How Lifelong Learning Will Give You a Competitive Edge (Episode 10)

The days of going to school, getting a degree, and being done with your learning at graduation are long gone. If you’re banking on what you learned in high school or college to carry you throughout your career, you’re in for a rude awakening.

The workplace is more dynamic than ever and new technology is accelerating that change. To thrive in today’s world of work we must constantly learn and constantly grow. 

So, what do we do? In this episode, I share three concrete ways you can make learning a competitive advantage in your career. I also share the future of The Not Your Parents’ Workplace Show including why I’m going to hit pause on YouTube and why I’m doubling down on the podcast. 

Alexander Hamilton and the Art of Discretion

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I first read Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton in 2014, having previously studied the lives of his contemporaries, specifically, George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. I had a glimpse into his life and how many historians remembered him, but Chernow’s account totally opened my eyes.

This man was far more than the first treasury secretary of the United States. His accomplishments include:

  • Supporting Washington as his chief staff aide during the American Revolution and commanding three battalions during the decisive battle of Yorktown
  • Architecting the Federalist Papers which played a pivotal role in defending and ratifying the U.S. Constitution (he wrote 51 of the 85 essays)
  • Founding a national bank and building the financial system that established the country’s credit
  • Creating the U.S. Coast Guard and the New York Post

Born in Nevis, a small island in the Caribbean, Hamilton’s father left him when he was a boy. Not long after, his mother died of yellow fever and his cousin, who was entrusted to watch over him, committed suicide. Without a doubt, of all the founding fathers, Hamilton’s rise to power is by far the most improbable.

Over the years my admiration for him only grew as I watched Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical and studied more of his life. A few months back, I decided to tackle his biography once more. The biggest lesson from reading this book, at least as it came to a close, is that of discretion.

Hamilton was a genius. Full stop. Yet, despite being a genius, or maybe because of it, he didn’t know when to keep silent. He spoke his mind at all times and this came back to hurt him on countless occasions.

In a letter to his son, sent days before his fatal duel with Aaron Burr, Hamilton wrote that he had “prepared for you a thesis on discretion. You may need it.” Here’s a portion of the letter.

“A prudent silence will frequently be taken for wisdom and a sentence or two cautiously thrown in will sometimes gain the palm of knowledge, while a man well informed but indescreet and unreserved will not uncommonly talk himself out of all consideration and weight.”

To quote Chernow, “This…sounds like the confessions of a man who had never learned to be discreet himself.” It’s been said that all advice is autobiographical, and Hamilton must have been talking to himself in a way, reflecting on times where his indiscretion had harmed him.

The dictionary provides two definitions of discretion:

  • The quality of behaving or speaking in such a way as to avoid causing offense or revealing private information
  • The freedom to decide what should be done in a particular situation

One can argue that had Hamilton shown more discretion throughout his life, had he behaved or spoken in a way that avoided causing offense to others, he wouldn’t have left behind such a long list of impressive accomplishments. Possibly, but a few moments of discretion could have spared him the hatred of many, and likely would have saved his life.

And what of Aaron Burr, the man who shot and killed Hamilton in their infamous duel? Burr was the antithesis of Hamilton. He rarely revealed how he felt on a given topic. He had the well-earned reputation of doing whatever was politically expedient. Burr was hard to read and many struggled to know where he stood.

Yet, as odd as it sounds, Burr ultimately paid a price for having too much discretion. Years of concealing how he felt and striving to be all things to all people took a toll. He finally reached the point where he couldn’t hide his true feelings towards Hamilton anymore and he lashed out. He had let his anger and hatred for Hamilton fester until he reached a boiling point and couldn’t hold back any longer.

Despite being the Vice President of the United States, Burr unleashed his rage and challenged Hamilton to a duel. He felt that Hamilton had defamed his character and had sought to destroy his political career. While he had plenty to lose from going after Hamilton, there was no turning back. Burr’s rage had consumed him.

Ironically, it was Hamilton’s death, rather than Hamilton’s verbal assaults, that led to Burr’s political undoing. After the fatal duel, Burr’s career was never the same. Facing potential murder charges, he fled to the South. He later faced treason charges for conspiring to plan the secession of several western states. So, he moved to Europe and didn’t return to New York until after his acquittal. His professional and personal life remained in tatters until his death in 1836.

It’s easy to point out the foibles of leaders who lived 200+ years ago. It’s harder to take those learnings and apply them to our lives to further our own development.

I invite you to consider the role discretion plays in your life. Are you like Hamilton, committed to speaking your mind at all times regardless of the occasion? Or are you more like Burr, constantly concealing your feelings, unwilling to share what you genuinely think until you reach a breaking point?

