted-development executives he can pitch knowing they have the authority to make a project a reality. The heads of Netflix’s other big divisions — international, unscripted, documentary, stand-up comedy — are similarly able to give an idea the go-ahead. “Most of my team have more buying power than anyone has selling power in Hollywood. My direct-report team can greenlight any project without my approval. They can greenlight it against my approval!” says Sarandos.

I ask Sarandos to give me an example of something that’s gotten made over his objections. He cites What Happened, Miss Simone?, the documentary from director Liz Garbus. Lisa Nishimura, Netflix’s VP of original documentaries and comedy, was a big proponent of the film, but Sarandos wasn’t convinced. “We fought about it for six months,” he recalls. “She came in once or twice a week to say why she had to make this movie, and I would tell her that it’s too expensive, and music docs don’t play very big. She’d come back and explain to me why this isn’t a music doc. She was 100 percent right and I was 100 percent wrong. That was an incredible movie, and as soon as it started delivering, I felt like it was a big miss for me to have held it back that long.” Sarandos was similarly iffy on American Vandal, last summer’s comic mockumentary that ended up being a word-of-mouth hit. He kept telling the development team he didn’t think it made sense; they made it anyway, and now Netflix is working on a sequel.

Lower-level executives aren’t completely free agents. “They have some budget constraints,” Sarandos says. “Somebody who typically can greenlight a $3 million show, but has a $10 million show [under consideration] — they’re going to check first. Cindy will bring things to me that seem [riskier] and be like, ‘Hey, this is why we’re going a bit further on the limb with this one.’ ”

“This [idea] that if you have volume, you can’t have quality?” says Holland. “I think it’s convenient for people who are limited by time slots or budget. If you can have one network that has a dozen shows and they’re good quality, why can’t you have the equivalent of four networks with a dozen shows each? Why can’t you have more than that? We have the ability to support a larger number of artists than most people can.”

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While there’s still room to grow domestically, Netflix’s biggest opportunity for scale is overseas. On a Monday morning in April, I attend a meeting run by Erik Barmack, head of the company’s international-originals team, where a couple of wall-mounted video screens show the names of various staff phoning in, as well as a live feed from the Amsterdam office. Netflix has a division devoted to acquiring foreign programs from networks like the BBC, but Barmack oversees the production of original non-English-language shows made for Netflix outside the U.S., including Dark (Germany), Ingobernable (Mexico), and 3% (Brazil). A number of Netflix American-made originals are popular outside the States — “As a percentage of total watchers, as many people watch 13 Reasons Why in India as watch it in the U.S.,” Sarandos tells me — but in order to compete and grow in foreign markets, Netflix believes it needs to offer subscribers stuff made in their own countries, by local artists.

Netflix’s international push is grounded in lessons the company has learned from its expansions into genres once thought to have limited appeal to American audiences. Big numbers in niche categories prompted Lisa Nishimura, VP of original documentaries and comedy, to suggest the company start making content in those areas. “We started to ask, ‘Is it really niche, or have the distribution channels for those categories been historically disaggregated, making it difficult to actually get scale and momentum and word-of-mouth and all those things that help to grow audiences over the course of time?’ ” Nishimura says. “On the documentary side, people pointed to box office to say, ‘See? It’s tiny.’ What I contended was, that was a reflection of how many people watch a documentary on Friday night in that particular moment in time, not the potential of the actual audience size for the documentary if you made it easily available.”

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What Employers And Employees Need To Know Today About Raises – Kathy Caprino

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During my 18-year corporate career in marketing, research and product management, I felt that raises were an important way that the leadership at my organizations demonstrated their recognition for what I contributed in my role and in the enterprise as a whole. Interestingly, the conversations that took place leading up to the actual raise or promotion were at least as impactful as the raise itself.

If I found that my manager communicated effectively both praise and constructive, thoughtful feedback and indicated an understanding of how I personally contributed to the team, those interchanges helped build trust, loyalty and commitment, often as much (if not more) than the additional money in my paycheck. But if the conversations around raises and promotions weren’t clear, honest and supportive, inevitably I’d feel less positive and engaged in my role.

Turns out, this is an extremely common experience. In working now as a career and executive coach with professionals around the world, I’ve heard from thousands of people about their deep challenges in trying to figure out how to ask for a raise, the best way to build a case for it, and how to deal with their disillusionment when they didn’t receive the raise they believed they deserved.

To learn more about how employers and employees should approach handling raises, I was excited to catch up this week with Lydia Frank, who is vice president of content strategy for PayScale, the leading compensation data and software provider, helping employees and employers understand market pay and have more open and mutually beneficial conversations about compensation.

The recent PayScale Raise Anatomy study examines which workers are asking for raises, which workers are receiving them, what is preventing certain workers from asking and how the raise conversation – whether the outcome is positive or negative – can impact employee engagement and retention.

Here’s what Frank shares:

Kathy Caprino: Why did PayScale feel it was important do this research into pay raises now?

Lydia Frank: We’re in an extremely tight job market currently in the U.S. with unemployment under 4%, and oddly, wages have not grown to the degree that we’ve seen historically when similar positive conditions have been in place in terms of the economy and labor market.

And, while 59% of employers are saying that talent retention is a major concern, according to the results of PayScale’s most recent Compensation Best Practices survey, most organizations are not addressing that concern with higher base pay increases. This places more burden on individual employees to proactively manage their own earning potential by asking for raises and making a solid business case for more than the standard 3%.

We also knew from past studies that a good portion of employees don’t proactively ask for raises. We know that wage gaps do exist for women and people of color. So, we wanted to really understand the dynamics at play and provide guidance for both employees and employers to ensure that every worker has equal opportunity to make a fair wage for the work they’re doing.

Caprino: What were the most interesting findings? Were these surprising to you?

Frank: Only 37% of workers have ever asked for a raise from their current employer, which is lower than I’d expect with it being an employee’s job market right now, but of those who did ask, 70% received some type of raise, even if it wasn’t for as much as they requested. It’s a good reminder for employees that the outcome of a raise conversation has a high likelihood of being favorable for you.

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However, not every employee has the same chance for that positive outcome. We saw no difference by gender or race in terms of who says they have asked their current employer for a raise. We did find, though, that people of color are far less likely to receive a raise when they ask for one than their white male peers (women of color are 19% less likely and men of color are 25% less likely).

There was weak evidence showing that white women may be receiving raises less often, but the findings were not statistically significant. We controlled for job title, job level, experience, geography, industry, etc. so we could really isolate the effect that the gender and race of the employee might be having on raise decisions. This runs counter to a common narrative, especially in the tech industry, around the workplace being a meritocracy. This may not feel like a surprising finding to many, but there’s a difference between suspecting something is true and knowing it for sure.

Another key finding in this report is that how the raise conversation unfolds can have a critical impact on employee engagement and retention. It really comes down to how much employees trust the organization and their managers. If an employee is denied a raise, 33% are provided no rationale for the denial.

Of those who do receive some type of rationale, only 23% of employees believe it. If they don’t believe it, their satisfaction with the employer takes a serious hit, and they are far more likely to be seeking a new job in the next six months. What was interesting, however, is that when employees did believe the rationale when denied a raise, they had similar levels of employer satisfaction as employees who received a raise.

They were also much more likely to stay with the organization than employees who received no rationale or didn’t believe the one they were given. For employers, the takeaway here is that you don’t necessarily have to grant every raise request to retain your best employees, but you do have to ensure they understand how compensation decisions are made and feel fairly treated. Treating employees fairly isn’t necessarily the same as them feeling fairly treated, so communication strategy around pay is important to get right as well.

Caprino: Why do you think people of color are more often denied a raise when they ask than white men?

Frank: With more than 160,000 survey respondents for this most recent PayScale study, we can say with certainty that there is clear bias at work in pay raise decisions in the workplace – whether unconscious or overt. Unconscious bias has been something employers have been trying to combat for a while, from hiring practices to organizational culture. I think this is just more evidence that it is difficult to eradicate bias when people are involved. We all have biases, whether we’re aware of them or not.

Caprino: I noticed that women cite being uncomfortable negotiating as a reason for not requesting a raise far more often than men. What can be done to ensure women feel more comfortable initiating pay negotiations?

Frank: Yes, 26% of women cite being uncomfortable negotiating as their reason for not asking for a raise vs. 17% of men, while men are slightly more likely than women to say they didn’t ask because they received a raise before needing to or they’ve always been happy with their compensation.

There are systemic issues at work that chip away at women’s confidence levels. For example, based on research from linguist and Textio founder and CEO Kieran Snyder, not only do women receive more criticism in their performance reviews, it’s less constructive and more personal. In Snyder’s analysis, she found that character critiques – words like “abrasive” – showed up in 71 of the 94 critical reviews received by women and was completely absent from reviews received by men.

There’s also research on unconscious bias showing that women pay a social cost in the workplace for initiating negotiations. Essentially, we as a society are conditioned to have different expectations of how women and men behave, and when our expectations are not met, it creates cognitive dissonance. We don’t like it. In many ways, I think the fact that some women feel uncomfortable initiating negotiations is a learned behavior. If you do it and don’t get a positive outcome, you’re more hesitant to try again. Unfortunately, women are more likely to be met with resistance.

Alternatively, there’s newer research from Boston Consulting Group showing that ambition levels in women are impacted significantly by how progressive their workplace is in terms of gender equity.

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The key is to fix the systemic issues. Employers can ensure they’re digging into workforce analytics to understand the obstacles to advancement women are facing within their organization, whether that applies to pay or promotion. They can also proactively address underrepresentation of women in leadership. Take a look at your board of directors, your executive team and your most senior managers. Are you demonstrating that women are valued members of the organization?

Caprino: What can employers do to ensure every employee is given equitable consideration when requesting a raise?

Frank: When compensation decisions are data driven and there is clarity around what’s required to advance within your pay range, there is less opportunity for pay inequities to emerge. I’d encourage employers to think about setting up a process for how all raise requests are treated. If there are multiple checkpoints and transparency around the process, one person’s bias is less likely to impact the final outcome of an employee’s raise request.

Caprino: Asking for a raise can be scary for most employees. What guidance do you have for anyone thinking about asking for one?

Frank: Again, I’d point to the data point that of those who ask, 70% receive some kind of raise, with 39% getting exactly what they asked for and another 31% receiving a smaller raise than requested.

The key for employees is to be data driven in your approach to the raise conversation as well. Ensure you’ve done your homework and know what the market is paying for roles like yours. PayScale has a free employee compensation survey, for example, at www.payscale.com, where you can receive a precise pay range that takes your background and skills, the talent market you’re competing in and the job role into account.

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13 Self-Defeating Mantras Successful Entrepreneurs MUST – Larry Kim

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Stop sabotaging your own best efforts with negative self-talk. It takes almost no time to find articles and stories that will tell you about the good habits or motivational mantras of people who have achieved success in their chosen field.

But, as interesting and inspirational as those articles can be, they only tell half of the story. Many people will read them and instead of being inspired, come away with a dejected and defeated feeling.

“I’ll never be like those successful people,” they say to themselves. “They’re way more committed than I am.”

That’s negative self-talk. We’re all guilty of it from time to time.

There are at least four different types of negative self-talk: filtering, personalizing, catastrophizing and polarizing.

Habits of Unsuccessful People

Here’s a sample of some of the things we may say to ourselves, created by Visme.

1. “This person is always doing this to me…”

This is two forms of negative self-talk in one sentence. It’s filtering because the speaker has filtered out anything positive about their situation and magnified only the negative. And it’s also polarizing, in that the person sees only bad or good (bad, in this case). There’s no middle ground in this sentence.

2. “Great, now my whole day is ruined…”

Catastrophizing is taking one negative situation and exaggerating its effects on the big picture. It could be something as insignificant as getting your coffee order wrong, and yet you’ll let it bring you down to the point where the expression becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

3. “She/he does it just to upset me…”

This is personalizing, and it means that you’re making something all about yourself (or another specific person) even when it’s really not the case. Remember, most people you encounter really don’t have the time or the desire to go out of their way to target you and make your day miserable.

4. “I totally suck at this…”

Sure, you may run into difficulty with something, but you do yourself no favors when you characterize your situation as something that you “totally suck” at, with no allowance for the possibility that you truly aren’t as bad as you tell yourself.

5. “I’m always in trouble…”

No one is ever “always” in trouble, but thinking that means you will act like it,and acting like it may actually mark you as the type of trouble that no one wants to be around. You can change that!

6. “There’s no way this will work…”

Again, a comment like this leaves room only for negativity. And, why bother to do something if you’re already convinced that it’s doomed to failure? Don’t fall into that mind trap. Whatever it is, give it a try. The outcome may pleasantly surprise you.

7. “No one bothers to tell me anything…”

When you put yourself in the middle of whatever you think is wrong, it becomes easy to identify only with negative situations. Worse, you’re also minimizing your own importance to what’s going on around you. Instead, look for ways to be part of the solution.

