“No enemy is worse than bad advice.”
In a culture where anyone can publish anything with no more experience than an internet connection, certain platitudes are taken as gospel. With thousands of “life coaches” posting advice, the same tired advice gets repurposed ad nauseam. In this episode, Frank Cava and Ian Mathews take a contrarian stance on some commonly accepted wisdom.
In this episode:
- Maybe you shouldn’t “follow your passion”
- Hard work alone has a ceiling
- Translating what a manager really means when they say you should “be patient”
- What goes unspoken when someone tells you that “you can be anything you want to be”
- Why balance is only a function of your ambition
- How to explain a short stint on your resume
- If you don’t toot your own horn, who will?
- No one wants to hear how things were done in your old company
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Dangerous Career Advice
I am excited to talk about crappy career advice. How about you?
Not only am I excited to talk about crappy career advice. We’ve been getting a little bit of a flack from some of our loyal readers.
In this episode, we could probably do a five-part series of this. This is bad career advice that is commonly given and accepted. We are going to talk about ten of our favorite bad career advice that you would get. Before we do that, Frank, let’s start with some good advice. Why don’t you tell everyone the advice that you give every intern that comes to Cava Companies?
It’s two nuggets of gold but it’s one sentence. I’m thinking about adding a third bullet but for the time being is this. This is for interns and I work on our twelfth year of business, we’ve had an intern nearly every summer. In pandemic summer, we didn’t have one, but every other summer, we always have an intern. They’re great kids. They’re fun. They’re full of energy. By the end of the summer, I’m the crazy uncle because I own the business and I’m running around. As we get bigger, they see less and less of me.
I always meet them for the interview and on their first day, and I always talk to them on their last day at a minimum but I usually see them more. My two pieces of advice for every intern are this. First, I say, “Is it okay if I give you a couple of pieces of advice?” They’re like, “Of course, that’d be great.” I’m like, “Number one, buy hard assets.” Sometimes, there’s a conversation there about buying a house, buy stock, buy gold, whatever, but invest in real things. Don’t buy a car, buy things that are real that are going to have tangible value for you because they can set you apart. This has worked well for you and me. Piece of advice number two is don’t get fat. They look at me because they’re 22 or 21 years old. They are in shock. I’m like, “It never goes back to the same once that happens.”
We start with a couple of nuggets for our loyal readers, buy hard assets and don’t get fat. Those are words to live by Frank Cava. I don’t know where a lot of this advice that we’re going to talk about originated from. It’s going to be interesting to break each of these down a little bit and try to see the psychology behind why. It’s typically a manager that would give you this advice, but the psychology behind why they give that advice. It’s interesting because a lot of the time that advice is based on how they would do things or it’s advice based on mistakes or insecurities that they might have. Number one on our list, which is annoying as hell to both Frank and I, and we didn’t follow this. It was follow your passion. When we came through with our list, we both spit that out right out of the gate that we absolutely disdain this advice that people give early in their career. It sets a lot of people back in their career early especially from an income perspective. What the hell does that even mean? Is passion even profitable? It’s so generic and opaque that I see it being counterproductive to someone’s career.
It’s funny because there’s a comedian who says something like this. Not all advice is created equal. As you’re younger, just because someone is older, in a position of strength, or is in a leadership position, you put them on a pedestal, and you think you should listen to what they say. The comedian loosely translates it and says something along the lines of this, “You think that your dad is special as a young kid. You think he’s a superhero and he’s got these incredible qualities. You then realize as you get older that the only thing your dad was capable of doing is getting your mother pregnant.” You go from superhero to he just put his penis somewhere. You couldn’t get from more opposite ends of the spectrum.
That’s important when you pick who you take advice from. You need to realize, does this person deserve to have your ear or do they not? People who will give you the follow-your-passion advice are usually not people who have much money. I’m married to a liberal professor. A lot of her friends followed their passions. They live at the median salary and they’re very happy. For those of you that are listening to a business-related podcast, it’s probably not where happiness lies for you. You have to understand who’s giving you the advice and what does it mean to you. Following your passion does not lead to a life of riches or a life of freedom from the standpoint of having to live to a budget.
When you think about your career and you might have gone closer to your passion than I did at least out of the gate. You are passionate about construction. You chose construction as a degree because it was interesting, not necessarily because it would give you the highest salary out of college or the best opportunities. You did it because you were pretty passionate about it. In one sense, we’re saying, “That’s dumb,” but you did start with a passion.
There was a period in my life where I went to Virginia Tech to recruit. One of the professors there, I don’t know if he’s credited with this or who else, and maybe we need to put this in the half facet and research department. There was a quote Lucy translated of, “Find something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” You meet people who are passionate on Saturday at the Farmer’s market. They grow incredible mushrooms that you can put into a sauce or they make beautiful scarves. People who are professional don’t have an incredible amount of passion. Their passion is snowboarding, but they’re also good at real estate.Buy hard assets. Invest in real things. Click To Tweet
For me, I followed something I was good at. I’ve talked before about how I started off wanting to be a doctor or a lawyer. I realized I’m not smart enough and I don’t understand chemistry. I’m not built to be those things. I retreated to construction. Construction was a comfort zone that I knew. What I was honest with myself about at 21 or 22 was I’m good at these things, I understand these things, and I can distinguish myself here. I wasn’t necessarily in love with those things but I was good at it. As I grew up, as I got better at it, I became more passionate about it. If you’ve ever heard me talk about my business, it seems like a passion, but it’s not the things that I’m the most passionate about in my life, but it’s become part of my life.
You going out in the East End and walking around in an old brick house that’s 100 years old and trying to figure out how to flip it and fix it. I don’t know that’s the most passionate thing in your life. You’re good at it. You know how to do it. It’s mundane now for you. Your passion though is growing something big, building a team, building a culture, and having a fun culture where people enjoy being at work. It’s not so much the construct of what you’re selling the product. Your business is you sell out cards, you find leads, you buy low, and you sell high. Similar to Jenny’s dad. She feeds almost the same thing. I don’t know if he’s the most passionate guy about trailers, but he likes running a business that’s profitable and he likes the chase. He likes the challenge of finding ways to make unique, different ways of profits. On the business side of it, the commercial aspect of your business is more exciting than what you’re selling.
