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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What comes to mind when you hear the word “networking”? If you’re like many, you think of an extreme extrovert at a cocktail party or networking event, glad-handing and dishing out business cards to everyone in sight. Ughh. We know networking is important, but does it have to be so painful?
In my second video, I share tips on how to network in a more focused and authentic way, as well as how to build a personal board of directors.
Going forward, I plan to post one video per week. If you like what you see, subscribe to the channel so you can catch future ones!
5 years ago I published the career strategy book, Not Your Parents’ Workplace. In it, I share the challenges I faced and the lessons I learned during the 2008 financial crisis and beyond. Within a year of graduating college, I worked at three companies, enduring the largest bankruptcy in history at one and getting laid off by another. It was a brutal period I’ll never forget.
We’re now in another period of economic uncertainty. Many have lost jobs and others are worried about what the future holds. In light of this, I’ve decided to try something new. I’ve kicked off a series where I share stories and lessons from Not Your Parents’ Workplace as well as insights I’ve had over the last five years.