8. “It’s impossible…”

We’ve all used this one, right? But few things truly are impossible, unless you convince yourself otherwise, which is exactly what this remark is designed to do. Think instead of why something is or should be not only possible, but probable.

9. “I’ll never be good at anything…”

It’s likely that most of us have been here at one time or another. There’s no allowance for the potential good that can happen. The truth is, we’re all good at something, and many things. Negative self-talk keeps us from focusing on those things. Don’t let it.

10. “They don’t appreciate anything I do…”

The thing you do might well be appreciated more than you know, but for whatever reason, you’re not seeing or hearing it. Rather than convincing yourself that your efforts are for naught, you could ask someone for feedback.They’ll notice and, hopefully, appreciate your initiative.

11. “Other people can do this… I’m such a loser…”

‘If you’re struggling with a particular task, you probably have different strengths that you could focus on instead. And you should consider that other people may not find things as easy as you think. If you find yourself in the same boat with someone else, you could work together to figure out how to help each other succeed.

12. “No one is ever going to want to hire me again…”

A task or a job may not have worked out the way you wanted it to, but it doesn’t have to mean the end of the world. You can take a step back, focus on the things you do well, and start again. No one ever said the road to success was a straight line!

13. “I’m completely alone and no one is ever there for me…”

It may seem like this at times, but you don’t want this to become another self-fulfilling prophecy. A poor attitude really does seem to succeed in keeping us walled off from other people, particularly people who could help us to find a way out of our rut. If you want a friend, you have to be a friend. Reach out. Ask for help if you need it.

Negative self-talk gets in our way, gets into our heads, and distracts us from our goals. It convinces us that there’s no point in trying, because we’ll probably just fail anyway. We’ve all experienced those feelings.

But we forget that failure is an important element of success.

‘It teaches us what works and, equally important, what doesn’t work. It teaches us that nothing worth having will ever come easily.

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How to Pick a Career (That Actually Fits You) – Tim Urban

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Your Life Path So Far

For most of us, childhood is kind of like a river, and we’re kind of like tadpoles.

We didn’t choose the river. We just woke up out of nowhere and found ourselves on some path set for us by our parents, by society, and by circumstances. We’re told the rules of the river and the way we should swim and what our goals should be. Our job isn’t to think about our path—it’s to succeed on the path we’ve been placed on, based on the way success has been defined for us.

For many of us—and I suspect for a large portion of Wait But Why readers—our childhood river then feeds into a pond, called college. We may have some say in which particular pond we landed in, but in the end, most college ponds aren’t really that different from one another.

In the pond, we have a bit more breathing room and some leeway to branch out into more specific interests. We start to ponder, looking out at the pond’s shores—out there where the real world starts and where we’ll be spending the rest of our lives. This usually brings some mixed feelings.

And then, 22 years after waking up in a rushing river, we’re kicked out of the pond and told by the world to go make something of our lives. There are a few problems here. One is that at that moment, you’re kind of skill-less and knowledge-less and a lot of other things-less:

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But before you can even address your general uselessness, there’s an even bigger issue—your pre-set path ended. Kids in school are kind of like employees of a company where someone else is the CEO. But no one is the CEO of your life in the real world, or of your career path—except you. And you’ve spent your whole life becoming a pro student, leaving you with zero experience as the CEO of anything. Up to now, you’ve only been in charge of the micro decisions—”How do I succeed at my job as a student?”—and now you’re suddenly holding the keys to the macro cockpit as well, tasked with answering stressful macro questions like “Who am I?” and “What are the important things in life?” and “What are my options for paths and which one should I choose and how do I even make a path?” When we leave school for the last time, the macro guidance we’ve become so accustomed to is suddenly whisked away from us, leaving us standing there holding our respective dicks, with no idea how to do this.

Then time happens. And we end up on a path. And that path becomes our life’s story.

At the end of our life, when we look back at how things went, we can see our life’s path in its entirety, from an aerial view.

When scientists study people on their deathbed and how they feel about their lives, they usually find that many of them feel some serious regrets. I think a lot of those regrets stem from the fact that most of us aren’t really taught about path-making in our childhoods, and most of us also don’t get much better at path-making as adults, which leaves many people looking back on a life path that didn’t really make sense, given who they are and the world they lived in.

So this is a post about path-making. Let’s take a 30-minute pre-deathbed pause to look down at the path we’re on, and ahead at where that path seems to be going, and make sure it makes sense.

The Cook and the Chef—Revisited

In the past, I’ve written about the critical distinction between “reasoning from first principles” and “reasoning by analogy”—or what I called being a “chef” vs. being a “cook.” Since writing the post, I notice this distinction everywhere, and I’ve thought about it roughly 2 million times in my own life.

The idea is that reasoning from first principles is reasoning like a scientist. You take core facts and observations and use them to puzzle together a conclusion, kind of like a chef playing around with raw ingredients to try to make them into something good. By doing this puzzling, a chef eventually writes a new recipe. The other kind of reasoning—reasoning by analogy—happens when you look at the way things are already done and you essentially copy it, with maybe a little personal tweak here and there—kind of like a cook following an already written recipe.

A pure verbatim recipe-copying cook and a pure independently inventive chef are the two extreme ends of what is, of course, a spectrum. But for any particular part of your life that involves reasoning and decision making, wherever you happen to be on the spectrum, your reasoning process can usually be boiled down to fundamentally chef-like or fundamentally cook-like. Creating vs. copying. Originality vs. conformity.

Being a chef takes a tremendous amount of time and energy—which makes sense, because you’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, you’re trying to invent it for the first time. Puzzling your way to a conclusion feels like navigating a mysterious forest while blindfolded and always involves a whole lot of failure, in the form of trial and error. Being a cook is far easier and more straightforward and less icky. In most situations, being a chef is a terrible waste of time, and comes with a high opportunity cost, since time on Earth is immensely scarce. Right now, I’m wearing J. Crew jeans and a plain t-shirt and a hoodie and Allbirds shoes, because I’m trying to conform. Throughout my life, I’ve looked around at people who seem kind of like me and I’ve bought a bunch of clothes that look like what they wear. And this makes sense—because clothes aren’t important to me, and they’re not how I choose to express my individuality. So in my case, fashion is a perfect part of life to use a reasoning shortcut and be a cook.

But then there are those parts of life that are really really deeply important—like where you choose to live, or the kinds of friends you choose to make, or whether you want to get married and to whom, or whether you want to have kids and how you want to raise them, or how you set your lifestyle priorities.

Career-path-carving is definitely one of those really really deeply important things. Let’s spell out the obvious reasons why:

Time. For most of us, a career (including ancillary career time, like time spent commuting and thinking about your work) will eat up somewhere between 50,000 and 150,000 hours. At the moment, a long human life runs at about 750,000 hours. When you subtract childhood (~175,000 hours) and the portion of your adult life you’ll spend sleeping, eating, exercising, and otherwise taking care of the human pet you live in, along with errands and general life upkeep (~325,000 hours), you’re left with 250,000 “meaningful adult hours.” So a typical career will take up somewhere between 20% and 60% of your meaningful adult time—not something to be a cook about.

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Quality of Life. Your career has a major effect on all the non-career hours as well. For those of us not already wealthy through past earnings, marriage, or inheritance, a career doubles as our means of support. The particulars of your career also often play a big role in determining where you live, how flexible your life is, the kinds of things you’re able to do in your free time, and sometimes even in who you end up marrying.

Impact. On top of your career being the way you spend much of your time and the means of support for the rest of your time, your career triples as your primary mode of impact-making. Every human life touches thousands of other lives in thousands of different ways, and all of those lives you alter then go on to touch thousands of lives of their own. We can’t test this, but I’m pretty sure that you can select any 80-year-old alive today, go back in time 80 years, find them as an infant, throw the infant in the trash, and then come back to the present day and find a countless number of things changed. All lives make a large impact on the world and on the future—but the kind of impact you end up making is largely within your control, depending on the values you live by and the places you direct your energy. Whatever shape your career path ends up taking, the world will be altered by it.

Identity. In our childhoods, people ask us about our career plans by asking us what we want to be when we grow up. When we grow up, we tell people about our careers by telling them what we are. We don’t say, “I practice law”—we say, “I am a lawyer.” This is probably an unhealthy way to think about careers, but the way many societies are right now, a person’s career quadruples as the person’s primary identity. Which is kind of a big thing.

So yeah—your career path isn’t like my shitty sweatshirt. It’s really really deeply important, putting it squarely in “Definitely absolutely make sure to be a chef about it” territory.

Your Career Map

Which brings us to you. I don’t know exactly what your deal is. But there’s a good chance you’re somewhere in one of the blue regions—

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which means your career path is a work in progress. Whether you’re yet to start your career or well into it, somewhere in the back of your mind (or maybe in the very front of it) is a “Career Plans” map.

We can group map holders into three broad categories—each of which is well-represented in the river, in the pond, standing on the shore, and at every stage of adult life. One group of people will look at the map and see a big, stressful question mark.

These are people who feel indecisive about their career path. They’ve been told to follow their passion, but they don’t feel especially passionate about anything. They’ve been told to let their strengths guide them, but they’re not sure what they’re best at. They may have felt they had answers in the past, but they’ve changed and they’re no longer sure who they are or where they’re going.

Other people will see a nice clear arrow representing a direction they feel confident is right—but find their legs walking in a different direction. They’re living with one of the most common sources of human misery, a career path they know in their heart is wrong.

Now that you’ve taken a fresh look at your Career Plans map, along with whatever arrow may or may not be on it, put it down and out of sight. We’ll come back to it at the end of the post. It’s time now for a deep dive—let’s think about this from scratch. From first principles.

In the cook-chef post, I designed a simple framework for how a chef makes major career choices. At its core is a simple Venn diagram. The first part of the diagram is the Want Box, which contains all the careers you find desirable.

he overlapping area contains your optimal career path choices—the set of arrows you should consider drawing on your Career Map. We can call it the Option Pool.

This is straightforward enough. But actually filling in these boxes accurately is way harder than it looks. For the diagram to work, it has to be as close to the truth as possible, and to get there, we have to lift up the hood of our subconscious and head down. Let’s start with the Want Box.

Deep Analysis, Part 1: Your Want Box

The hard thing about the Want Box is that you want a bunch of different things—or, rather, there are a bunch of different sides of you, and each of them wants—and fears—its own stuff. And since some motivations have conflicting interests with others, you cannot, by definition, have everything you want. Going for one thing you want means, by definition, not going for others, and sometimes, it’ll specifically mean going directly against others. The Want Box is a game of compromise.

The Yearning Octopus

To do a proper Want Box audit, you need to think about what you yearn for in a career and then unpack the shit out of it. Luckily, we have someone here who can help us. The Yearning Octopus.

We each have our own personal Yearning Octopus5 in our heads. The particulars of each person’s Yearning Octopus will vary, but people also aren’t all that different from each other, and I bet many of us feel very similar yearnings and fears (especially given that I find that Wait But Why readers tend to have a lot in common).

The first thing to think about is that there are totally distinct yearning worlds—each living on one tentacle. These tentacles often do not get along with each other.

It gets worse. Each tentacle is made up of a bunch of different individual yearnings and their accompanying fears—and these often massively conflict with each other too.

Let’s take a closer look at each tentacle to see what’s going on.

The Personal Yearnings tentacle is probably the hardest one to generalize here—it’s pretty particular to each of us. It’s a reflection of our specific personality and our values, and it bears the burden of probably the most complex and challenging human need: fulfillment. It’s also in the shit dealing with not only our current selves, but a bunch of our past selves too. The dreams of 7-year-old you and the idealized identity of 12-year-old you and the secret hopes of 17-year-old you and the evolving passions of your current self are all somewhere on the personal tentacle, each throwing their own little fit about getting what they want, and each fully ready to make you feel horrible about yourself with their disappointment and disgust if you fail them. On top of that, your fear of death sometimes emerges on the personal tentacle, all needy about you leaving your mark and achieving greatness and all that. The personal tentacle is why you don’t find very many billionaires content to spend the rest of their life sipping cocktails on the beach—it’s a highly needy tentacle.

And yet, the personal tentacle is also one that often ends up somewhat neglected. Because in many cases, it’s the ickiest set of yearnings to really go for; because the fears of this tentacle aren’t scary in an immediate way—they creep in out of the background over time; and because the personal tentacle is always at risk of getting bowled over early in your career by the powerful animal emotions of the other tentacles. This neglect can leave a person with major regrets later on once the dust settles. An unfulfilled Personal Yearnings tentacle is often the explanation, for example, behind a very successful, very unhappy person—who may believe they got successful in the wrong field.

The Social Yearnings tentacle is probably our most primitive, animal side, with its core drive stemming back to our tribal evolutionary past. On the tentacle are a number of odd creatures.

As we’ve discussed before on this blog, we all have a Social Survival Mammoth living in our heads who’s earth-shatteringly obsessed with what other people think of us. This means he craves acceptance and inclusion and being well-liked, while likewise being petrified of embarrassment, negative judgment, and disapproval. He really really really wants to be in the in-group and he really really really doesn’t want to be in the outgroup. He’s quite cute though.