This might come out a little wonky or a little stilted. I didn’t think about it before but you said something that made me think of it. I might stumble a bit. If someone says that person is passionate about business, what typically happens is that person lines up with something or does something career-wise that fits them, then they put in a body of work for years. We’re talking two decades here for Ian and me. We both plan to live to be old men and this is what I’m going to do right up to the minute I die because I love it.
If you pick something that aligns with you and you pick something that you’ve worked hard at, and you focus on it, it can become your passion and it becomes a part of you, then it morphs. I love owning real estate, but a house doesn’t matter. What I get to focus on now is that I get to iterate. I iterate into building a business, owning a pool of assets, working with people, building careers, and watching others succeed. Those are the things I’m passionate about. As a twenty-year-old, I didn’t know how to manage people. As a 40-year-old, I like to see others succeed.
That’s what I get fired up about. I don’t know what the next couple of decades holds but I know what’s going to go down that trajectory. I’m going to continue to morph to things that I love. What Ian and I both are in the middle of is, is it our number one passion? No. Do we put passionate pursuits into our business? This is a goofy show that my attorney thinks is a waste of our time. However, we’re doing it because we think there’s value in it. It’s something we believe in. We are passionate about it and we get to make that choice. That’s what starts to happen if you make the right decisions in your teens, 20s and 30s. You get to build.
You said something that’s important. Take this show for instance. If a 21-year-old asked me, “What should I go do? It looks awesome what you guys are doing. I’d love to do that.” I don’t know that my advice would be like, “If you’re passionate about it, get into podcasting.” If I said that to them, that would be advice based on where I’m at in my life. That would be advice where you’re at in your life. I would not give that advice to a 22-year-old Ian who didn’t have a pot to piss in because there’s no money in this for at least a while. We haven’t figured out how it’s ever going to make money, but that’s why we’re doing it.
This is a passion project that could lead to some money or it could lead to different marketing opportunities, but we’re not doing it for that. This is fun for us. It’s a period of our week where we get together. We chop up on something we’re putting together. When I was younger, I got an Engineering degree because I was good at math. Not because I was passionate about engineering. Not one class interest in me. I was pretty good at it and I knew that engineering paid as well as anything out of college for getting a job. I would do my internships and I’d be like, “This is awful. I’m drafting parts or components for automobiles.”
One thing I did see is I watched the sales guys coming in and out. They would sell the products that I was drafting. That looked exciting to me so I decided I’m going to be a sales engineer. If I can manage as an engineer, I want to get into sales. I was passionate about that. I did get energized by figuring out how to prospect, how to find and get new customers, how to convince someone from a no to a yes. I’m passionate about growing a business. I then got an opportunity to manage people and I found I was passionate about that because it was the closest thing to sports that I could find.
It was the closest thing to being a coach or how do I go and build a team, develop the team, make it a winning team, and make us better. At GE, I sold variable frequency drives and exhortation systems for generators, turbines and power plants. I could care less about that product. I didn’t even know how it worked. I was just good with people. I then left to go to a company to run a mortgage business. It is the most boring-ass, dumb, and commodity-driven business that’s filled with awful government regulations.
There’s nothing about that business that is enjoyable other than the money. The part I loved about it is it was sales, customer service, how do we acquire more, how do we build a better team, and how do we get that team to perform a little better. Things I’m passionate about which are selling, marketing, building great teams and driving profits. That stuff is fun to me because it’s kind of a game. When people say, “Follow your passion,” a lot of people new in their career think that that has to do with the product. I don’t know that it has to be the product. The context of that could be, do things that you enjoy doing. I’ve always enjoyed sales, building teams, marketing, and I’m still doing some of that stuff now.
As we get into this, we’re going to talk a little bit about working hard. What Ian and I talked about when we were laying this out is following your passion can be good advice and it can be bad advice. It’s usually not the first piece of advice or it’s not the only piece of advice. It’s part of the advice. If you’re coming out of college or thinking of making a career change, if you follow your passion, it doesn’t always get you ultimately where you want to go. However, if you get in the door and you prove worth, you prove value, you get people who champion you, and then you find something inside of that business that you do have passionate about. Maybe it isn’t mortgage but it’s leading, teaching or training. You then pick that path. If that fits within who you are as a person and what your skillsets are, that’s where things can go exponentially. If you’re going to be like a basket weaver or someone who does pottery, that’s a commodity that’s not going to lead to wealth. It’s going to lead to a lot of joy but that sounds more like a hobby than it sounds like a career.
Number two, since you already highlighted it, let’s go right to work hard. There are many different ways of saying this but in general, the mentality is the harder you work, the more success you’ll have. The caveat there that people don’t talk about is, that depends on the context. If I went and took a job at the laundromat across the street from me in Vienna here, I’m sure they would give me as many hours as I wanted. I could work around the clock. I could work sixteen-hour days, seven days a week, I’m sure they would give me plenty of hours, and I would never get anywhere in my life. It wouldn’t matter how hard I worked. I would not find success. Where you work is something that most people don’t give enough thought to. Where I apply my time and my hours. Your hours are so valuable. Why would you work for any company in any industry where long hours would not show a big return?
Where you work is part of it, but the industry you work in. If you want to have a career where you get to control things or have some passion for it, it’s hard to do that if you’re a dishwasher at a restaurant, or if you’re working at McDonald’s. Those are not professions or jobs that have a lot of discretion. It’s task-oriented and you’re going to bust your ass. It’s physical work. It’s like Ian’s dad, my dad, who are both hands-on guys. Ian’s dad was in a steel mill. My dad is an electrician. Those are hard jobs where you go and you come home from work tired and sweaty. There are not a lot of areas to go outside of that unless you branch into management or something like that. You have to think about, “Where am I pointing myself?” You have to start at the bottom but if I start at the bottom, is there a place to graduate too or am I always going to be doing something manually? If being on the manual side is what you want to do, that’s cool but know that that’s the trajectory that you’re on.People who will give you the 'follow your passion' advice usually don't have much money. Click To Tweet
What our dads did was not scalable. Over 30 years, my dad will tell you his best income years were the years where he worked double shifts, seven days a week. He got plenty of holiday, double shifts where he could make four times the money. It was always a ceiling. There was no opportunity to do more. If he got the hours, he worked it but there are only so many hours you can humanly work before you burn yourself out. It’s the same with your dad. As an electrician, his income is predicated on the hours he can put into different jobs. That runs into a ceiling. You can’t leverage that.
