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

For the podcast version of this article, visit Apple, Google, or Spotify Podcasts

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.

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

Career Q&A with Mia Mabanta, Head of Talent and Growth Initiatives at Y Combinator (#9)

Our next Career Q&A is with Mia Mabanta, Head of Talent and Growth Initiatives at Y Combinator. Mia provides excellent advice on how to view career opportunities with an abundance mindset, the power of long walks, why ‘fake it ’til you make it’ is bad advice, and how immigrating to the US taught her to be scrappy and resourceful. I hope you enjoy her insights as much as I did.

Mia Mabanta runs talent and growth initiatives at YC Continuity, Y Combinator’s growth-stage fund. Prior to YC, Mia led product marketing at Quartz, the business news startup, as the company grew 10X in revenue and headcount. She also cofounded a fintech startup, HelloWallet, which sold to Morningstar and spun out of research she had been working on at the Brookings Institution, where she began her career as an analyst. Mia has an MBA from Stanford.

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

My Kindle is full of highlights from business/leadership-type books, but the book that has stayed in my consciousness longer than any other couldn’t be further from that genre. The Meadow by James Galvin is made up of poetic, intricately written vignettes chronicling a hundred years of life on… a meadow. The elegance with which he describes sensory details is almost meditative. Almost 20 years after I first read it, I still find that it helps me stay calm and centered in my life and work.

Was there an experience you had before age 21 that shaped who you are? What was it?

I immigrated to the US at 17 (for college) and have been largely independent ever since. At the time, I didn’t have much of a support base and had to figure out a lot of basic life things on my own: financial hurdles, visa lotteries, the DMV. I probably sent my resume to 100 companies before I got my first job offer, and had more brushes with deportation than I would have liked. I learned how to be scrappy and resourceful. It built up my resilience and taught me how to plan for the worst-case scenario.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success?

My biggest career misstep was hastily taking a job for the wrong reasons. On my first day, I knew I’d made a mistake. It made me seriously question my ability to make good decisions. But I then spent a lot of time thinking deeply about what was important to me in a job and company. At one point, I was printing out companies’ values and stacking them up against my own. Going through that exercise cemented how important culture and mission are, and within a few months I landed at a startup that I felt deeply connected to and (I think) had a lasting impact on, even years after I left. 

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

Don’t “fake it ‘til you make it.” Ask all the questions you need to understand a problem deeply. The best people, no matter their seniority, are the ones who ask questions to get the information they don’t have and work through problems instead of talking around them.

Also: Read a lot, especially about things that have nothing to do with your job. Find a great boss to work for. Spend time on relationships. There’s something to be learned from everyone you meet, whether it’s something to emulate or something to avoid. Learn how to think, speak, and write with clarity and conciseness. It’s amazing how much that sets people apart. 

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?

Ali Rowghani, my current boss, gives this piece of advice that I wish I’d had when I was just starting out: View career opportunities with a lens of abundance. There is so much to do and learn, so many problems to solve. When see your career this way, you start to focus more on the expansiveness of your own potential rather than the little distractions—job title, status, organizational politics—that inevitably come up.

What’s one of your proudest professional accomplishments?

My proudest professional accomplishment is probably the people I’ve hired. I love building teams and get a lot of fulfillment out of working through challenges together and celebrating wins. Whenever I’ve created an environment where people are working hard, having fun doing so, and genuinely care about one another, I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job.

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

Besides all the usual growth that one goes through as they advance in their career, one big change is that I’ve become much more adaptable to people’s different working styles, and better at communicating my own. It’s not that I was intolerant of different styles before—but with time and experience, I’ve gotten better at seeing where people are coming from and minimizing friction along the way.

What habit or practice helps you manage stress?

Every few days, I go on long music walks to decompress. I’ll listen to an album or two front to back while walking around. It creates this sensory experience that I find really soothing and quietly epic. Some albums I’ve been walking with lately are Put Your Back N 2 It by Perfume Genius, Historian by Lucy Dacus, Little Creatures by the Talking Heads, and Suddenly by Caribou. 

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

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.

What Pitbull Can Teach You About Building a Powerful Network (Episode 2)

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.

Comparison is the Thief of Joy. Here’s the Antidote. (Episode 1)

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’m kicking 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.

Here’s the first video. I’d love to hear what you think and if there are specific topics you’d like covered in future ones!