Then there’s your ego, who’s a similar character but even more needy. Your ego doesn’t just want to be accepted; it wants to be admired, desired, and fawned upon—ideally, on a mass scale. More upsetting to it than being disliked is being ignored. It wants to be relevant and important and widely known.

There are other characters milling about as well. Somewhere else on the social tentacle is a little judge with a little gavel who gets very butthurt if it thinks people aren’t judging you fairly—if you’re not appropriately appreciated. It’s very important to the judge that people are aware of exactly how smart and talented you think you are. The judge is also big on holding grudges—which is the reason a lot of people are driven more than anything by a desire to show that person or those people who never believed in them.

Finally, some of us may find a loving little dog on our social tentacle who wants more than anything in the world to please its owner, and who just cannot bear the thought of disappointing them. The one problem with this adorable creature is that its owner isn’t you. It’s a person with so much psychological power over you that, if you’re not careful, you may dedicate your whole career to trying to please them and make them proud. (It’s probably a parent.)

The Lifestyle Yearnings tentacle mostly just wants Tuesday to be a good day. But like, a really pleasant, enjoyable day—with plenty of free time and self-care and relaxation and luxuries.

It’s also concerned with your life in the big picture being as great as possible—as far as your lifestyle tentacle is concerned, you should be able to do what you want to do in life, when and how you want to do it, with the people you like most. Life should be full of fun times and rich experiences, but it should also roll by smoothly, without too much hard work and as few bumps in the road as possible.

The issue is, even if you place a high priority on your lifestyle yearnings, it’s pretty difficult to keep the whole tentacle happy at the same time. The part of the tentacle that just wants to sit around and relax will hold you back from sweating to build the kind of career that offers long-term flexibility and the kind of wealth that can make life luxurious and cushy and full of toys. The part of the tentacle that only feels comfortable when the future feels predictable will reject the exact kinds of paths that may generate the long-term freedom another part of the tentacle longs for. The side of you that wants a stress-free life doesn’t get along very well with the side of you that thirsts to be hang gliding off a cliff in Namibia like Richard Branson.

The Moral Yearnings tentacle thinks the rest of the tentacles of your Yearning Octopus are a real pack of dicks—each one more self-involved and self-indulgent than the next. The parts of you on the moral tentacle look around and see a big world that needs so much fixing; they see billions of people no less worthy than you of a good life who just happened to be born into inferior circumstances; they see an uncertain future ahead that hangs in the balance between utopia and dystopia for life on Earth—a future we can actually push in the right direction if we could only get our other tentacles out of our way. While the other tentacles fantasize about what you would do with your life if you had a billion dollars in the bank, the moral tentacle fantasizes about the kind of impact you could make if you had a billion dollars to deploy.

Needless to say, the other tentacles of your Yearning Octopus find the moral tentacle to be insufferable. They also can’t begin to understand philanthropy for philanthropy’s sake—they think, “Other people aren’t me, so why would I spend my time and energy working to help them?”—but they can understand philanthropy for their own motive’s sake. While the moral and lifestyle tentacles tend to be in direct conflict, others may sometimes find common ground—the social tentacle can get very into philanthropy if it’ll happen to win you respect and admiration from a highly regarded social group, and some people’s personal tentacle may find the meaning or self-worth it so craves in a philanthropic endeavor.

That’s why, when you do something philanthropic—or anything altruistic, really—there are a few separate things going on in your head. The part of you determined to get proper public credit for the deed lives on your social tentacle; the part of you that thinks “God I’m a good person” lives on your personal tentacle; and the part of you that really loves seeing the person or group you helped be better off lives on your moral tentacle. Likewise, not doing anything for others can hurt you on multiple tentacles—the moral tentacle because it feels guilty and sad, the social tentacle because this may cause others to judge you as a selfish or greedy person, and the personal tentacle because it may lower your self-esteem.

Your Practical Yearnings tentacle thinks all of this is fine and great—but it would also like to point out that it’s March 31st and your rent is due tomorrow, and the funny thing about that is that it logged into your bank account and saw that the number of dollars in it is actually less than the number of dollars that your landlord will need from you sometime in the next 34 hours. And yeah it knows that you deposited that check on Thursday and that it’s supposed to clear tomorrow morning, but your practical tentacle also could have sworn that just last month, all the tentacles promised that they’d make some sacrifices in order to build up at least a little bank account cushion so that simply paying the rent wouldn’t have to be really fucking stressful every month. Your practical tentacle also can’t help but notice that your social tentacle offered to buy a round of drinks for all nine people you went to the bar with last Saturday so those people would think of you as a classy, generous person, and that your lifestyle tentacle chose to rent what sure seems like a pretty nice-ass apartment for someone now living check to check, and that the updates have gotten real quiet from your friend about that bagel delivery service he started six months ago that your moral tentacle happily invested $2,500 in to help it get off the ground, and oh also that meanwhile your personal tentacle has everyone sweating their dick off working at two comedy-writing internships simultaneously that somehow manage to bring in less money combined than you made dressing up as an Egyptian enchantress to wait tables at Jekyll & Hyde sophomore year of college.

At its basic level, your practical tentacle wants to make sure you can eat food and wear clothes and buy the medicine you need and not live outside. It doesn’t really care how these things happen—it just wants them to happen. But then everyone else on the octopus makes your practical tentacle’s life super hard by being fucky about things. Every time your income goes up, your lifestyle tentacle decides to raise the bar on what it wants and expects, leaving your practical tentacle continually in the shit trying to cover it all so you don’t have to run up your credit card debt. Your personal tentacle has all of these weird needs that take up a lot of time and more often than not aren’t exactly big money-makers. And while your practical tentacle would be totally down to just ask your rich uncle for money to help out, your social tentacle outlawed asking others for money because “it’s not a good look,” with your personal tentacle chiming in that “yeah, we’re better than that.”

So that’s the situation. You’ve got this Yearning Octopus in your head with five tentacles (or however many yours has), each with their own agenda, that often conflict with each other. Then there are the distinct individual yearnings on each tentacle, often in conflict amongst themselves. And if that weren’t enough, you sometimes have furious internal conflict inside a single yearning. Like when your desire to pursue your passion can’t figure out what it’s most passionate about.

Or when you want so badly to be respected, but then you remember that a career that wins the undying respect of one segment of society will always receive shrugs from other segments and even contemptuous eye rolls from other segments still.

Or when you decide to satisfy your urge to help others, before realizing that the part of you that wants to dedicate your life to helping to mitigate humanity’s greatest existential risks has palpable disdain for the part of you that would rather make a tangible positive impact on your local community—while the part of you that can’t stand the thought of the millions of today’s humans without access to clean water finds both of those other yearnings to be pretty cold and heartless.

So yeah, your Yearning Octopus is complicated. And no human in history has ever satisfied their entire octopus—that’s why you’ll never find it fully smiling. Human yearning is a game of choices and sacrifices and compromise.

Dissecting the Octopus

With that in mind, let’s return to your Want Box. When we think about our career goals and fears and hopes and dreams, our consciousness is just accessing the net output of the Yearning Octopus—which is usually made up of its loudest voices. Only by digging into our mind’s subconscious can we see what’s really going on.6

The cool thing is that we all have the ability to do that. The stuff in your subconscious is like stuff in the basement of a house. It’s not off-limits to us—it’s just in the basement. We can go look at it anytime—we just have to A) remember that the house has a basement, and B) actually spend the time and energy to go down there, even though going down there might suck.

So let’s head to the basement of your mind to look for the octopus. Unless you’re one of those people who’s really practiced at analyzing your subconscious, it might be dark in the basement, making it hard to see your octopus. The way to start turning the lights on is by identifying what your conscious mind currently knows about your yearnings and fears, and then unpacking it.

Like if there’s a certain career path that sounds fantastic to you, unpack that. Which tentacles in particular are yearning for that career—and which specific parts of those tentacles?

If you’re not currently working towards that career you supposedly yearn for, try to figure out why not. If you think it’s because you’re afraid of failing, unpack that. Fear of failure can emerge from any of the tentacles, so that’s not a specific enough analysis. You want to find the specific source of the fear. Is it a social tentacle fear of embarrassment, or of being judged by others as not that smart, or of appearing to be not that successful to your romantic interests? Is it a personal tentacle fear of damaging your own self-image—of confirming a suspicion about yourself that haunts you? Is it a lifestyle tentacle fear of having to downgrade your living situation, or of bringing stress and instability into a currently predictable life? Or maybe that fear of a living situation downgrade isn’t actually emerging from your lifestyle tentacle, but more so from your social tentacle—in other words, is it possible you’re indifferent about the apartment change itself but super concerned about the message a lifestyle downgrade sends to your friends and family? Or are there financial commitments you simply cannot back out of at the moment, and your practical tentacle is in a genuine panic about how you’ll make ends meet should this career switch take longer than expected to work out, or not work out at all? Or are a few of these combining together to generate your fear of making the leap?

Perhaps you don’t really think it’s fear of failure that’s stopping you, but something else. Maybe it’s a dread of the change in identity—both internally and externally—that inevitably accompanies a career move like this. Maybe it’s the heavy weight of inertia—an intense resistance to change—that seems to exist in and of itself and overpowers all of your other yearnings. In either case, you’d want to unpack the feeling and ask yourself exactly which tentacles are so opposed to an identity shift, or so driven by inertia.

Maybe you pine to be rich. You fantasize about a life where you make $1.2 million a year, and you feel a tremendous drive to make it happen. All five tentacles can feel a desire for wealth under certain circumstances, each for their own reasons. Unpack it.

As you unpack an inner drive to make money, maybe you discover that at its core, the drive is more for a sense of security than for vast wealth. That can be unpacked too. A yearning for security at its simplest is just your practical tentacle doing what your practical tentacle does. But maybe it’s not actually basic security you want as much as a guarantee of a certain level of fanciness demanded by your lifestyle or social tentacle. Or perhaps what you really want is a level of security so over-the-top secure it can no longer be called a security yearning—instead, it may be an impulse by the emotional well-being section of your lifestyle tentacle to alleviate a compulsive financial stress you were raised to forever feel, almost regardless of your actual financial situation.

The answers to all of these questions lie somewhere on the tentacles of your Yearning Octopus. And by asking questions like these and digging deep enough to identify the true roots of your various yearnings, you start to turn on the basement light and acquaint yourself with your octopus in all its complexity.

You’ll also come to understand which of your inner yearnings seem to speak the loudest in your mind and carry the most pull in your decision-making processes. Pretty quickly, a yearning hierarchy will begin to reveal itself. You’ll identify yearnings that speak loudly and get their way; yearnings that cry at the top of their lungs but get continually elbowed out of the way by higher-prioritized parts of the octopus; yearnings that seem resigned to their low-status positions in the hierarchy.

Searching for Imposters

We’re making good progress—but we’re just getting started. Once you have a reasonably clear picture of your Yearning Octopus, you can start doing the real work—work that takes place another level down in your subconscious, in the basement of the basement. Here, you can set up a little interrogation room and one by one, bring each yearning down into it for a cross-examination.

You’ll start by asking each yearning: how did you end up here, and why are you the way you are? Desires, beliefs, values, and fears don’t materialize out of nowhere. They’re either developed over time by our internal consciousness as observations and life experience pour in, or they’re implanted in us from the outside, by someone else. In other words, they’re the product of either you the chef or you the cook.

So the goal here in your creepy interrogation room is to tug on the faces of each of your yearnings to find out if it’s authentically you, or if it’s someone else disguised as you.

You can pull on a yearning’s face by playing the Why Game. You’ll ask your initial Why—Why is this something I want?—and get to some kind of Because. Then you’ll keep going. Why did that particular Because lead you to want what you now want? And when did that particular Because gain so much gravity with you? You’ll get to a deeper Because behind the Because. And if you continue with this, you’ll usually discover one of three things:

1) You’ll trace the Why back to its origin and reveal a long chain of authentic evolution that developed through deep independent thought. You’ll pull on their face and confirm that the skin is real.

2) You’ll trace the Why back to an original Because that someone else installed in you—I guess the only reason I actually have this value is because my mom kind of forced it on me—and you realize that you never really thought to consider whether you actually independently agree with it. You never stopped to ask yourself whether your own accumulated wisdom actually justifies the level of conviction you feel about that core belief. In a case like this, the yearning is revealed to be an imposter pretending to be an authentic yearning of yours. You pull on its face and it’s a mask that comes off, exposing the yearning’s original installer underneath.

3) You’ll trace the Why back and back and get kind of lost in a haze of “I guess I just know this because it’s true!” This could be an authentic you thing, or just another version of #2, in an instance where you can’t recall the moment this feeling was installed in you. Somewhere deep in you, you’ll have a hunch about which it is.

In a #1 scenario, you can be proud that you developed that part of you like a chef. It’s an authentic and hard-earned feeling or value.