Work hard is bad advice because as Ian said, it’s capped. Work hard inside with your head up and looking around every now and again is smart. This is an iteration of working hard. Starting to become an arbiter of your time and looking at, “What am I putting my time into and what do I bill at?” People have asked me this question a ton of times. Ian and I are spoiled brats, I know that, but we have help in our lives. I have someone who mows the lawn. I have someone who cleans the house. In a lot of instances, I have someone who cooks. I’ve gone back and I’ve done the math on how much money I’ve spent over the last ten years on those tasks.
It’s not an insignificant amount of money. It’s a lot of money. It’s more than $100,000, but it came out to about $48 per hour for tasks that I’ve been able to free up. What I’ve been able to do is I’ve been able to build a rate 5 to 15 times that. Because of that, I could go home and fold the laundry or mow the lawn. Those are hardworking tasks, but those aren’t the best uses of my time. I have someone who’s great at those things who does them well. They do it. What I get to do is I either have free time or I get time to invest into my business or into the things that I’m better at. That is the difference between working hard blindly and working hard with some discretion.
Something you said is worth repeating a little bit. It’s not just the company. You want to pick a company that’s healthy, a leader against its peers, the top 1 or 2 in its industry, and consistently growing. Those are the companies where the people are growing within them, but the market matters a lot. When I left General Electric, I was selling to industrials. I was selling to steel mills, paper mills, aluminum companies and autos. What was happening to those companies in the early ’80s, ’90s, 2000s, they were being killed by manufacturing facilities in China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Mexico.
It was being all off-shored and the companies that were still selling were getting killed by people on the internet that could sell it, undercut, do all of that. When I left General Electric, it wasn’t so much leaving a better company for a different company. Some of that was there. I left a much bigger company for a smaller company that could grow faster. The other piece of it was when people asked me that I’d say, “You can’t bring houses off a boat from China. You can’t get beat by some internet company that started in California. You still have to own the dirt, build houses. It’s a local business, it’s growing, and it’s not going anywhere over the next 30 years. It’s going to still be a profitable business if you pick the right home builder.”
At that time, there are five builders I could’ve picked that would have been terrible decisions. Centex is no longer around, they’re gone. I could have chosen Beazer who did terrible management in that company. I could have chosen K Hovnanian. There’s a number that I could have chosen. It matters that I chose the right builder, but I was focused on what’s a very profitable business that will be for 30 years, and that can’t be disrupted. That was important to me.
I know who I am. Wherever I went, I was going to work my ass off wherever I was. If I stay at GE and give them my 30s, I’d work my ass off. The difference is I traded GE which stock price was at $60 when I left at 28 years old, it’s $11 now. All of those stock options would have been zero. That’s how I was paid, in equity. I traded for a smaller company whose stock was $600, $700 and it went up to $3,500 by the time I left. As an executive that was paid by the performance of the stock, it was a smart move for me to trade with a smaller company with a much better opportunity to grow. For me, where I was going to work matter because I knew I was going to work hard no matter what in my 30s.
There’s a program that I love. It’s a training program I saw somewhere in my late 20s or early 30s that’s called Celebrate What’s Right with the World. It’s by a guy by the name of Dewitt Jones. If you try and find it on the internet, you might be able to pirate it, but you’ve got to buy it. It’s hard to find but it’s awesome. Dewitt Jones says this, “The difference between good and great is measured in millimeters and not miles.” What that is it’s small tweaks to the dial that make all the difference. Work hard is bad advice. Work hard with discretion or work hard with an ability to grow or get where you want to get is great advice. That’s the difference in Dewitt Jones’s vernacular between a good frame and a great frame. He’s a photographer. That’s the difference. It’s work hard with an asterisk.
Number three is be patient.
We’re both incredibly good at being patient. It’s one of my virtues.
I’ve ignored this advice at every step of my career. Let’s talk about the reasoning of why a manager would tell you to be patient. What are your thoughts initially when a manager says, “Be patient,” to you?
I don’t want to have to find someone to replace you so stay there for a while.
That’s pretty good. I think of a manager without any authority, without any power, someone who’s saying, “Let me punt this down the road because I don’t have the ability to get you what you’re asking for.” Whether it’s money if you’re asking for money and they say be patient. If you’re asking for a promotion and they say be patient. If you’re asking for a transfer to a different division or anything. When someone says be patient, it’s because they can’t give you what you want fast enough if your company is not growing fast enough, or they don’t have any pole within your company. I also think you’re saying that because you didn’t move fast in your career. Some reason you think I should have to do it the same. You’re self-conscious about the fact that your career moves slowly so you’re going to ask me to do the same.
With everything that’s inside this particular episode, there’s bad advice in “be patient,” but there’s also a hint of good. You might not be ready. You might not have the skills or the chops to do the next thing. Major League Baseball has several four rungs of Minor League Baseball before you can get to the show because they’re going to eat you alive up there. There are some positives to being patient. In my life, I always felt internal strife about the speed with which I was moving. I chose to voice it infrequently. I was like a duck. I was floating along looking like not much was happening but inside was the paddle. I was trying to stay afloat. It almost feels like angst in your twenties.
If you have a bearing point and you look ahead, and if you work at a bigger company, you can find people who took a career arc like you, and you can talk to them. You don’t want to kiss their ass but at the same time, you can say, “I like your arc. What did you do? Why did you move? What were the steps that you took to get here? How can I help you look better so I can get there too?” Little things like that, those are what mentors and relationships get you to that helped you understand. I do need to wait a certain amount of time so you’d be good at the job, but I can be impatient if I do these things and add these values. That’s what’s important. If you want to be impatient, add value and figure that part out.There's only so many hours you can humanly work before you burn yourself out. Click To Tweet
Get results and earn it. If you want to come out of A ball to triple-A, you want to move fast.
