I readily admit, Warren Buffett makes me laugh out loud. There’s a certain comical flair to the Oracle of Omaha whenever he speaks in public. But while his unpretentious advice comes laced with humor, never excuse the profundity of the message.
In 2001, Buffett gave a speech to University of Georgia students. He started his talk with a question he often gets asked: “Whom should I go to work for when I graduate from college?”
Here’s Buffett’s response, which is just as applicable in 2019 as it was in 2001:
I’ve got a very simple answer … the real thing to do is to get going for some institution or individual that you admire. I mean it’s crazy to take in-between jobs just because they look good on your résumé, or because you get a little higher starting pay.
He continues, adding the part that made me guffaw:
I was up at Harvard a while back, and a very nice young guy, he picked me up at the airport, a Harvard Business School attendee. And he said, “Look. I went to undergrad here, and then I worked for X and Y and Z, and now I’ve come here.” And he said, “I thought it would really round out my résumé perfectly if I went to work now for a big management consulting firm.” And I said, “Well, is that what you want to do?” And he said, “No,” but he said, “That’s the perfect résumé.” And I said, “Well when are you going to start doing what you like?” And he said, “Well I’ll get to that someday.” And I said, “Well you know, your plan sounds to me a lot like saving up sex for your old age. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
I have to say, Buffett’s advice isn’t reserved strictly for entry-level grads. I know plenty of mid-level professionals toiling in jobs that don’t light them up, wasting away their careers under the illusion that it’s one steppingstone in a series of steppingstones to that dream gig in a prestigious company.
I also know plenty of people who gave up the illusive chase for the perfect corporate scenario to pursue the entrepreneurial desires of their hearts. While the path was never easy and they slept much less, those people, in my view, got off to a much faster and more fulfilling start to their career.
Let’s say you lay out a perfect game plan to what you perceive to be the path (and perfect résumé) to your dream job. You “pay your dues” for five to seven years with two to three companies to advance you to the spot where people will tell you, “You’ve arrived.”
Here’s what most people don’t take into account as they strategically maneuver toward the perfect background on paper: human nature. No, not yours. Let me explain.
Buffett’s advice, you’ll notice, places the focus on a person, not an institution: “Go to work for whomever you admire the most,” he later told the students in his speech. “You can’t get a bad result. You’ll jump out of bed in the morning and you’ll be having fun.”
It’s human nature–other people’s propensity for disrespectful and unwanted behaviors that you don’t desire in the workplace–that derails careers from arriving at their best scenarios.
Gallup research, for example, has been telling us for two decades that 70 percent of the American workforce is disengaged. Conversely, they attribute the number one reason for people quitting their jobs to their immediate managers.
So the person you admire the most should be a leader to whom you’re willing to give your best effort under favorable circumstances; circumstances that set you up for long-term success, make you feel safe, allow you to fail-forward, and give your work purpose and meaning.
It speaks volumes to how far and fast a career can advance when you’re under the leadership of someone who cares about you as an employee and human being.
This is the X-factor that will catapult you to career success–beyond the “perfect plan” to a destination that may not be there five years from now.
Originally published on Inc.
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