In a #2 or maybe #3 scenario, you’ve discovered that you’ve been duped. You’ve let someone else sneak onto your Yearning Octopus while you weren’t looking. When it comes to that particular belief of yours, you’re a cook following someone else’s recipe—an obedient robot reciting desires and fears out of someone else’s brain.

There’s a chance you’re an unusually wise person whose examination reveals an octopus developed mostly by you and kept readily up to date. More likely, you’re like me and most of my friends—your interrogation room reveals some definite imposters, or at least a lot of ambiguity. Like, underneath one mask, you’ll find your mom.

You’ll pull off others to reveal the values and judgments of broader conventional wisdom, or the viewpoints of your more immediate community, or what’s considered cool by the dominant culture of your generation or the immediate culture within your closest group of friends.

Sometimes you’ll get to the end of a Why-Because pathway only to find the philosophy in a famous novel, or something a celebrity hero of yours once said in an interview, or a strong opinion one of your professors always repeated.

You might even find that some of your yearnings and fears were written by you…when you were seven years old. Like a childhood dream that was etched into the back of your consciousness as the thing you believe you really want, when you’re being truly honest.

The interrogation room probably won’t be that fun a time. But it’s time well spent—because you’re not your 7-year-old self, just like you’re not your parents or your friends or your generation or your society or your heroes or your past decisions or your recent circumstances. You’re Current-Age You—the only person, and the only version of yourself, who is actually qualified to want and not want the things you want and don’t want.

To be clear, this isn’t to say that it’s wrong to live by the words of a wise parent or a famous philosopher or friends you respect or the convictions of a younger you. Humble people are by definition influence-able—influences are an important and inevitable part of who each of us is. The key distinction is this:

Do you treat the words of your external influences as information, held and considered by an authentic inner you, that you’ve carefully decided to embrace? Or are your influences themselves actually in your brain, masquerading as inner you?

Do you want the same thing someone else you know wants because you heard them talk about it, you thought about it alongside your own life experience, and you eventually decided that, for now, you agree? Or because you heard someone talk about what they want or fear, and you thought, “I don’t know shit and that person does, so if they say X is true, I’m sure they’re right”—and then you etched those ideas into your mind, never again feeling the need to question them?

The former is what chefs do. The latter is what you do when you’re being an obedient robot. And a robot is what you become when at some point you get the idea in your head that someone else is more qualified to be you than you are.

The good news is that all humans make this mistake—and you can fix it. Just like your subconscious is right there for viewing if you want to view it—it’s also there for changing and updating and rewriting. It’s your head—you’re allowed to do with it what you want.

So it’s time for some evictions. Masked imposters have to go. Even mom and dad.

At the end of this, your octopus may look a little barren, leaving you feeling a little like you don’t know who you even are anymore. We usually think of this as a bad feeling, or even an existential crisis, but it actually means you’re doing better than most people.

The drop from naive over-confidence to wise, realistic humility never feels good, but pausing the roller coaster while it’s still on that first cliff and avoiding the pain—which turns out to be a lot of people’s move—isn’t a great strategy. Wisdom isn’t correlated with knowledge, it’s correlated with being in touch with reality—it’s not how far to the right you are on the graph, it’s how close you are to the orange line. Wisdom hurts at first, but it’s the only place where actual growth happens. The irony is that the cliff-pausers of the world like to make the wiser, braver valley-dwellers or continual-climbers feel bad about themselves—because they fundamentally don’t get how knowing yourself works. They haven’t reached that stage yet.

Getting to know your real self is super hard and never complete. But if you’ve tumbled off the cliff, you’ve gone through a key rite of passage and progress is now possible. As you climb up the orange line, you’ll slowly but surely begin to repopulate your Yearning Octopus with your real self.

At the moment, it probably won’t be obvious what those missing yearnings of yours are exactly—because they’re on an even deeper floor of your subconscious. They’re in the basement of the basement of the basement—in a place called Denial Prison.

Denial Prison

Our brain’s Denial Prison is a place most of us don’t even know is there—it’s where we put the parts of us we repress and deny.

The authentic yearnings of ours that we’re in touch with—i.e. those that proved to be authentic during interrogation—were easy parts of our true selves to find in our subconscious, lying in plain sight, right below the surface of our consciousness. Even our conscious mind knows these yearnings well, because they frequently make their way upstairs into our thoughts. These are the parts of us we have a healthy relationship with.

But then there are the parts of you that weren’t living on your octopus where they’re supposed to be—instead, you found an imposter in their place. These lost parts of you are often incredibly hard to access, because they’ve been living deep in your subconscious, on a floor so low it’s almost not there at all. Almost.

Some parts of us are banished down on basement #3 because they’re extraordinarily painful for us to acknowledge or think about. Sometimes new parts of us are born only to be immediately locked up in prison as part of a denial of our own evolution—i.e. out of stubbornness. But there are other times when a part of us is in Denial Prison because someone else locked it up down there. In the case of your yearnings, some of them will have been put there by whatever masked intruder had been taking its place. If dad has successfully convinced you that you care deeply about having a prestigious career, he probably has also convinced you that the part of you that, deep down, really wants to be a carpenter isn’t really you and isn’t what you really want. At some point during your childhood, he threw your passion for carpentry into a dark, dank Denial Prison cell.

So let’s gather your courage and head down to the basement of the basement of the basement of your mind and see what we find.

You may pass some unpleasant characters.

Leave them for another time—right now, search for locked-away career-related yearnings. Maybe you’ll find a repressed passion to teach. Or a desire to be famous that your particular tribe has shamed you out of. Or a deep love of long blocks of free, open leisure time that your hornier, greedier teenage self kicked downstairs in favor of a raging ambition.

There will be certain parts of your authentic self you won’t be able to uncover in Denial Prison—it’s pretty dark down there. But be patient—now that you’ve done your audit and cleared space for them on your octopus, they may begin to emerge.

Priority Rankings

The other part of our Yearning Octopus audit will address the hierarchy of your yearnings. Almost as important as the yearnings themselves is the priority they’re given. The hierarchy is easy to see because it’s revealed in your actions. You may like to think a desire to do something bold is high up on your hierarchy, but if you’re not currently working on something bold, it reveals that however important boldness is to you, something else—some source of fear or inertia in you—is currently being prioritized above it.

It’s important to remember that a ranking of yearnings is also a ranking of fears. The octopus contains anything that could make you want or not want to pursue a certain career, and the reverse side of each yearning is its accompanying fear of the opposite. The reverse side of your yearning to be admired is a fear of embarrassment. If you flip over your desire for self-actualization, you’ll see a fear of underachieving. The other half of your craving of self-esteem is a fear of feeling shame. If your actions don’t seem to match what you believe is the internal hierarchy of your yearnings, usually it’s because you’re forgetting to think about the role your fears are playing. What looks like a determined drive for success, for example, might actually be someone running away from a negative self-image or trying to escape feelings like envy or under-appreciation. If your actions seem beholden to yearnings that you don’t believe you actually care that much about, you’re probably not looking closely enough at your fears.

With both yearnings and fears in mind, think about what your internal hierarchy might look like, and return that same important question: “Who made this order? Was it really me?”

For example, we’re often told to “follow our passion”—this is society saying “put your passion yearnings at the top of your hierarchy.” That’s a very specific instruction. Maybe that’s the right thing for you, but it also very well might not be. It’s something you need to independently evaluate.

To get this right, let’s try to do a fresh ranking, from first principles, based on who we really are, how we’ve evolved over time, and what really matters to us most, right now.

This isn’t about which yearnings or fears have the loudest voices or which fears are most palpable—if it were, you’d be letting your impulses take the wheel of your life. The person doing the ranking is you—the little center of consciousness reading this post who can observe your octopus and look at it objectively. This involves another kind of compromise. On one side, you’ll try to tap into all the wisdom you’ve accumulated throughout your life and make active decisions about values—about what you really believe is important. On the other side, it’s about self-acceptance and self-compassion. Sometimes you’ll have strong undeniable yearnings that you’re not super proud of—whether you like it or not, those are part of you, and when you neglect them, they may cause a continual stink and make you miserable. Creating your yearning hierarchy is a give and take between what’s important and what’s you. It’s probably a good goal to give higher priority to your more noble qualities, but it’s okay to throw a bone to some of your not-so-noble sides as well—depending on where you decide to draw the line. There’s a wisdom to knowing when to accept your not-so-noble side and when to reject it entirely.

To get all of this in order, we want a good system. You can play around with what works for you—I like the idea of a shelf:

This divides things into five categories. The absolutely highest priority inner drives get to go in the extra special non-negotiable bowl. The NN bowl is for yearnings so important to you that you want to essentially guarantee that they’ll happen—at the expense of all other yearnings, if necessary. This is why so many of history’s legends were famously single-minded—they had a very intense NN bowl yearning and it led them to world fame, often at the expense of relationships, balance, and health. The bowl is small because it should be used very sparingly—if at all. Like maybe only one thing gets it. Or maybe two or three. Too many things in the NN bowl cancels out its power, making that the same as having nothing in the bowl at all.

Your group of top shelf yearnings is mostly what will drive your career choices—but top shelf placement should also be doled out sparingly (that’s why it’s not a very large shelf). Shelf placement is as much about de-prioritizing as it is about prioritizing. You’re not just choosing which parts of you are the most important to make you happy, you’re choosing which parts of you to intentionally leave wanting or even directly opposed. No matter what your hierarchy looks like, some yearnings will be left feeling very unhappy and some fears will feel like they’re being continually assaulted. This is inevitable.

That’s why most yearnings should be on the middle shelf, the bottom shelf, or the trash can. The middle shelf is good for those not-so-noble qualities in you that you decide to accept. They deserve some of your attention. And they’ll often demand it—core parts of you won’t go quietly into non-prioritization, and they sometimes can really ruin your life if they’re neglected.

Most of the rest will end up on the bottom shelf. Putting a part of you on the bottom shelf is telling it, “I know you want these things, but for now, I’ve decided other things are more important. I promise to revisit you a little later, after I’ve gotten some more information, and if I change my mind, you’ll get a shelf upgrade then.” The best way to think of the bottom shelf is this: the more yearnings you can convince to accept a bottom shelf rating, the better the chances your top shelf and NN bowl yearnings have of getting what they want. Likewise, the fewer yearnings you put on the top shelf, the more likely those on the top shelf will be to thrive. Your time and energy are severely limited, so this is a zero-sum compromise. The amateur mistake is to be too liberal with the NN bowl and top shelf and too sparing with the large bottom shelf.

Then there’s the trash can, for the drives and fears you flat-out reject—those parts of you that fundamentally violate the person your wisest self wants to be. A good amount of inner conflict emerges from people’s trash cans, and trash can control is a major component of integrity and inner strength. But like the rest of your hierarchy decisions, your criteria for what qualifies as trash should be derived from your own deep thought, not from what others tell you is and is not trash.

As you go through this difficult prioritizing process—inevitably, at times, against the screaming protests of unhappily deprioritized yearnings—remember that you’re the only wise one in the room. Yearnings and fears are impatient and bad at seeing the big picture. Even a seemingly high-minded yearning, like those on the moral tentacle, can’t understand the complete picture in the way you can. Many of the people who have done wonders to make the world better got there on a path that started with selfish motives like wealth or personal fulfillment—motives their moral tentacle probably hated at first. The octopus won’t be the wise adult in the room—that’s your job.

Finally, as we’ll discuss more later, this is not a permanent decision. It’s the opposite—it’s a rough draft written in light pencil. It’s a hypothesis that you’ll be able to test and then revise based on how actually living this hierarchy feels in practice.

Your Want Box is ready to go. Now let’s turn to your Reality Box.

Deep Analysis, Part 2: Your Reality Box

The Want Box deals with what you find desirable. The Reality Box deals with what’s possible.

But when we examined the Want Box, it became clear that it’s not necessarily based on what you actually want—it’s based on what you think you want—what you’re in the habit of wanting.

The Reality Box is the same deal. It doesn’t show you reality, it shows your best crack at what reality might be—your perception of reality.

The goal of self-reflection is to bring both of these boxes as close to accuracy as possible. We want our perceived yearnings to be a true reflection of our authentic inner selves, and we want our beliefs about what’s possible to come close to mirroring what’s actually possible. For our Want Box audit, we looked under the hood of the Want Box and found its settings—your yearnings and fears. When we open the hood of your Reality Box, we see a group of beliefs.

When it comes to your career possibilities, you’re dealing with two sets of beliefs: beliefs about the world and beliefs about your own potential. For a career option to qualify for your Reality Box, your potential in that career area has to measure up to the objective difficulty of achieving success in that area.

Us being us, we’re probably pretty bad at assessing either side of this comparison accurately.

I don’t know how you think about career path difficulty, but in my experience, people often see it like this:

There are traditional careers—stuff like medicine or law or teaching or a corporate ladder, etc.—and these careers have predictable, set paths. If you’re decently smart and work hard, you’ll end up in a successful, stable situation.

Then there are less traditional careers—the arts, entrepreneurship, non-profit work, politics, etc.—and these are wildcards. Success and stability are no guarantee, and to reach great heights, it’s either a lottery ticket game of luck, a genetic lottery game of innate talent, or some combination of the two.