You’re hitting 220. Your coach says be patient. He’s not saying be patient. He’s saying you suck at hitting. You’re not going anywhere. The reason why I get annoyed with “be patient” is its half-ass advice. It’s a manager not having the guts to say, “You want to be a sales manager, why do you suck at selling? You’re ranked 27th out of 32 sales reps and you’re asking me to be a sales manager? We’re thinking of replacing you.” Instead, they take the chicken shit route and they say, “Be patient.” It’s not good advice. The good advice is, if you want something, show me you’re a producer and I’ll have no choice. You need to force my hand because your results are not doing it.
I’m going to take it to the other side of that. Everything you said I completely agree with. If you’re 27 out of 32, you’re delusional if you’re asking to be promoted. You’re a jackass. Let’s say you’re 5 out of 32, but you’ve only been in the job for eight months. I found myself in this position more than once. What I was told is, “You’re doing great. However, you sold in two communities all with this loan program. If I move you to a different community, you learn a different sales cycle, and you learn a different finance option, you’re going to get stronger.” That wasn’t bullshit be patient. That was a good example of, “Frank, if you go to this other community and learn how to sell, you’re going to stand out because it’s one of our most expensive product offerings. It’s a different loan program that you’re going to be selling.” In an interview, you’re going to be able to talk about, “I sold FHA. I sold super jumbo and I sold everything in between.” I know how to relate to five different customers, not just 1 or 2.
Forget the interview though. That doesn’t matter. That’s just politics. What’s more important is you’re going to be able to manage someone who is selling a $200,000 house, and manage another person who’s selling a $1 million house. Look them in the eyes and say, “I know your challenges because I’ve done it. I know what you’re faced with, I can empathize with you, and I can work with you because I wasn’t so limited in what I did.” The advice is not be patient. The advice is, “How do I know it’s not luck? You’ve had a good eight months. We’ve had a hell of a good market the winds blown at our back. You happen to be in a good community that’s priced perfectly. Let’s try you in a different one.” That is the advice of, “I know from my time that your short-term performance might not be something we could replicate.” That’s important to be able to give that context. That’s advice. Be patient is not advice. Number four, starting salary matters.
Let me start with this, Ian because this was my bling. I remember graduating from college and I graduated in the late ’90s. Back then in my line of work, you were going to start in the low 40s, maybe the high 30s. You’d have a couple of things in your comp package that would take you up into $43,000 or $45,000. That’s where you start. There was a guy who we graduated with that started at $60,000. He was nearly 20% higher than all of us. Although at first, I was a little bit off-put by the fact that he was making 20% to 25% more than me and he wasn’t any smarter. He’s graduated below me in the rankings.
I started to think about like, “I don’t want to be making $43,000 ten years from now. What’s the arc? Where am I going?” I bumped into that kid 6 or 7 years later. He went from making $60,000 to $65,000. I went from making $43,000 in my total comp package with the $38,000 base to over $200,000. I had stock options and I was a vice-president. What I had was a lower starting but a much higher ceiling because of where I chose to go work. To me, the starting salary doesn’t mean crap if you pick the right place. If you go to McDonald’s, you’re only going to make so much, but if you go somewhere with a horizon in front of you with growth, that gives you the ability to grow.
I’ll add one piece of that because it’s fantastic. You went to a place where the growth opportunities were much better than that person did. Typically a smaller company is going to have to pay you a little more because what else do you have to compete against? If you’re a small tech business with ten people and not a ton of growth opportunities right away, and you work across the street from Salesforce, you’ve got to throw some money at them to get them to come work for you. You don’t have a brand, they don’t know who the hell you are, and it’s a lot of risks.
The question I didn’t ask him is, “Are you getting 401(k)? Do you have health insurance?” He probably wasn’t getting any of those things. His $60,000 is probably $54,000 or $50,000.
The growth opportunity in the company is a bigger deal than the starting salary. What will that company be perceived as in your background? For me, General Electric was not the highest offer I got out of college but there was no way I wasn’t taking it because I was starting on their leadership program at the time it was vaunted. It was thought of as the number one leadership program in the country. The perception was GE developed good leaders. I knew if I went there and I could earn a management job, I could leverage that to something that paid a lot more for a company that wasn’t as sophisticated.
That’s exactly what happened. I went to a company that was not that sophisticated when it came to training and developing leaders, and I leveraged the perception that General Electric was good at it. They were good at it. It wasn’t just a perception. It was real under Jack Welch. That mattered a lot more for me going to the next company than what my starting salary was. I ended up making multiples of that salary by having General Electric on my resume.
We had different launch points with this and it’s worth belaboring it for this reason. When I left my major, I went to work for a home builder and that was frowned upon. It was almost the opposite of leaving an Engineering degree and going to work with GE. It was very much like, “You’re going into residential?” It was scoffed at by my professors and almost everyone in my class. What I looked at was 3, 5, and 10 years later and I knew that instead of having the ability to build a monument, I was going to have five different skills. I was going to know how to build a home, estimate a home, sell a home, and then manage all of that. That’s five different skills. That was going to give me a tool belt that they weren’t going to have. In addition to that, this was my decision for me. I thought it served me the best. You have to look at it as this is the orchestra that I’m going to play. I need to pick the right instruments. You’re in sprint was, “I went to a great company. I can leverage that.” For me, I’ve got these different skills that I can use to leverage.
To think about any company that you work for, you should always think about it as, “What am I getting out of it?” There’s no, “What does the company get first?” It’s always you first because the company will put itself first over you always. You always have to think, “What skills will I take away? How will this make me more valuable?” If you want to start a business, you can. Frank talked about five big skills. He had used it to leverage and build a business. I used it to leverage myself some equity in a company in a very big position right out of the gate, but I thought about it in terms of how many skills will I learn that I can go then transfer to a place with a much bigger upside.
Some of this stuff you walk into, you figure it out, and you put a better talk track around it when you’re older. I’m way more articulate about what I did in my 20s and 30s than I was while I was living it. If you’re conscious of what’s happening, you’re paying attention to it, and you’re making sure you do realize like, “I need to add value with the company, but I also have to look out for me.” If you do that, it’s going to get you further and no one is going to look out for you more than you.