Much later in his life, reflecting on the duel, Burr remarked, “I should have known the world was wide enough for Hamilton and me.” Had he been willing to confront Hamilton earlier, had he been a little more indiscreet, they likely could have settled their differences peacefully and without violence. Conversely, had Hamilton been a little more discreet, had he effectively discerned when to maintain silence, his life likely wouldn’t have been taken at age 47.

The world certainly was wide enough for Hamilton and Burr.

As we move forward in our careers, I hope the lesson of these two men stay fresh. Discretion truly is an art.

Career Q&A with John Mayfield, General Partner at Album VC (#10)

The next Career Q&A is with John Mayfield. I’ve had the good fortune of knowing John for more than 10 years and he’s one of the most genuine and kind people that I know. I love his advice on adopting a give first mentality, the power of developing soft skills, and why people shouldn’t over-index on compensation in the first 15 years of a career.

John Mayfield is an early stage investor at Album with investments in Route, Neighbor, Filevine, Podium, Divvy, Weave, Qwick, and Homie, as well as a board member with the Rocky Mountain Venture Capital Association. Prior to Album, John was an early employee at Qualtrics and pre-IPO Instructure where he worked in sales, marketing, and new product launches. Prior to that, he spent several years in Silicon Valley working on M&A valuations for top software companies such as Oracle, HP, Yahoo, Cisco, and Amazon.

What’s a book that has influenced your career or life, and why?

One book that has had an influence on me that I almost never hear people talk about is The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership. The book is a must-read for anyone working with other humans. The concepts in the book have helped me identify in myself some of my unconscious reactions to work and life situations, it’s helped me in my approach to relationships, and overall improved the way I find energy to go after my goals. 

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?

Don’t underestimate or forget the power of your relationships. I have loved watching friends and acquaintances from my past reemerge in my life in different contexts and being a resource to open up new opportunities for them and them for me. It’s something you have to live through to fully appreciate and I’ve found it very rewarding. 

Early in a career, it can feel like you don’t have a network but I’d challenge that and advise a college student to look around and develop relationships with those in your classes, clubs, and social groups. There are always people you can build friendships with and help out. Adopt a give first mentality and look for ways to help, it will come back around and it just makes life more enjoyable. The power of compounding is alive and well in the relationships you form early in your life and career. 

Advice to Ignore: I think most colleges have a built-in incentive to minimize risk and find the most expedient way to get people jobs–makes sense right? For some yes, for many or most I’d argue no. My experience is that colleges care very little about how fulfilled or meaningful your work will be and more about graduation and placement statistics. 

I believe that for college students, embracing uncertainty, tolerating more risk, being okay with developing networks and skills over steady pay, and having a more open aperture for opportunities creates more serendipity and many times more meaningful paths for a fresh graduate. 

If you could go back in time to when you were entering the workforce and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Salary is the primary focus for many people from the start and can lock you into a path that has limited upside, or worse, into a life you hate. Focus the first 15 years of your career on finding the right mentors, networks, experiences, and skills. After the first 15 years, you can start optimizing more for pay grade. 

What’s one of your proudest professional accomplishments? 

I’m most proud of the partnership we have at Album, the culture and brand we’ve built so far, and the incredible founders we’ve been fortunate to back. 

Since entering the workforce, how have you changed or transformed?

Growing up, school and early jobs teach you that it’s all about memorizing the right answers and doing tasks correctly and fast. I think I entered the workforce having that same mindset. 

Through years of experience and struggles, I’ve learned that it’s much more important to have softer skills like persuasion, critical thinking, and human relationship skills. While hard skills are important and have their place, at some point, you have to learn how to persuade other people to join your point of view after you’ve taken the time to think through something deeply. I now focus much more on how I effectively create accountability both in myself and others and find ways to create leverage in my day and structurally in our business.

When have you felt stuck in your career? How did you break out of it or push forward?

This is where a good mentor comes in. Find someone who is two steps ahead of you in an area where you’re interested who can help you navigate. I also get a lot of value out of reading books and a number of podcasts. A few podcasts I’d recommend whether you’re in the investment world or not include: Invest Like the Best, The Knowledge Project, and Naval Ravikant. 

What habit or practice helps you manage stress?

I’ve recently picked up a daily breathwork practice. Breathing is something that we rarely think about but can create a massive shift in our state if used deliberately. There are techniques for anxiety, general stress, lethargy, sleep, and more. There are many apps out there but I use Breathwrk and Wim Hoff.

For more Career Q&As, click here, or you can check out my monthly newsletter and podcast.