These are perfectly reasonable assumptions—if you live in 1952. Your beliefs about the world of careers and about what it takes to succeed need just as thorough an unmasking as your yearnings did—and I suspect that behind most of them, you’ll find big, fat conventional wisdom. You might first pull off the mask of one of your beliefs and find your parents or your friends or your college career coach—but if you keep going and pull on their face, you’ll usually see that it’s also a mask, and conventional wisdom is there hiding behind it. A general conception, a common opinion, an oft-cited statistic—none of which have actually been verified by you, but all of which are treated as gospel by society.

Today’s world goes through dramatic changes each decade, which usually leaves conventional wisdom wildly outdated. But we’re wired for a more ancient world where almost nothing ever changed, so we all reason like cooks and treat conventional wisdom as equivalent to truth.

These problems then extend to how we view our own potential. When you overrate the impact of innate talent on how people fare in their careers—and you also conflate talent and skill level—it won’t leave you feeling great about your chances at many paths. Because we better understand the trajectory of traditional careers, we’re less prone to do this with them. A first-year medical student sees an experienced surgeon at work and thinks, “I can get there one day—just need to do about 20 years of hard work.” But when a young artist or entrepreneur or software engineer looks at the equivalent of the experienced surgeon in their field, they’re more likely to think, “Wow look how talented they are—I’m nowhere near that good,” and get all hopeless. There’s also the other common notion, that people who thrive in non-traditional careers had some “big break” at some point, like hitting a lucky scratch card jackpot—and I don’t know many people who want to risk their careers on scratch cards.

These are only a few examples of the slew of delusions and misconceptions we tend to have about how great careers happen. So let’s brainstorm how it might actually work:

The Career Landscape

I have no idea, mostly. And I think most people have no idea. Things are just changing too quickly.

But that’s kind of the key point. If you can figure out how to get a reasonably accurate picture of the real career landscape out there, you have a massive edge over everyone else, most of whom will be using conventional wisdom as their instruction booklet.

First, there’s the broad landscape—the set of all the jobs someone could possibly have in today’s society. My current job description is: “Writer of 8,000-to-40,000-word articles about a bunch of different topics, with cursing and stick figures, on a remarkably sporadic schedule.” Think conventional wisdom has any job openings for me with that description? The landscape today is made up of thousands of options—some 40 years old, some made possible only three months ago because of the advent of some new technology—and the way things work today, if there’s an option you want that’s not already out there, you can probably create it for yourself. Pretty stressful, but also incredibly exciting.

Then, there’s each specific career path. A career path is like a game board. The conventional wisdom bookshelf contains instruction booklets for only a small fraction of today’s available game boards—and those that it does have usually tell you how that game was played in the past, even though the current game board has evolved significantly into something with new kinds of opportunities and different rules and loopholes. When you consider a career path today, to make an accurate assessment of what the path looks like and what kinds of strength-weakness profiles it favors, you have to understand what that career’s current game board looks like. Otherwise, it’s like trying to evaluate your chances of being a professional basketball player based on your height and strength without realizing that, say, basketball has evolved and is now played on oversize courts that contain 10 different 7-foot hoops, and the current game favors speed over height and strength.

This is promising news. There are likely dozens of awesome career paths that beautifully match your natural strengths, and it’s likely that most other people trying to succeed on those paths are playing with an outdated rulebook and strategy guide. If you simply understand what the game board really looks like and play by modern rules, you have a huge advantage.

Your Potential

And this brings us to you and your particular strengths. Not only do we assess our strengths based on the wrong game boards (like in our basketball example)—even when we have the right game board in mind, we’re often bad at identifying the real strengths that that game calls for.

When assessing your chances on a certain career path, the key question is:

With enough time, could you get good enough at this game to potentially reach whatever your definition of success is in that career?

I like to view this journey to “good enough at the game to succeed” as a distance. The distance starts with where you are now—point A—and ends with you reaching your definition of success, which we can draw with a star.

The length of the distance depends on where point A is (how far along you are at the current moment) and where the star is (how lofty your definition of success is).

So if you’re a college graduate who majored in computer science and your career goal is to be a middle-of-the-ladder engineer at Google, your distance might look like this:

But if you’ve never done any kind of computer science before, and your career goal is to be the top engineer at Google, you’ve got a much longer road ahead:

If your goal is to create the new Google, the road gets much, much longer.

At this point, conventional wisdom might emerge as a voice in your head and point out that simply getting good enough at a certain skill doesn’t actually guarantee success—you might reach the star on a career path and still find that you haven’t “made it” yet.

That’s mostly wrong, because it’s misunderstanding the star. The star isn’t about a particular skill level—e.g. coding ability or acting skills or business savvy—it’s about the entire game. In traditional careers, the games tend to be more straightforward—if you want to be a top surgeon, and you get incredibly good at surgery, you’ve probably hit your star and you’ll have your career. But the game boards in less traditional careers often involve many more factors. Reaching the “I want to be a famous actor” star doesn’t simply mean getting as good at acting as Morgan Freeman, it means getting as good at the entire actor game as most movie stars get by the time they break through. Acting ability is only one piece of that puzzle—you also need a knack for getting yourself in front of people with power, a shrewdness for personal branding, an insane amount of optimism, a ridiculous amount of hustle and persistence, etc. If you get good enough at that whole game—every component of it—your chances of becoming an A-list movie star are actually pretty high. That’s what hitting the star means.

But conventional wisdom doesn’t get how non-traditional careers work—it only thinks in terms of a narrow aspect of success: talent and hard work. When career paths have game boards with much more going on, conventional wisdom just throws its hands up and calls it “luck.” To conventional wisdom, becoming a movie star requires some talent, but mostly, hitting a rare scratch ticket jackpot.

So how do you figure out your chances of getting to any particular star? It’s all about a simple formula:

Distance = Speed x Time.

In our case, the more apt wording might be:

Progress = Pace x Persistence.

Your outlook on any career quest depends on A) the pace at which you’ll be able to improve at playing that career’s “game” and B) the amount of time you’re willing to persist in chasing that star. Let’s talk about both of these:

Pace

What makes someone slower or faster at improving at a career game? I’d say it comes down to three factors:

Your level of chefness. As we discussed earlier, chefs look at the world with fresh eyes and build conclusions based on what they observe and what they’ve experienced. Cooks arrive at conclusions by following someone else’s recipe—in the case of careers, the recipe is usually conventional wisdom. Careers are complex games that almost everyone starts off bad at—then the chefs improve rapidly through a continual loop…

…while cooks improve at a snail’s pace, because their strategy is just following a recipe which itself barely changes. What’s more, in a world where career games are constantly evolving and morphing, the chef’s tactics can evolve in real time and keep up. Meanwhile, the cook’s recipe just grows more and more outdated—a problem they remain oblivious to. This is why I’m pretty convinced that at least for less traditional careers, your level of chefness is the single most important factor in determining your pace of improvement.

Your work ethic. This one is obvious. Someone who works on their career 60 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, is going to move down the path almost four times faster than someone who works 20 hours a week, 40 weeks a year. Someone who chooses a balanced lifestyle will move slower than a single-minded workaholic. Someone with a propensity towards laziness or procrastination is going to lose a lot of ground to someone who’s good at putting in consistent work days. Someone who frequently breaks from work to daydream or pick up their phone is going to get less done in each work hour than someone who practices deep focus.

Your natural abilities. Talent does matter. Smarter, more talented people will improve at a game at a faster rate than less naturally gifted people. But intelligence and talent are only two types of natural ability that come into play here. Cleverness and savvy matter too, and those qualities don’t always correlate with raw intelligence. Depending on the type of career, social skills can be critically important as well. In many careers, likable (or subtly manipulative) people have a big advantage over less likable people—and those who enjoy socializing will put in more people hours over time, and build deeper relationships, than antisocial types.

Other things, like existing connections, existing resources, and existing skills matter, of course, but they’re not components of pace—they’re part of the location of point A.

Persistence

When I say persistence, I’m referring to long-term persistence (as opposed to day-to-day work ethic). Persistence is simpler than pace. The more years you’re willing to commit to chasing a star, the farther along the road towards the star you’ll get. A car going 30 mph that quits driving after 15 minutes gets a lot less far than a car that drives 10 mph for two hours.

And this is why persistence is so important. Someone who has decided they’re only willing to give a dream career a shot for three years before they’ll go for their fallback plan has essentially disqualified themselves from a chance at their dreams. It doesn’t matter how awesome you are—if you’ll give up after two or three years of not breaking through, you’re unlikely to succeed. A few years is just not enough time to traverse the typically long distances it takes to get to the raddest success stars, no matter how impressive your pace.

Your Real Strengths and Weaknesses

With our pace-times-persistence equation in mind, let’s revisit the concept of strengths and weaknesses. It’s not that “strengths and weaknesses” is a bad concept—it’s that we think about it all wrong. When we list our strengths, we tend to list our areas of existing skill more than anything else. Instead, strengths should be all about pace and persistence qualities. Originality or lack thereof should be a critical component of the discussion, making qualities like agility and humility (trademark chef traits) notable strengths, and qualities like stubbornness8 or intellectual laziness (classic cook traits) important weaknesses. The subtleties of work ethic, like a knack for deep focus or a propensity to procrastinate, should also be a major part of the discussion, as should natural abilities beyond talent, like savvy and likability. Qualities related to persistence, like resilience and determination and patience, should be thought of as promising strengths, while a social tentacle clamoring to appear successful as quickly as possible should be viewed as a bright red flag.

Most importantly, these items shouldn’t be discussed as a snapshot of where they are now, but rather in terms of your potential for improvement in each of them. If you handed 25-year-old Michael Jordan a basketball for the first time, he’d suck. But calling basketball a “weakness” of his would be getting it very wrong. Instead, you’d want to watch him practice over the next six weeks and evaluate the slope of his improvement. This lesson applies to specific skills—but most general pace and persistence qualities can also be worked on and improved if you focus on them.

Filling in the Reality Box

Your true Reality Box would literally include all career paths for which you think a highly improved version of yourself could, with an entire lifetime of effort, reach the minimum star you’d be comfortable defining as success. This would be an impossibly big list, only ruling out paths that are clearly far too long for you to traverse at your maximum possible pace on the path (like me chasing a career as an Olympic figure skater). But it’s still useful to pause for a minute and reflect on the vast extent of your full Reality Box—just acknowledging how many options are truly open to you can put you in the right mindset.

So to be a bit more efficient, let’s worry about the parts of the Reality Box that might actually end up in your Option Pool (the middle of the Venn diagram where the Want and Reality Boxes overlap). To complete our Reality Box audit with that caveat, we need to evaluate:

1) The general landscape. Take our best crack at evaluating the world’s current career landscape—the full range of options available (or create-able).

2) Specific game boards. For any careers that sound remotely interesting, ponder what the deal might be with that career’s current game board—the parties involved, the way success seems to be happening for others recently, the most up-to-date rules of the game, the latest new loopholes that are being exploited, etc.

3) Starting point. For those paths, evaluate your starting point, based on your current skills, resources, and connections relevant to that field.

4) Success point. Think about end points and where on each line your star should be placed. Ask yourself what’s the minimum level of success you’d need to achieve in order to feel happy about having chosen that career path.

5) Your pace. Make an initial estimate for what your pace of improvement might be on these various game boards, based on your current pace-related strengths and how much you think you can improve at each of them (in other words, how much your speed might be able to accelerate).

6) Your level of persistence. Evaluate the amount of time you think you’ll be willing to put into each of these respective paths.

Now it’s just math. You take your game board and make it a line, you plot starting points and success stars that together generate the various distances in front of you, and for each, you multiply your pace by your level of persistence. If it seems like the product of your pace and persistence for a given career path might be able to measure up to the path’s total length, that career lands in your Reality Box. Of course, it’s impossible to get exact values for any of the above factors, but it’s good to at least know the equation you’re working with.

A from-first-principles Reality Box audit may bring some overly optimistic people down to Earth, but I suspect that for most, an audit will leave them feeling like they have a lot more options than they realized, empowering them to set their sights on a bolder direction.

A good Reality Box reflection warrants yet another Want Box reflection. Reframing a bunch of career paths in your mind will affect your level of yearning for some of them. One career may seem less appealing after reminding yourself that it will entail thousands of hours of networking or multiple decades of pre-success struggle. Another may seem less daunting after changing your mind about how much luck is actually involved. There will be other career paths you hadn’t considered wanting because you hadn’t considered them as real options, but some deep reflection has opened your mind to them.

This brings us to the end of our long, two-part deep dive. After a fairly exhausting box-auditing process, we can return to our Venn10 diagram.

Assuming some things have changed, you have a new Option Pool to look at—a new list of options on the table that seem both desirable to your high-priority rankings and possible to achieve. We’re ready now to return to where we were before we started our analysis: the present moment. With these options in front of us, we’re ready to lift our heads up out of analysis and look forward into the future.