Number five, you can be anyone you want to be. This one is going to be hard for us to rip on because it’s the American dream. It’s aspirational. We tell our kids all of that stuff. I’ll be interested to learn why you don’t like this. The reason why I don’t like it is there’s a lot of survivorship bias in this. Survivorship bias is finding someone who went against all odds to do something incredible. Oprah Winfrey is a good example. She had a terrible, tough childhood, Tony Robbins and a lot of those kinds of people where you say, “You can be whatever you want to be.”
What it misses are the millions of people that started in the same place that took a lot of the same chances and for whatever reason, didn’t have the same luck, the same fortune. Someone like Oprah and Tony Robbins is incredible as all people are, they’ll tell you, they had a lot of lucky breaks. You and I had a lot of lucky breaks along the way. We made some good decisions. Some things landed in front of us that made it a little bit easier. The reason this advice can be hard is it can make people feel like failures if they don’t wind up with that same success, that someone might’ve just had a lot of luck in getting to it.
I’m going to go a slightly different direction with this. I do think you can be anything you want to be, but you’ve got to take a lot of small steps to get there. There is luck. There’s a fortune. You and I are both men, white, and born in America. Warren Buffett uses those same statistics and said, “That’s a lottery ticket,” and it is. I know that, but if you’re twenty and you want to be me, there’s a lot that went into getting here. What people overlook is the amount of grueling work it takes and the grind it takes to get there.
You need to work your ass off, be relatively intelligent, and pick the right market. In addition to that, you need to do it for a long time. If you use a sports example or a business example or anything else, there are rarely overnight successes. There’s a quote loosely interpreted as, “Work hard, put in ten years, have good fortune at your back, and ten years later, people tell you you’re an overnight success.” That’s what it felt like for me. Ten years after I quit my job, it looked a lot different than it did ten years earlier, but it took a very long time to get there.It's your job to market your accomplishments, no one else. Click To Tweet
The only way I would summarize that is you can be anything you want to be if you make hundreds of incredibly intelligent decisions, eat a lot of shit, and work a ton of hours, and people don’t add that piece to it. When you hear it that way, you’re like, “Maybe I don’t want to be that.” How many people write, “I want to be the CEO of my company,” when they start in that company? “I want to be the CEO of Microsoft,” on your first day of Microsoft. After a few year’s perspectives, you’re like, “No chance I want that job. That sounds awful. The price is not worth the benefits of that.”
I’m going to use two quotes to wrap this up. Number one is this, “Opportunity is often missed because it’s dressed in work boots and overalls,” Warren Buffett. “Do for ten years what others won’t and live the rest of your life the way others can’t.” If you’re born with a silver spoon, you might be able to do it sooner, but for everybody else, it just takes time.
Who was that second quote? Was that Run-DMC?
I was going to give you credit for that one.
I probably did say it. Number six, focus on your work-life balance. I’m going to let you start with that. It feels like a softball.
I’m going to quote you on this one. When you were running hard in NVR, you’re like, “I don’t want to hear about your work-life balance. I don’t care.” I remember being with Ian and my wife and his wife, and we were away. Ian still had the corporate job and we were in New York to see Hamilton. It was around Ian’s 40th birthday. We’re going to have a great time. We started off with everything that we do. We went right to a pizza shop and we were having a great time. Jenny was like, “Don’t ask him that question, we’re going to lose him.” What she meant was Ian’s brain was going to go to work and he wasn’t going to be present with us for a while.
We talked about in the last segment about grinding. That’s what it is. Work-life balance doesn’t exist. If you want success, it’s going to bleed into this. We talked in the Godfather episode about how work follows rich people around all the time. The way that I’ll talk about work-life balance is this. Work-life balance is a myth. Nobody got it figured out, but the tolerance of work-life balance is different at different places. This is a story I’ve told before. You worked at GE, they required 70 to 80-hour weeks. If you go to Wall Street, they require 70, 80, 100-hour weeks.
There’s only a certain number of hours in a week. If you’re getting past 70 to 80, there’s not much time for anything else. When I was coming out of college, I went and interviewed with the company. I’ve told this story before but it’s relevant. They talked about work-life balance, but it was 6:00 on a Saturday and the office was more than half full. I went to NVR up in Northern Virginia and they talked about work-life balance. They talked about, “We work hard, but people stop at 3:30.” What I heard is there’s an opportunity here. I can go put in 100 hours to outwork these people, or I can put in 60 hours to outwork these people.
I want to choose the place where 60 is a lot. It comes down to the quote in Gulliver’s Travels, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” You think of how your skillset fits, where you stand out, and how you can utilize that system to work for you. That’s how you can get a better work-life balance, but you’re going to work your ass off anywhere you go. Especially if it’s a publicly-traded company if you want to get anywhere.
I don’t have a ton to add to that. That’s awesome. This one is my quote. I love this one. I’ve said this a million times to people, “Balance is a function of your ambition.” Ambition changes throughout your life when you have children and when you get married. You’re younger, your ambitions are the moon because you’ve got lots of time on your hand, but different things change our ambitions. Maybe a loved one gets sick and you’ve got to spend more time with them and that’s all okay.
Where I get irritated with someone that wants to talk to me about work-life balance is when their ambitions are on the moon, and they want to talk to me about their balance. If you have high ambitions, you have to understand that the other talented people around you, if they work more than you and they are relatively the same talents, they are going to produce more than you. If they produce more than you, any smart company is going to give them more. They’re going to give them more opportunities, more promotions.
They’re going to give them more money. All the company cares about is your production. If you produce well and that company grows to rely on you, then you can talk to them about your balance. You can ask them for some reduced hours. You earn it because I now trust you. You’re a producer. I trust that in 30 hours of work, you could do 50 for an average person in my company. I’m going to give you all kinds of the benefit of the doubt. If you’re new, I’m not giving you any of that. I don’t care about your work-life balance.”
