Success at Work Challenge Week 6: Pay in

5659908590_a2fb90dfc0_mI’m trying to achieve success at work, and you can too! For the next 2 weeks, I’ll be running a #SuccessAtWork challenge on this blog. Each week’s challenge will follow one of the 7 disciplines I highlight in my new ebook, What the Most Successful People Do at Work. If you’re participating, please let me know in the comments, or on Twitter.

I love the concept of career capital. This is the sum total of your skills, experience, and connections that you’ve built up over the years. Ideally, if you’ve been paying in over time, you’ll have quite a pile built up. If necessary, you can exchange that wealth for a new situation should your current job disappear, or no longer challenge you.

As with amassing financial capital, this is best done regularly. You transfer money from your checking account to your investment account with every paycheck. Eventually, it’s such a habit you don’t even notice it’s happening (until you look at your statements and think, wow!).

People who build up career capital, likewise, develop the discipline to pay in to their career capital accounts every day. While this sometimes takes the form of networking —  lots of career capital consists of people knowing and liking you — that’s not the only way to pay in. You can learn a new skill. You can figure out what skills will be useful in the future and keep abreast of those developments. You can keep your online profiles current, and spend time working on your portfolio — physical evidence that you can do whatever it is you do.

It is this last example that I’ve really learned to appreciate. One of the less celebrated aspects of a writing career — or writing in addition to your main job — is that you produce something that is identifiably yours. These articles, posts, and books are then out there in the marketplace, speaking for you and your ideas, even when you’re not around. I never know what clips will deliver a great return, but there have been some really unexpected ones.

  • In 2002, I wrote a column for USA Today on gifted kids skipping high school. That column came to the attention of Jan and Bob Davidson, software entrepreneurs whose philanthropy focuses on gifted education. They hired me, at age 23, to help them write their book, Genius Denied: How to stop wasting our brightest young minds. This was my introduction to the world of book writing and I’m still doing some work with the Davidson Institute, 10 years later.
  • An executive at Portfolio (part of Penguin) read a book review I wrote of Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated. He emailed me and asked if I’d like to talk book ideas. I did! That meeting led to my writing 168 Hours and, by extension, my other books with Portfolio.
  • I wrote an article on Sal Khan and the Khan Academy for City Journal called “The Math of Khan.” Some people at the Philanthropy Roundtable read that article, and hired me to write a short book for philanthropists on blended learning. I’m now doing another project with them on teacher and principal excellence.

When I wrote those three pieces, I had no idea each of them would lead to other big projects. All I can do is keep putting stuff out there, writing things that people might want to read, which in turn leads other people to ask me to write things that they think people might want to read. You never know which stock in a diversified portfolio will skyrocket, but some do. The more you pay in, the more pay offs you get.

What’s the best opportunity you’ve ever gotten from paying in to your career capital account?

This week’s challenge: Do something to pay in, every day. Note how much time it took. It probably isn’t that much.

Photo courtesy flickr user AaronPatterson

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