Difficult Conversations: Why They’re Important and How to Have Them (Episode 9)

Too often we avoid having difficult conversations because we tell ourselves it’s just not worth the effort. Nothing will change.

We tell ourselves that our manager or whoever’s involved doesn’t care about us and that there’s no point in speaking up. Often it’s easier, and quite frankly safer, to believe these things rather than to take action.

While no one likes having difficult conversations, when we avoid them, we trade short term discomfort for long term dysfunction.

In this episode, I share why it’s critical to have hard conversations, a framework for guiding these discussions, and three tips that will ensure you’re successful in having them.

As a reminder, The Not Your Parents’ Workplace Show is now available as a podcast. Please consider subscribing and leaving a review on Apple.

This Simple Tool Will Stop Anger From Destroying Your Career (Episode 8)

Anger is something we all feel at times but left unchecked it can cause irreparable damage to important relationships and harm our career. I’ve found that a simple tool—what I call an “unsent angry letter”—can help prevent raw emotion from getting the best of us.

Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and countless others have mastered the art of the unsent angry letter. Doing so allowed them to act deliberately and consciously rather than out of frustration or anger.

In this episode, I share why you need to master the unsent angry letter and how doing so will help you become more effective in all aspects of your life.

As a reminder, the Not Your Parents’ Workplace Show is now available as a podcast.

#13: How to Neutralize Anger in Others The Not Your Parents' Workplace Show with Nathan Tanner

  1. #13: How to Neutralize Anger in Others
  2. #12: The One Thing Holding You Back From Reaching Your Goals
  3. #11: Alexander Hamilton and the Art of Discretion

Don’t Follow Your Passion! Do This Instead. (Episode 7)

The most popular career advice out there is that you should follow your passion.

“Do what you’re most passionate about!”

“Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life!

You hear it all the time. While well-intended, I’ve found this to be the worst career advice that’s out there. In this week’s episode, I’ll explore why you shouldn’t obsess over finding your passion, and discuss three practical things to do instead.

As a reminder, the Not Your Parents’ Workplace Show is now available as a podcast:
– Apple: https://apple.co/2T8URbu
– Spotify: https://spoti.fi/3dPs2so
– Google: https://bit.ly/3bECFwu

5 Ways to Unlock the Power of Mentorship in Your Career (Episode 6)

Mentorship is critical to career growth and the benefits of mentorship include faster promotions, salary growth, and increased job satisfaction.

But finding the right mentor can be challenging and it’s not always clear how to build an effective mentoring relationship.

In Episode 6 of The Not Your Parents’ Workplace Show, I cover why mentorship matters, four ways to attract a mentor, and creative ways to find mentorship.

5 years ago I published Not Your Parents’ Workplace. In the book, I wrote about the challenges I faced in 2008 when I had a front-row seat to the largest bankruptcy in US history. Given today’s economic environment and career challenges, I’m kicking off a YouTube series where I’ll share lessons I wrote about in the book as well as lessons I’ve learned since.

3 Daily Practices to Thrive During COVID-19 (Episode 5)

I don’t know about you, but for much of this COVID period, I’ve been in survival mode, learning on the fly how to cope with this new reality. But recently, I was challenged to look at things from a different perspective.

Rather than merely survive during this period, what if it were possible to truly thrive? What if it were possible in one year to look back and say that we experienced more personal growth and were more productive during this time than any other?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve come to believe that, while difficult, holding a new perspective is possible. In this video, I share 3 daily practices for thriving during COVID-19 and any other challenging period.

For more videos, click here.

How to Develop a Career Competitive Advantage (Episode 4)

In 2012 I read a book that had a profound impact on me and shifted how I think about my career.

That book is The Start-Up of You by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha.  The authors argue that we can develop a competitive advantage by answering questions regarding our assets, our aspirations, and the market realities.

1) Assets: What are you inherently good at? What do you have going for you? These can include soft assets (knowledge, skills, connections) and hard assets (cash, investments).

2) Aspirations: Where do you want to go in the future? What do you want to do? Who do you want to become?

3) Market Realities: What will people actually pay you for? Where is there a market demand?

In my latest video, I dive into these three critical questions, sharing how these questions inspired me to make a career pivot and how they can help you build a career competitive advantage.

Fortune Favors the Bold (Episode 3)

Being bold is important in all aspects of our lives, but it’s especially critical in our careers. I learned this lesson firsthand when my friend Ned’s boldness and creativity helped him find his dream job.

In Episode #3 of the Not Your Parents’ Workplace Show, I walk through why fortune favors the bold, share the story of how Ned landed the job, and provide two tips on how YOU can be bolder than ever.