If someone asks me about work-life balance in an interview, they lose me right away. I’m interviewing you because I have a problem in my business that I can’t solve without you and I’m willing to pay you to come in and solve that problem. You’re immediately already talking selfishly about your personal life. I don’t care. I need to know, can you fill the need that I have right now? That’s what we need to talk about. You figure out your own balance. If you can do that in less hours than the average Joe, good for you. Right now, I need to know, can you produce at the level I’m willing to pay you for?
Having a work-life balance discussion with someone at your company isn’t earned right. What you need to do is to pay attention as a job seeker or someone joining a company about what that balance is. This is reading between the lines. If you read between the lines properly, you can utilize it to your advantage. I have people that work 80 hours a week, and I have people who work 45. The people who work 80 get way more opportunity, but there are people who work 40, 45, even 35 who are good. They may not have the growth projection of someone else, but at the same time, they’re efficient with their time. It’s not a problem for me because I don’t have to look for them. I know that I can rely on them. You have to pick your spots with this.
Number seven, don’t be a job hopper. I’m going to tell a story from college on this. I went and applied for a job in college at Carpet World in West Lafayette, Indiana. It’s a data entry job. Within an hour, I knew I’d made a terrible mistake. The job was eight hours a day of typing numbers into a computer as fast as you could. I get trained by the girl. She was another college student who was graduating soon. They needed to train her replacement. I went in and she spent six hours training me. It was so awful. It was the worst job possible for Ian Mathews. There was no social interaction. I haven’t talked to people. It was just sitting in the air conditioning. You sat all day.
There were many better jobs for me as a part-time job for a college student. I left that day and I was like, “I can’t do this job. This is the worst.” In the back of my head, I had that advice. “Don’t be a job hopper. You can’t leave once you’ve committed to someone. Don’t be a quitter,” all that stuff I had in the back of my head that my parents had taught me, that’s all pretty good advice. The next day I’m getting ready to go to work. My hours were 11:00 to 6:00 or something that was when I was supposed to work there. Whenever Carpet World opened and Paxson is sitting there. Paxson never had a job. He didn’t go to school either. He was three years when we were at Purdue. He wasn’t at school or any of it.
He’s like, “I’m trying to get a game of hockey going this afternoon.” Hockey is a beer-drinking game. I’m like, “That sounds good but I got Carpet World.” He just laughed at me, “What the hell are you doing that for?” I’m like, “I hate it but I can’t call this manager and say I quit.” He goes, “What if I do it for you?” I’m like, “I can’t have you do that. I’ve got more integrity than that.” He’s like, “No, you don’t. It’s Carpet World. What are they going to do? Come find you. Are they going to arrest you?” I am dreading it. I’d like to play hockey instead. Paxson looks up the number because I won’t tell it to him.A great marketer of themselves is going to fly up the chain. Click To Tweet
He looks up the number, calls, asked for the manager and says, “This is Ian Mathews. I don’t think I can do it anymore.” She’s like, “What do you mean you can’t do anymore? We trained you.” He’s like, “Carpet World is not for me. Is that okay?” She goes, “No, it’s not okay. We spent a day training you, put you to two weeks to get you through your orientation.” He’s like, “I’m sorry. I can’t do it.” He hangs up. He quits for me. It was the greatest moment of relief of my life. Without Jeff Paxson, I was ready to work there for an entire semester because of the guilt I felt.
It’s the smartest thing I ever did. It wasn’t on my resume. I didn’t put it on there. No one knew I got a W-2 that year for six hours of work at Carpet World. If you hate a job and you normally know on day one, a lot of people know on day one when they walked out, “I made a terrible mistake. They’re not ready for me. They’re unorganized. People seem unhappy here. This is a mess.” You can leave. You can leave after a day, after a week, after a month. Once you’ve realized, “This is terrible for me and I hate it.” You won’t be punished for it for the rest of your life. In fact, I would argue the sooner you can get back into your job search, do it. Don’t even put it on your resume. It doesn’t matter. Make it seem like there was a little more gap. You can be a job hopper. It’s okay. Don’t do it. Don’t leave every time things are a little difficult in the company but if you’re somewhere where it’s untenable, get the hell out.
We’ve talked a lot in this show where you used the example about leaving GE and moving to NVR and how one was a growing company and one was a dying company. The Dow stocks are interchangeable. They change. I think don’t be a job hopper is advice from an old era. With technology, gigs, and the gig economy, I can summarize this with two quick takeaways. If you have a one-day job, don’t even put that on your resume. I leave that off. If you have something where you were there for a handful of months and it’s hard to fudge the gap, have a good story. Say, “Why?” Tell your manager, “I showed up, they weren’t ready. Someone cursed me out. This bad thing happened. This wasn’t right. I got into the job and it wasn’t what they told me,” and have a real reason. “I left and I did this, or I’m looking for this.” That is actionable. That is not, “I didn’t think I was a great fit there for these reasons and that was different. I went to do this.” You then go from a job hopper to someone who is discretionary. You go from a cautionary tale in an interview to someone who controls your narrative. I want someone who controls their narrative. I want someone who wants to be passionate about what they’re doing inside of the company. That is how you turn a negative into a positive with a job hopper.
Frank and I in 40 years combined worked for a grand total of two companies. I had two companies on my resume. Frank had two before he started his own business. We’re not saying we jumped all over the place. I don’t necessarily care if you’ve job hopped a little bit. The managers that care about that want people that are scared and loyal and will stay in one place forever, no matter how much shit they feed them. That’s the kind of thing that they’re thinking is, “Let me get someone who can put up with a lot of crap.” That’s the person who cares about that. I’d rather someone who has the guts to say, “I don’t want to work in Carpet World. I want something better.”
If you do have jumps on your resume, have a reason for it. “I was fired because I was drunk. I didn’t show up. Jeff Paxson called me in sick.” Those aren’t a good reason to be hoppers. If you’re a hopper because it’s not right and you can show there are some smarts behind this and some strategy, that’s sellable.
That was a fun game of hockey that day, Frank. You should have been there. It was good. I liked this next one. Let your results speak for themselves. I’ll let you go ahead and start on why this is bad advice.
You do it. You’re passionate.