Connecting the Dots into the Future

It’s time to bring back your Career Plans map that I made you put down at the beginning of the post—the one with the arrow or the question mark. If there had been a clear arrow on your map before your audit, check out your new Option Pool. Given everything you’ve reflected upon, does your current career plan still qualify to be there? If so, congrats—you’re ahead of most of us.

If not, well that’s shitty news, but it’s also good news. Remember, going from a false arrow to a question mark is always major progress in life.

And actually, a new question mark implies having made the key cliff jump on two roller coasters: getting to know yourself and getting to know the world. Major step in the right direction. Cross out the arrow and join the question mark crowd.

Now the question mark crowd has a tough choice. You gotta pick one of the arrows in the Option Pool.

It’s a tough choice—but it should be way less tough than it is. Here’s why:

Careers used to be kind of like a 40-year tunnel. You picked your tunnel, and once you were in, that was that. You worked in that profession for 40 years or so before the tunnel spit you out on the other side into your retirement.

The truth is, careers have probably never really functioned like 40-year-tunnels, they just seemed that way. At best, traditional careers of the past played out kind of like tunnels.

Today’s careers—especially the less traditional ones—are really really not like tunnels. But crusty old conventional wisdom has a lot of us still viewing things that way, which makes the already hard job of making big career path choices much harder.

When you think of your career as a tunnel, it causes an identity crisis in anyone who doesn’t feel sure of who exactly they are and who they’ll want to be decades from now—which is most sane people. It enhances the delusion that what we do for work is a synonym for who we are, making a question mark on your map seem like an existential disaster.

When you think of your career as a tunnel, the stakes to make the right choice seem so high that it explodes the feeling of tyranny of choice. For perfectionist types especially, this can be utterly paralyzing.

When you think of your career as a tunnel, you lose the courage to make a career switch, even when your soul is begging for it. It makes switching careers feel incredibly risky and embarrassing, and it suggests that someone who does so is a failure. It also makes all kinds of multi-faceted, vibrant, mid-career people feel like they’re too old to make a bold switch or start a whole new path afresh.

But conventional wisdom still tells many of us that careers are tunnels. As the icing on its shit cake—on top of helping us yearn for things we don’t actually want, deny yearnings that we feel deep down, fear things that aren’t dangerous, and believe things about the world and our potential that aren’t accurate—conventional wisdom tells us that careers are a tunnel to help us daunt the shit out of ourselves unnecessarily.

Today’s career landscape isn’t a lineup of tunnels, it’s a massive, impossibly complex, rapidly changing science laboratory. Today’s people aren’t synonymous with what they do—they’re impossibly complex, rapidly changing scientists. And today’s career isn’t a tunnel, or a box, or an identity label—it’s a long series of science experiments.

Steve Jobs compared life to connecting the dots, pointing out that while it’s easy to look at your past and see how the dots connected to lead you to where you are, it’s basically impossible in life to connect the dots forwards.

If you look at the biographies of your heroes, you’ll see that their paths look a lot more like a long series of connected dots than a straight and predictable tunnel. If you look at yourself and your friends, you’ll probably see the same trend—according to data, the median time a young person stays in a given job is only 3 years (older people spend a longer time on each dot, but not that much longer—10.4 years on average).

So seeing your career as a series of dots isn’t a mental trick to help you make decisions—it’s an accurate depiction of what’s actually happening. And seeing your career as a tunnel isn’t just unproductive—it’s delusional.

Likewise, you’re limited to focusing mainly on the next dot on your path—because it’s the only dot you can figure out. You don’t have to worry about dot #4 because you can’t anyway—you’re literally not qualified to do so.

By the time dot #4 rolls around, you will have learned stuff about yourself you don’t know now. You’ll also have changed from who you are now, and your Yearning Octopus will reflect those changes. You’ll know a lot more than you currently do about the career landscape and the specific game boards you’re interested in, and you’ll have become a much better game player. And of course, that landscape—and those game boards—will have themselves evolved.

The fantastic website 80,000 Hours (which exists to help young, talented people work through their career choices) has compiled a lot of data to back this up: data on the fact that you’ll change, that the world will change, and that you’ll only learn with time what you’re actually good at. Popular psychologist Dan Gilbert also eloquently describes just how bad we are at predicting what will make us happy in the future.

Pretending you can figure out what dot #2 or #4 or #8 should be now is laughable. Future dots are the worry of a future, wiser you living in a future world. So let’s focus on dot #1.

If we’re thinking of ourselves as scientists and of society as a science lab, we should think of your current freshly revised Want-Reality Venn Diagram as nothing more than an early, rough hypothesis. Dot #1 is your chance to test it out.

Hypothesis testing is intuitive in the dating world. If a friend were toiling over what kind of person she wants to marry but never went out with anyone, you’d tell her, “You can’t figure this out on your couch—you’ve gotta start going on dates, and that’ll teach you what you want in a partner.” If that friend then went on a solid first date and returned home to toil for hours about whether or not this new person was The One, you’d again have to correct her. You’d say, “There’s no way you can know that from just one date! You have to get some experience dating this person to learn what you need to learn to make that decision.”

We can all agree that this hypothetical friend is pretty nuts and is lacking a fundamental understanding of how you find a happy relationship. So let’s not be like her when it comes to picking our career. Dot #1 is a chill situation—it’s just a first date.

This is awesome news—because it makes it a lot less scary to draw an arrow on your map if it’s only an arrow to dot #1 of your future. The real cause of tyranny of choice is accurately seeing the sheer number of options you have in today’s world while delusionally seeing those careers as the 40-year tunnels of yesterday’s world. That’s a lethal combo. Reframing your next major career decision as a far lower-stakes choice makes the number of options exciting, not stressful.

And that’s all great in theory. But now comes the hard part.

Making Your Move

You’ve reflected and reflected and reflected and weighed and measured and predicted and considered. You’ve chosen a dot and drawn an arrow. And now you have to actually make the move.

We’re super bad at this. We’re frightened people. We don’t like icky things and making a bold, real-life step is icky. If there’s any ounce of procrastination susceptibility in us, here’s where it’ll show itself.

The Yearning Octopus can help. As we discussed earlier, your behavior at any given point simply displays the configuration of your octopus. If you’ve decided on a life step and you can’t quite take it, it’s because the parts of you that don’t want to make a move are ranked higher in your subconscious than the parts of you that do. Your conscious mind may have tried to assign lower shelf ratings to the parts of your octopus that lean towards inertia, but your yearnings have rebelled. You’re a CEO not in control of their staff.

To fix this problem, think like a kindergarten teacher. In your class, a faction of the 5-year-olds is rebelling against your wishes. What do you do?

Go talk to the 5-year-olds that are causing the trouble. They’re unpleasant, defiant simpletons, but they can still be reasoned with. Talk to them about why you’ve ranked them lower than others in the octopus hierarchy. Describe to them the insights you gained from your Reality Box reflection. Remind them about how connecting the dots works and about the chillness of dot #1. You’re the teacher—figure it out.

The older I get, the clearer it becomes that our internal battle as the kindergarten teachers of our mind is like 97% of life’s struggle. The world is easy—you’re difficult. If you find yourself continually not executing your plans in life and your promises to yourself, you’ve uncovered your new #1 priority—becoming a better kindergarten teacher. Until you do, your life will be run by a bunch of primitive, short-sighted 5-year-olds, and your whole shit will suck. Trust me, I know.

If your inner analysis does call for a career leap to a new dot, I hope that at some point, you’re able to make the jump.

After the Move

Jumping to a new dot is a liberating feeling, usually side by side with some substantial internal havoc.

First of all, for a while at least, you’ll probably suck at what you’re doing on your new dot. While your wise self will know that’s exactly how it should be, your less wise selves will go into full existential meltdown mode. All of the fears you so thoughtfully deprioritized in your octopus ranking will think someone is murdering them and they’ll start trying to call 911. The yearnings you did prioritize won’t be feeling much gratification yet, and they’ll wonder if they were wrong all along about what they thought they wanted. The yearnings you didn’t prioritize will get out the guitar and start singing love songs for the greener-seeming grass you deprived them of. It won’t be much fun.

Even if things do go well, you’ll be quickly reminded of the fact that the Yearning Octopus is a generally unhappy creature. Core pieces of the octopus will feel neglected or even assaulted, and every day that goes by, you’ll be bearing the opportunity cost of the paths you were considering but chose not to walk down—the versions of you in parallel universes where you made other choices. You’ll think about their hypothetical advancement in the world and worry about what you may have passed up.

As you get wiser, you’ll learn to view a largely unhappy octopus with acceptance. You’ll let it whine and get good at tuning it out, knowing that it’s whining in the exact way you planned for it to be.

The whining octopus is a reminder of why pure, elated happiness is never a reasonable goal. The times you feel pure happiness are temporary, drug-induced delusions—like the honeymoon phase of a new relationship or new job or the high following a long-awaited success. Those moments are the perfect golf shots of a mediocre golfer’s outing—they’re awesome, and you should enjoy the shit out of them—but they’re not the new normal, and they never will be.

A better goal is contentment: the satisfying feeling that you’re currently taking the best crack you can at a good life path; that what you’re working on might prove to be a piece of an eventual puzzle you can feel really proud of. Chasing happiness is an amateur move. Feeling contentment in those times when your choices and your circumstances have combined to pull it off, and knowing you have all that you could ever ask for, is for the wise.

People talk about being present in the moment, but there’s also the broader concept of macro-presence: feeling broadly present in your own life. If you’re on a career dot that, when you’re being really honest with yourself, feels right, you get to stop thinking and stop planning for a while and just dig in. You’ll come back to the big picture later—for now, you can put the macro picture aside, put your head down, and dedicate all of your energy to the present. For a while, you can just live.

These moments don’t always last that long, so sink your teeth in. Put everything you’ve got into the dot you’ve chosen. As far as you know, you might be Michael Jordan holding his first basketball, so start playing.

The Next Dot?

At some point, your good feelings about the macro picture may sour. And when they do, you’ll have to get back into analysis mode and figure out what, in particular, is causing the restlessness.

Sometimes, the macro mission won’t be the problem. It’ll be that the chef in you has decided that the mission itself calls for a strategic dot jump. In these cases, jumping dots isn’t a release of persistence but the stuff of persistence. This is the mission-enhancing type of dot jump.

Other times, you’ll feel a darker kind of restlessness—the suspicion that you may need to change up the macro mission. When this happens, you’ll have to figure out if that feeling is emerging from the wise parts of you or simply from your restless, deprioritized yearnings. A mission-changing dot jump may be in order, but depending on which parts of you are asking for it, it may also be the wrong move.

In these moments, it’s important to consider where you tend to be on this spectrum:

The people on the left side of this spectrum are jump-shy. The cement-footed. Their pitfall is staying way too long in the wrong things. The people on the right are jump-happy—the wing-footed—and they have the opposite pitfall: they’re quick quitters.11 (You should be especially wary of cement feet—psychologists believe that people at the end of their lives are most likely to regret living by inertia: a commonly voiced regret is “I wish I had quit earlier,” and the most common advice of the elderly is, “Don’t stay in a job you dislike.“)

This is why these internal frameworks are important. They give you the ability to analyze the source of your impulses. In our example, the question is whether your impulse to jump missions is the result of genuine evolution or quick-quitter bias. So think about your diagram. Is your restlessness just the expected incessant whining of an octopus still correctly configured? The weariness from a long trudge on what’s still the right path for you? Or have you learned new information about yourself or the world during the trudge that has corrected some off-base initial assumptions? Or maybe something is fundamentally evolving—some blue or yellow loop activity:

If you feel that things have genuinely changed, you may decide to zoom out even further and think about the big red loop, which deals with fundamentally changing your mission:

If a career is like connecting the dots, we should probably rank “getting wise about dot-jumping” pretty high on our to-do list. The best place to start is by looking at your own past. Studying your own past decisions, with the flashlight of hindsight and accumulated wisdom, is like an athlete studying game tape.

Looking at my own past, I can see a lot of dot jumps (or, while I was still in school, career plan adjustments), and some of them look pretty unwise in retrospect. But the clearer a picture I can see of my past bad decisions and the thought patterns and behavioral habits that built them, the less likely I’ll be to repeat them in the future.

Remembering that you’re kind of dumb is also a critical humbling exercise. The insecurity of humility doesn’t feel very good, and the burden of having to continually invent your own life map is never easy—but insecurity and difficulty are the feelings of driving your own ship. It’s when we feel too good that we run the risk of becoming overconfident, intellectually complacent, and set in our ways. It’s exactly when we think we have life all figured out that we end up losing our way.

Over the course of your life, your good and bad decisions will collaborate to forge your unique life path. Often on this blog, I’ve written about how irrational our fears can be and how badly they can hold us back. But we should probably embrace the fear of end-of-life regret.

I’ve thankfully never been on anything that felt like a deathbed, but it seems like there’s something about the end of life that lets people see things with clear eyes. It seems like facing death makes all of those voices in your head who aren’t actually you melt away, leaving your little authentic self standing there all alone, in reflection. I think end-of-life regrets may simply be your authentic self thinking about the parts of your life you never got to live—the parts of you that someone else kicked down into your subconscious.