The bigger the company, the less this is going to work. If your assumption is, “I’m going to show up, do my job to the best of my ability every day. Everyone in this company is going to recognize me for it. I trust my company is going to be all over this.” You’re going to be disappointed because it’s your career to manage. You’re giving too much credit to your managers. Managers are busy, they’re stressed. They’ve got other things they’re thinking about. They might not know all the stuff you’re doing behind the scenes.
You might be mentoring 3 or 4 people in the office and your manager doesn’t even see it. You might be facing bigger obstacles than everyone else. An executive might not see that your numbers are a little lower because your direct manager keeps putting you over the worst challenges in the office and not saying anything about it to cover it up. It’s your job to market your accomplishments. It’s no one else’s, not your boss or your boss’s boss. It is not your company’s job to find everything. When you get your opportunity to explain what you’re doing well, you need to explain it and you need to do it objectively. That states exactly what you’re doing for your company. You have to market yourself. Your results won’t speak for themselves because someone else who is also getting results but is a great marketer of themselves is going to fly up the chain.
Why don’t we do this differently than normal? I usually tell you my thoughts. Why don’t I interview you? What does a good marketer look like?
There’s a difference here. Some people reading think, “That’s not me. I can’t brag about it.” You get an opportunity every year in an annual appraisal, but you get other opportunities to do it, where you can share with your manager, “Here’s something I’m working on. I’m not sure if you know this, but here’s something that’s going well with someone that I’ve been working with.” It’s not once a year. It is always. You always have to be explaining things that you are doing that are productive in the company. A way that I like to do it always in my career is I would explain the progress I’ve made so far, and then tell my manager where I’m stuck. I get you 80% there to see what I’m producing for you and I’m stuck here and I need your help. It’s an excuse to toot your horn a little bit, but it’s also an admission that I know where I’m not doing well and where I need help. The more of that that you can do, the more of that visibility you can show, the more your career is going to grow.
When do you do that? Clearly, in an annual review or when you have your opportunity to interview, but what else? How do you do this practically?
What’s shocking to me a lot of times is the number of opportunities people let pass them by to present to be on a team. You always know what the company’s initiatives are. It’s not hard to ask your manager, “Can I get in the middle of that somehow? Is there a way that I can get into this process to figure this out?” A company can only have 4 or 5 initiatives at one given time, and anyone in the company can put their nose into the middle of it. “I have some thoughts on this. I have some thoughts that I’ve been working on that might help that initiative along.” It doesn’t take a lot of emotional intelligence to figure out what the executives are excited about in your company. Get yourself in the middle of some team that’s working on something, or present something that might further that initiative along a little bit. It touts the fact that you’re a thinker, you’re creative, you’re not just a drone worker on the front lines, and you can shake things up a little bit. All of that shows your results, your creativity, you’re a person that cares, and could be trusted with more responsibility in your organization.
Here’s where it worked well for me. The advice is let your results speak for themselves. First of all, you need to have results. If you’re not doing good at the job, if you’re 27 on a 32, and you’re doing other stuff, my advice to you is go back and do the damn job you’re supposed to do first. Think about this, being proactive. Two things I did in my career early is I saw that someone was getting married and I went up to him and said, “You’re getting married in a couple of weeks. Who’s covering your community?” He had an assistant, but the assistant was lower on the totem pole. I’m like, “What are the critical events?” I volunteered to help him before anyone asked. People notice that. I went into the back office. I realized that we were going over budget on some stuff, not just me personally, but our whole division. I went into the back office and I sat with the costing department. I figured out why, and I got into it. Nobody asked and I brought it up in a meeting and they’re like, “How the hell do you know that? You’ve been here eight months.” I’m like, “I went in on Thursday afternoon and I sat down with Bernie, and I went through it.”
Another thing I did is I went and got into a model. I asked the lady who was selling in the homes. I was like, “Can I come in on a weekend?” She’s like, “Did anyone ask you to do that?” I was like, “No. What do I have to wear?” She told me, and I’m like, “I’m a young kid out of college. I don’t have a lot of nice stuff. Can I wear a suit?” She’s like, “Sure.” I’m like, “I won’t be in the way. If I’m in the way, just tell me. I’ll get out of the way.” She was like, “No problem.” I didn’t ask my boss. I wanted to learn. It’s because I wanted to do those things. It’s amazing how years later people brought up those examples to me of things that I had done just to get better. That’s how you start crafting a narrative. When you get in the interview, you talk about what you did and how you did it. Those are little things that I did.
I’m going to give you one more example and then we’ll move on to the next one. It was my second year of sales. I went from something like $300,000 of orders to $4 million. That was great, huge percentage increase, 10X. If you looked at $4 million, the average salesperson was doing $5 million. The number wasn’t terribly impressive. If you laid out all the salespeople, I wasn’t last. I was probably in the 40th percentile maybe. One thing I did, I had to do it with all new customers. We didn’t get a lot of new customers in our region. The Midwest region, maybe I had twenty sales guys, but most guys were farmers. They were getting their orders from the same customers they’ve had for twenty years.
You could see in our software when a customer had been entered into the software for the first time, that year. I went back and I looked in 2002 or whatever year it was, 2001. I looked at how many new accounts were entered into the software under my name. It was 50 small orders. I went and I figured out how to search it in the region. In the region, it was 110. Out of twenty sales guys, I had 50% of the brand-new customers that were created. No one knew any of this stat, but I went and I shared it with my boss. I shared this 50 out of 110 or something like that. That got to his boss, which got to an even bigger boss. It got to a vice-president who at our annual meeting said, “We only signed up 110 new customers in the Midwest and one rep did 50% of it.” He used my stat that I did all the homework on in that and he knew my name because I did it. He mentioned me by name, and the point he was making is everyone else needs to prospect. If this guy can go out and get all those new customers, why isn’t everyone else prospecting? He used it as a way to motivate the rest but my name was very much known because I shared a stat that no one else had ever even heard of.
You and I have talked about how you were known as the prospect guy for a while because of that.
I got branded that.