My own psyche seems to back this up—looking back on my path so far, the mistakes that bother me most are the ones that happened because someone else took the wheel of my head and overruled the quiet, insecure voice of my authentic self—the mistakes that I knew at the time, deep down, were wrong. My goal for the future isn’t to avoid mistakes, it’s for the mistakes I do make to be my own.

That’s why I went through such an excruciatingly rigorous analysis in this post. I think this is one of those few topics in life that’s worth it. Other voices will never stop fiercely trying to live your life for you—you owe it to that little insecure character in the very center of your consciousness to get this right.

If everyone who reads our articles and likes it, helps fund it, our future would be much more secure by your donations – Thank you.

 

Skills Necessary for Lasting Business Success – Steve Cartwright

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Experiencing lasting business success isn’t something you do by accident, as a business owner there are skills that you need. Even if you don’t have the skills to start with, you can develop them. Never allow the idea that you need a certain skill set to intimidate you, rather, take it as a challenge to develop that ability.

Be Able to Think and Plan Strategically

Being able to look at the big picture and develop an overall plan for success is crucial for a business owner. The reason is that a business owner needs to be able to step back and see the big picture. For example, it’s important to understand how each action you take affects another part of your business directly.

Be Able to Set SMART Goals

You can learn all about SMART goals; entire books are written about this. The reason it’s so important is that it really works. A SMART goal means that each goal needs to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. When you create goals like that, it’s a lot easier to develop step-by-step plans for achieving the goal.

Be Willing to Learn Marketing Skills

Even if you don’t think of yourself as a marketer, as a business owner you are. You can hire people to help you, but you do need to understand something about branding, types of marketing, and more.

Be a Sales Person

Everyone likes to say they hate sales and aren’t a salesperson. But as a business owner, you’re a salesperson whether you like it or not. It’s good to learn how sales work from a psychological perspective for your audience, so that you can deliver what your market wants and needs.

Be Organized Enough

It takes a lot of organizational ability to run an entire business. Even if you’re a sole proprietor, you still need to run all areas of your business in an organized manner – whether it’s marketing, or accounting, or customer service. The way to get organized is to set up processes and use software to help you keep organized.

Be Able to Implement and Do Things

Any business owner knows the key to everything is “doing”. But you need to know which things are most important to do and which things can wait. Usually, the things that make money take priority over the things that make no difference to your ROI.

Know When to Get Outside Help

Sometimes being a good business owner who is successful means knowing when you need help. Everyone cannot be a rocket scientist. Sometimes you must hire someone to get something done. Often when you hire an expert, you’re going to experience many rewards for getting it done right the first time, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel and doing it again.

Learning the skills that you need for lasting business success will make you even more confident in your ability to run a successful business. Even if you outsource certain things, it’s a good idea to understand the lingo and a little bit of the issue so that you can ensure that you’re moving in the right direction.

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How to Activate Employees and Harness the Power of Internal Experts – Michael Brenner

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Here’s a strategy brands such as IBM and Starbucks have been using for years to bolster their marketing reach and their revenue – employee activation.

By harnessing the potential of the people who know your brand better than even your most devoted customers, you can tap into a rich source of brand advocacy and fuel growth.At the same time, you’ll boost employee engagement.

Engaged employees have a vested interest in your organization’s success.  They are aligned with your messaging and vision. And they offer something much more important than greater productivity.

A positive employee attitude can engage your customers as well. Look at it this way. As many as 68 percent of customers abandon a brand as a direct response to poor employee attitude.

The bulk of customer brand perception – about 70 percent – doesn’t depend on the ingenuity of your video marketing strategy or the quality of your products – it’s human interaction with customer service representatives, your employees at in-person events, email and live chat responses, and the content your employees are sharing about your brand.

When your employees do share your company’s content – something that’s not likely to happen without motivation, only about 3 percent of employees share company-related content – you are looking at a healthy boost of customer engagement.

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This positive impact is exponential. When you can motivate 6 percent of your employees to share content, customer engagement increases by 60 percent. With 10 percent active employees, you’re looking at the potential for a 100 percent increase.

The bottom line is, the experiences customers have with your employees shape the impression of your brand more than anything else.

On the other hand, when you fail to activate your employees, you’ve effectively created a financial black hole for your organization. Disengaged employees cost businesses from $450 to $550 billion each year.

So, how can you activate your employees?

The key is in understanding what employee activation truly means. Hint: it’s much more than offering a carrot.

When you look at examples of excellent employee advocacy programs in action, you’ll see that it’s more than a few tweaks to your organizational processes and internal communications. It’s a shift. A transformation that’s going to take time and conscious effort, but one that you can fully achieve with the help of a few tools, tips and strategies to help you activate your internal experts.

Let’s get started.

What Does Employee Activation Involve?

Employee activation is all about motivating your employees to share content with their social networks. We already know that word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most effective techniques for generating leads and boosting sales.

Employee activation takes this one step further, tapping into your employees to expand the reach of your brand. Just how much of a difference will this make? It can potentially have a seismic effect. This is because, for the typical business, the social networks of employees are 10 times the size of the social following of the company itself.

“When you can activate your entire company to be brand ambassadors, the full effects of social selling can be felt globally.”

-Koka Sexton, Sr. Social Marketing Manager formerly of LinkedIn and Hootsuite

Being able to activate your employees offers more benefits than a wider social media net for your brand to reach out to. Way more.

Your organization will experience a cascading positive effect because as you put in the effort to activate your employees through training, supporting, mentoring, and mobilizing, you’re also aligning their work with the purpose and mission of the business. You’re making their job more meaningful.

This isn’t just a shiny ideal. Purpose is what makes getting out of bed in the morning to come to work appealing. And it’s something consistently profitable companies have been focusing on for years – take Southwest Airlines for example.

They focus on both company culture and customer service and make a point of recognizing employees regularly on their website, their brand magazine, and they have a library of videos sharing stories form real customers who appreciated the experience they’ve had with the brand.

Taken further, active employees have a lot to gain. When they share their insights, expertise and vision, they are building their own personal brand, which can support their careers in the long run.

“If you help brand your people, they will help brand your company.”

Jennifer Jones Newbill, Dell

86 percent of those who have been a part of a social media advocacy program for their job have said it has had a positive impact on their career.

You’ll have employees who are both engaged and motivated, and who can benefit themselves from their experience as an employee advocate. The more they invest into the company through sharing content and brand advocacy, the more they have to gain professionally. Win-wins tend to be good for everyone.

Here are just a few of the bonuses other companies are already seeing from a serious approach to employee activation:

  • Easier to attract top talent. Employees are trusted 3 times more than your organization’s CEO by potential recruits. When they are visible on social media as brand representatives, it’s a lot easier to attract quality hires.
  • Increased employee retention. Companies with active social engagement are 20 percent more likely to retain talent.
  • Better brand storytelling. Want more authentic content? Get it from the people who are the heart of your business by inviting them to share their voice. Neil Gunn, the Digital Strategy Advisor for the World Wildlife Fund in the UK says, “The theory is that people who have the stories to tell are on the ground. If you really are going to do social well, you need to make the connection with those who have the story to tell.”
  • Boost in sales leads. For employee sharing on LinkedIn, research shows that sales leads increase by as much as 58 percent.

3 Brands with Employee Advocate Programs

Take a look at these examples of brands who have made engaging their employees a priority.

Dell

Dell excels at activating their employees on social. What they’ve done is create a dynamic training, support and facilitation program to empower their sales employees to be active on social and to ensure social usage is as effective as possible.

Dell’s Social Media University involves over 16,000 employees in 46 different countries. This is how it works:

  • Employees who want to be a part of the program go through training.
  • Dell then gives their employees branded accounts to use (@dell).
  • There’s a Governance system in place to guide the process, approve ideas, and, in general, facilitate more worthwhile marketing and recruiting content.
  • They also have a specialist team to monitor and respond to customer service issues and branded conversations on social media.

This highly structured approach has been a big win for both employees and Dell.

Sales employees who use social media outperform nonsocial salespeople by 23 percent. For Dell, they get way more customer engagement – social content posted by employees, for Dell, is eight times more engaging than the content the brand publishes. It’s also boosted profits, by over $14 million.

Adobe

Adobe’s Social Shift Program is another forward-thinking approach to employee brand advocacy. It offers education and best practices to help employees become better brand advocates. Employees can even test their ambassador skills by practicing with simulated experiences.

Lauren Friedman, head of Global Social Business Enablement for Adobe says of their employee advocacy, “We believe that people trust people. People buy from people. Relationships fuel our overall success.” She also points out the program works through enabling and encouragement, giving employees plenty of room to be themselves, saying, “We don’t want to create an army of Adobe-bots!”

Adobe then encourages employees to share on different platforms.

  • Post on the Adobe Life blog
  • Participate in contests for social sharing with weekly recognition for top ambassadors
  • Adobe scouts out ideal spokespeople to post on LinkedIn and Glassdoor
  • Employees who really stand out are invited to special events like Adobe’s MAX conference

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Their strategy works. Over one-third of Adobe’s employees have gone through the Social Shift. Adobe is known for having the most social employees in the entire tech industry.

Starbucks

Headed by the always visionary Howard Schultz, Starbucks is another company that has been motivating employee brand advocacy for years. This hasn’t just led to active employees on social media and boosted trust in the brand, it’s also sparked their customer-based brand advocate army. Starbucks is king at inspiring user-generated content.

Starbucks encourages employees to share brand updates and stories on their social media profiles. They also use their internal team to gain feedback before releasing new products. This is an excellent technique for B2C brands who want to test out new ideas on ‘consumers’ before launching into the real-world.

“[Employees] are the true ambassadors of our brand, the real merchants of romance, and as such, the primary catalyst for delighting customers. [They] elevate the experience for each customer – something you can hardly accomplish with a billboard or a 30-second spot.”

Howard Schultz

7 Tips for Activating Your Employees

Your employees are more trusted, more social, and may be some of your brand’s best storytellers. Here are tips and strategies you can use to motivate them to be vocal about your brand.

1. Start Small with the Social Stars You Already Have

Talent consultant Lars Schmidt warns that starting an employee activation initiative with your HR department or upper management can backfire. “Employees may be skeptical if HR or leadership pushes them to act. If they see their peer participating, they’ll be more compelled to follow suit and your initiatives can grow organically and authentically.”

Identify your employees who are already advocates on social media and start small with them. Once you’ve trained them to use their social profiles or their dedicated branded profiles, you have your internal leaders who you can then use for a larger program.

2. Make It about Personal Branding

The best way to motivate brand advocacy within your organization isn’t by offering a financial or physical reward. It’s about personal incentive.

Especially for B2B brands, employees have the chance to share their own expertise and establish themselves as industry experts while they work for you when they post well-researched or thought-provoking content on LinkedIn, publish how-to videos on YouTube, or share links to content on Twitter and Facebook.

Your employee activation should be about empowering your employees to be the best professional version of themselves. This, in turn, benefits your brand as they are your organization’s social representatives. It also fosters an authentic interest in giving their best to the organization they work for.

Approach brand advocacy as advantageous for both company and employee and you’ll get sustainable interest.

3. Teach Your Employees to Fish

Have a support system in place at the beginning. You don’t have to start out with a social training academy like Dell or Adobe. But, at least have established guidelines, tips and best practices, and identify social experts within your organization for individuals to go to with questions or for some one-on-one guidance. This will set the foundation for a successful program.

An effective strategy is to create regular educational content. Webinars, a library of educational videos filled with social media pointers, training sessions, or short weekly or monthly meetings are all methods you can use to make sure your employees know what’s acceptable to share and the best ways they can be successful sharing their expert voice on various social media platforms.

4. Make Social Sharing Convenient with Curated Content

Your employees are more likely to be active when you make it easy for them. As part of your employee activation program, you can regularly supply curated content. Include relevant blog posts, videos, industry news, and case studies. Then, encourage your advocates to edit the posts so as to use their personal voice.

5. Incentivize with Contests

You won’t be able to maintain a sustainable employee advocacy program on incentives alone, but they definitely can keep people interested. Think weekly contests or giveaways. This type of motivation is more about keeping your employees engaged than it is the reward itself so make your contests fun and interesting.

6. Leverage Technology

Yes, there’s an app for employee activation. In fact, there are several, including plenty of machine learning algorithms and AI-inspired platforms. Take advantage of these tools to make motivating your employees that much more effective.

  • Elevate is a LinkedIn resource that you can use to share curated content at scale. It’s a built-in feature, making it too convenient not to use.
  • EveryoneSocial is the employee advocacy platform used by Dell and Adobe and makes it exceedingly simple for employees to share content to their social networks at scale.
  • Dynamic Signal is another useful tool for employee sharing that comes with analytics. The platform includes the ability to send out real-time notifications and personalized invites. You can also create quizzes, surveys and interactive content to keep your employees engaged.
  • Influitive is an advocacy platform that is used by companies like Quickbase and MongoDB. Their AdvocateHub motivates advocates to share content, reviews, and testimonials across the social web.
  • DrumUp lets you create custom posts and curate content. It also comes with a point system to recognize social stars and analytics to track activity. DrumUp uses machine learning and Natural Language Processing, which means you’re going to see highly relevant content with the curation function.
  • There are also solutions from social platforms like Hootsuite’s Amplify and Bambu from Sprout Social

7. Use Your Advocates Wisely

While your employees’ social profiles may have the Midas touch, you still need to be careful how much you use your employee advocates. This is true for two reasons. First, you don’t want to make your advocates feel pressured to spend too much time on social sharing. For them, it should be simple and easy, not another task. Otherwise, you’ll have less people interested in your voluntary program.

Second, and more importantly, too much social sharing will dilute the value and authenticity of employee content. The reason employee sharing is so powerful is that it is an individual sharing content rather than the brand. If your employees’ social networks are being inundated by posts, people are going to start ignoring the content and, at some point, it will start to feel like brand marketing content rather than authentic insights.

Employee activation gives your brand’s online presence and reputation a mega boost of trust and engagement. Leads that are generated from employee social sharing convert seven times more often than other leads. It can increase sales and establish your brand as a more trustworthy organization. It can even help you attract premium hires to help your business succeed more in the future.

On the other hand, overlooking the potential of your employees can be a fatal error. Not only will you miss the chance to rake in more leads and sales and to enjoy a brand reputation boost. You are also missing the opportunity to help your employees grow professionally and to experience a greater sense of value and connection with the company they spend 40 plus hours a week working for – and this will cost you big time.

If everyone who reads our articles and likes it, helps fund it, our future would be much more secure by your donations – Thank you.

 

Was Starbucks’ Racial Bias Training Effective? Here’s What These Employees Thought

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One Northern California-based Starbucks barista said she contemplated leaving her job after the controversial arrest last month of two black men sitting at a Philadelphia location of the coffee chain for several minutes without having purchased anything.

That employee, an African-American woman who asked TIME to remain anonymous due to concerns of losing her job, was angry. And when Starbucks later announced more than 8,000 stores across the country would participate in racial bias education training, she didn’t understand why.

“I was angry we had to educate people on how to not be racist,” she recalled in an interview with TIME Tuesday night shortly after attending the hours-long training that shuttered nearly all of Starbucks’ U.S. locations.

But, after completing Starbucks’ racial bias training program Tuesday afternoon with her coworkers, the California-based barista felt her perspective had changed. “I’m a black woman; I’ve already known all of this,” she said, referring to one section of the program that detailed living day-to-day in public spaces as a person of color. “But the fact that it was a video all employees had to watch, it really warmed me.”

More than 175,000 Starbucks employees participated in the mandatory racial bias education program Tuesday afternoon at thousands of U.S.-based locations as part of an initiative spurred by the high-profile incident in Philadelphia last month. Gathered around a few iPads at locations around the nation, Starbucks employees watched nearly two dozen videos featuring the rapper Common, documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson, Starbucks executives and other prominent figures, while participating in wide-ranging discussions about race and identity with their colleagues.

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The curriculum, released in full by Starbucks online Tuesday night, placed an emphasis on encouraging some employees to become “color brave” instead of “color blind” and meditated on the Starbucks’ responsibility as the “third place” for some members of the community, akin to a home and workplace.

TIME spoke with five Starbucks employees on what it was like to attend Tuesday’s training sessions. These employees shared differing perspectives on the impact of the curriculum and detailed how effective they each thought it truly was.

Jason, the only African-American employee at his Hollywood-based Starbucks location who asked TIME to identify him by his first name out of concerns over job security, said the program reiterated common conversations surrounding race like inclusion, acceptance and understanding.

But he said the training failed to address how to end instances like what happened in Philadelphia from occurring in the future. While a number of the videos featured the perspectives of people of color — and particularly African-Americans — Jason wrote in a message to TIME that “there were times where I felt they missed the mark.”

“It seems like a lot of talking from the videos,” he added, “and not enough discussion from us.”Employees said they were also given workbooks that included prompts for them to discuss their first experiences with racial identity and discuss in pairs questions like, “What makes me, me? And you, you?” The company also gave employees personal journals to write in and keep for the months ahead. The curriculum as a whole, Jason said, could have used some improvement.

“Helpful? [I don’t know],” Jason wrote. “It kinda reaffirms things that I know already.”

Jason was not alone. Mohamed Abdi, an employee at a Starbucks location in Alexandria, Virginia, told TIME he wished the program featured more discussions between coworkers as well. “Honestly I think they should have more hands-on courses speaking to different people and customers to figure out where they’re coming from,” he said. “It’s easy sitting through something and saying you learned something than actually learning something from the course,” he added.

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His reception of the course, however, was generally positive. He particularly enjoyed the documentary produced by Stanley Nelson that displayed “the different things people of color go through just by leaving the house day by day.” That video featured an array of people of color who discussed how they access and experience public spaces than their white peers. (“When I go into stores, sometimes I get followed,” one woman said in the video. “Especially being a teen of color, they assume that you’re doing something bad.”)

The California-based, female employee told TIME that same video strongly resonated with her and — at one point — almost drove her to tears. “I often find myself even at other Starbucks locations where I don’t work at, and when I say I’m a partner, they look at me a certain kind of way,” she said in a phone interview after her store’s training session Tuesday night. “Just the fact that they really touched on that, it definitely made a lot of people in my job who work with me understand better.”

Ryan Curran, a white employee at a Sewell, New Jersey, location, said he and his coworkers learned a lot from the Starbucks training and wouldn’t change anything about the curriculum. “It would be helpful to continue the program when needed, for example, if a problem occurs in a certain store,” he said.

However, an Arkansas-based Starbucks employee who asked to remain anonymous out of concern over her employment, said she couldn’t imagine the curriculum would have much of an impact. “While this may be the most cost efficient way to handle the situation, I don’t feel like it will change much of anything,” the employee told TIME over text message before the training started.

She added that the store she works at initially didn’t plan on closing for Tuesday’s training, but eventually did once Starbucks’ higher ups stepped in. “Just driving an hour down the road takes you to towns where racism is alive and well,” she added.

According to estimates detailed by USA Today, Starbucks likely lost around $12 million by closing its U.S.-based stores on Tuesday afternoon. Since announcing it would close down the afternoon of May 29 for the training, Starbucks has emphasized the session was just the beginning of a long-term commitment to diversity and combating racial bias.

Researchers and social scientists recently told TIME that a one-time education program isn’t enough to combat racism and eradicate the use of racial biases. Hours before the programs began on Tuesday, Starbucks Executive Chairman Howard Schultz said the company plans to globalize these efforts and make similar initiatives part of the on-boarding process for new employees.

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Indeed, in the weeks after Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson were arrested at the Philadelphia location, Starbucks implemented new policies that allow people to sit in stores or use their bathrooms without purchasing anything. Hakeem Jefferson, a political science doctorate student at the University of Michigan who will join Stanford University’s faculty in the summer, told TIME ahead of Starbucks’ training day that structural and systematic changes like these policies could help prevent “negative outcomes” of unconscious biases manifest themselves

Starbucks’ curriculum, the company has said, is a launching pad for further initiatives as well as a tool for other companies to refer to and a program that may be used in the on-boarding of new employees in the future. But while movements within a company like Starbucks come as the result of a high-profile, racially charged incident, “I think we should worry that that doesn’t lead to the kind of change that we might want,” Jefferson, the social scientist, said.

“This has to be a core component of every company’s mission, particularly in an increasingly diverse world.”

If everyone who reads our articles and likes it, helps fund it, our future would be much more secure by your donations – Thank you.

How to Position Your Business for a Strategic Acquisition – Mark Daoust

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In the past year, I’ve had multiple competitors approach me to acquire one of the businesses that I own.

Being approached by competitors — or anyone for that matter — is always flattering, but, more importantly, it opens a door for many business owners that they have not considered in the past: selling their business. If you’ve ever thought about selling your business, you likely thought about selling it to a strategic buyer — a larger company in your industry, a competitor or a business in a neighboring industry that could benefit from something you’ve buibuyers stlt.

While most acquisitions that occur are not strategic exits — most businesses are sold to financial buyers (i.e. buyers who like the financials of the business but do not necessarily gain a strategic advantage by acquiring that business) — there can be significant benefits for you if you are able to find a strategic buyer:

  1. More money. Strategic buyers often see stronger returns on their investment which allows them to pay more for your business. For example, an ecommerce business that has a large warehouse may be able to acquire a smaller, but similar ecommerce business without adding new warehouse and order fulfillment costs. Strategic acquisitions can often represent huge gains in the value you get for your business.
  2. Easier transitions. Because the buyers are already familiar with your industry, the transitions are often easier to manage — but not always.
  3. Strategic buyers can often do more with your business. Because strategic buyers know your industry, they can often build your business rapidly after the sale. If you are interested in seeing your business grow, strategic sales can be a great way to go.

But for all the benefits of strategic acquisitions, most small business owners who decide to sell their business will end up looking for a financial buyer. Why is this?

Why strategic exits are often difficult to pull off

While many business owners think that a strategic exit is the most natural or the easiest type of acquisition to complete, the truth is that it often has the lowest chance of success. Most acquisitions occur to financial buyers — acquiring companies who may not have specific industry knowledge, expertise or advantage when buying your business, but like the potential financial return on investment your business provides.

There are several reasons for this. First, if you are trying to sell your business to someone within your industry or marketplace, you often lack leverage. The reason for this is simple. Rather than having potential buyers line up to acquire your business, you are approaching potential acquirers with your business opportunity. Unless you can generate interest from multiple suitors, this approach tells potential acquirers that they have more leverage when dictating the terms of a potential deal. They know you are looking to sell, and they know that you prefer to sell to them.

Second, strategic exits often fail to materialize simply due to bad timing. Unless the company you are approaching to make a deal is a massive enterprise, most acquirers need to plan out their resources — both in capital and work requirements — in order to successfully complete a merger or acquisition. When you approach a potential strategic acquirer, even if there may be a good fit between your company and theirs, the timing might simply not be right.

Finally, the pool of strategic acquirers is usually quite small. How many companies would benefit from a strategic acquisition of your firm? Two? Five? Fifteen? The fact is, when selling any company, having a larger pool of buyers gives you better leverage and better chances of success.

Tips for planning and executing a strategic exit.Despite the obstacles above, planning a strategic exit is possible. This very publication is filled with tips on how to get your company acquired. However, too few business owners put any thought into what is actually needed in order to pull off a successful strategic exit. With that in mind, here are a few practical tips to prepare for a potential and hopeful strategic exit:

  1. Strategic exits usually start early. A strategic acquisition rarely happens as the result of picking up the phone, calling a competitor and asking if they want to buy your company. Sure, there are the rare cases where this approach succeeds, but most strategic exits happen more organically. The two companies know each other, have known each other for some time, and see that the acquisition would be good for both companies.
  2. Build your strengths to address other business’s weaknesses. If a wholesaler decides to enter into the direct to consumer market, they often do so by acquiring one of their clients. This is because they recognize that their weakness (direct to consumer) is their client’s strength. If you are hoping to be acquired by a larger competitor, get to know their relative weaknesses, and build your company to be strong in those areas. This isn’t just good acquisition advice, this will help you differentiate your business in the marketplace.
  3. Have more than one potential suitor in mind. Acquisitions work best for the selling company when they have the option to decline any particular offer. If you have multiple companies that could acquire your business, you not only increase your chances of a successful acquisition, you also set yourself up for potentially having leverage in a negotiation.
  4. Let potential acquirers know in advance that your business might be acquirable. In most strategic acquisitions that I’ve seen successfully completed, the company that is acquired had a previous relationship with the acquiring company and informed them that selling might be an option they would explore in the future. By letting your intentions be known early, you give potential acquirers the time and the ability to consider acquiring your business as a part of their strategic plans.
  5. Be patient. The strongest leverage any business owner has in an acquisition is the ability to walk away from the negotiation table. If the terms you are receiving aren’t right, walk away.

Finally, consider a non-strategic acquisition

When I started Quiet Light Brokerage, my very first client owned a business in an industry that had aggressive strategic acquisitions occurring on a weekly basis.

In this industry, valuations were mostly based on a simple monthly revenue valuation approach. Businesses in this vertical would sell for anywhere between 10-18 months worth of gross revenue. For my client, this translated into a valuation of roughly $500,000 for his business.

While we could have sold his business for that price and had a closed deal in just a few weeks, we decided to look for a financial buyer. Three months later, he closed on the sale of his business for $625,000 to a buyer who was not a part of his industry, but loved the opportunity he saw.

The fact is, while strategic acquisitions often result in higher — sometimes significantly higher — valuations, this isn’t always the case. The fact is, more deals are completed in a financial acquisition space simply due to the fact that there are so many more financial buyers looking for good investments.

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