To wrap up this point, let your results speak for themselves also needs to be talked about as having an elevator pitch. We’ll get into this more at another time. If you asked me what I do, I know exactly what it is. I dropped several hints, tips, and tricks about what I’ve done and how I’ve done it. If you care at all about what I do, I give you a couple of Easter eggs that you can uncover, and you can come back to me with questions. That’s what Ian is saying in your career. Understand how to very briefly, in a couple of soundbites, distinguish yourself, or have others think you’re memorable because of what you say.
Number nine, play the game. Franky, you take this one for a start.
We talked about it. Playing the game can be said to a bunch of different things. If you play the game right, what you do is you work hard, you add value, and then you develop your own talk track. If you do those things, you can control the narrative. Playing the game is not being an ass kisser. It is not being a brown-noser. When I got to Ryan Homes and I was 23 years old, I don’t even know who this guy was. He was gone before I got there. They’re like, “You can’t tell where his head ends and the other guy’s ass starts.”
I never want anyone to do that or say that about me. What I wanted them to say about me is, “He’s a hard worker, smart, and proactive.” If you know Ian or me, we’re both pains in the asses. We’re not ass kissers. What we are is we’re reliable and we’re people who also break other people’s balls. Because of that, you have to earn this. You can’t do this on your first day on the job, but five years into the job, you’re the guy who holds people accountable. You’re the one of those, “You’re being the pain in the ass boss.” You can do those things and you can do it your own way. You find that your voice is fresh. You’re not just regurgitating all the crap that other people were talking about. Instead, you’ve got the chops, you have the ability, you have the knowledge and you say something contrarian and it’s like, “That’s interesting.” That isn’t playing the game. That’s being unique, but being good when you’re being unique.
The people that irritate me in business are the ones that play the game to make up for the fact that they can’t get results. I played the game. I figured out what is my company reward? What does it recognize? What does it pay for? Both companies I did that. Who did they promote? What are those people involved in? At GE, you had to be involved in Jack Welch’s big initiatives. You had to care about Six Sigma, globalization, and getting sales through the internet. Those are things that were important at the time to him. I was on it. Those are his initiatives. I’m not going to poo-poo him. I’m not going to say bad things about him. If a guy that’s smart is saying those things are important, damn right, I’m going to invest in them, and I’m going to be a champion for those things. I’m going to use them to get results. I’m not going to use them to make up for the fact that I don’t get results. That’s the tweak I would say on that is, “Don’t play the game because you suck at your job.” Use what the company is interested in. That’s how you play the game to get results, buy-in.What is irritating in business are the ones that play the game to make up for the fact that they can't get results. Click To Tweet
Fit in, add value, but be enough difference where you don’t sound like an ass kisser, or just someone who’s humming along with everybody else. You can be a constraint if you earn it, but you can’t be a constraint to a point where you’re a turncoat. You’ve got to be rowing in the same direction as everybody else.
I 100% was a pain in the ass for every boss I ever had, but I had results and I could be a pain in the ass.
You’re the pain in the ass for me as the cohost. Let’s be honest.
A hundred percent, but I’m getting results. There’s no doubt about it.
Stand up for what you believe in. Let’s go.
Number ten the final one. Let’s take us home, Franky.
We almost called this snitches or bitches, but we’ve put in here to stand up for what you believe in.
When you say we, you mean you almost called it that.
What we mean by this is it’s playing the game as part of it. You need to have a backbone and a spine, but you also need to fit in. If you’re someone who’s so far on the periphery because you march to your own drum, you’re not going to fit in with the corporate culture. There are certain things that you need to go along with and there are certain things you don’t. I’ll use two brief examples. Ian and I talk about these a lot. Solomon Brothers and Wells Fargo were both doing things that they’re companies that were bad. They were very bad, but what happened is the management rooted it out and came from the top down.
The people who are often the snitches are often the people from the bottom up. History does not look terribly favorably upon them, because what you’re doing is you’re selling out your management. There’s a right way to do this and there’s a wrong way. Standing up for what you believe in if something is ethical or screwed up and it’s small, you need to have a conversation behind closed doors with someone else so someone isn’t embarrassed. You need to make sure of that.
If you’re working at the right company or if someone comes up to me and says, “Frank, this isn’t working right. They did this to somebody else.” I get all the information. I make sure I understand it. I make sure there’s not an ax being grind. What I do is I dig into it and we fix it. That is very different than someone who’s constantly on our team calls, railing against us. You need to make an actionable and you need to do it so discreetly and you need to do so respectfully. If you’re constantly the person who’s calling the 800 number to report that so-and-so is doing something wrong, your career is not going to age well.
If your company is opening erroneous bank accounts, raise your hand. That’s one thing. If you don’t like policies, initiatives, processes, the person who drives everyone nuts in a company is the one who is constantly telling you how they did it differently at their last company. No one ever wants to hear that. That’s not how we did it at Bank of America. That’s not how we did it at US Bank. That’s not how we did it at Pulte Homes. No one gives a shit how you did it there. Why did you leave then if it was so great? That’s my take always when I hear someone constantly beating me about how it was done better somewhere else. It’s like, “Why did you leave? It sounds like you loved it. Did they fire you? Why are we always talking about someone else? This is how we do it here.” There are certain hills to die on, and there are certain hills you just pass on and leave. Standing up for what you believe in all the time annoys most people in your company.
As we wrap up, standing off for what you believe in fits with the rest of this. These are bad career advices or points or bullets, but you’ve got to pick your spots with all of this stuff. There’s not one answer for any of it. If something morally and ethically is happening that’s not right at your company, that might be the time where you should be a job jumper, and you should talk about it. These things all play together. What I want to wrap up with this is you need to make the best decisions for you. You need to figure out what arc and what path you want to go on. You need to be the person who is responsible for that. Results went out over nearly everything else, but don’t also look away from the fact that you need to do some level of self-promotion, or you’re never going to go very far.
That’s an incredibly, intelligent, coherent wrap-up. You’re getting better at this. I’m proud of you, Frank. We are wrapping up and if you’ve stayed with us this long, you obviously think our content is somewhat decent. If you’ve not given us a nice write-up and a five-star review, please give us that five-star review. If you haven’t subscribed, please do it. Thank you so much. We appreciate all of you for reading. Franky, go take your leak.
Ian, it was great to see you.
It was great to see you.