A Simple Formula for Fulfilling Career

Note: This is a guest post by Scot Herrick of Cube Rules.
A career is a long time. It is a marathon, not a sprint. To continue a fulfilling career requires reviewing what work you enjoy as your life changes over time. While periodically reviewing your work and your interests make sense, of course, the review does nothing to create the engine that drives a fulfilling career.
A simple formulaThat engine needs to be working every day. The marathon completes one step at a time. In a career, the engine that drives your fulfillment is a simple formula:
Skills + Performance = Opportunities
While simple, the formula is a powerful method of driving your career.

Your Job Skills Are the Foundation

At the most fundamental level, hiring managers want you to work for them because you have the skills to do the work needed. Without the baseline skills for a job, there can be no fulfilling career.
The good news is most people are good at using their job skills. The trick is how to go about building job skills that are what you need for the next phase of your career. To build new job skills, you should use “adjacency.”
Adjacency is consciously growing into a skill (competency) that you may have an interest in but know only little about. Learning to practice adjacency changes your skills in a way that gives you flexibility in fulfilling your career.
Learning skills through helping with current work projects outside your current skill level is a great way to practice adjacency. So is volunteer work. As part of your career management review, discover the skills that are adjacent to yours that would help you build your competency for the next phase of your work. Then go expose yourself to these competencies to start developing them for you.
Excelling in your current skills and consistently building adjacent skills keeps your engine running the right way to have a fulfilling career.

Performance is Critical

Most people get that you need skills to do the work. Many people forget the other part of the equation: you have to perform well in your work.
Hiring managers are taking a risk hiring you (as you are working for them). To lessen their risk of hiring you, they will examine your performance. Accomplishments in your work trump poorly performing industries, companies and departments.
A president of a corporate division of a company I worked for was asked if he was concerned about losing his job after a merger. His answer was “no, because we have so many accomplishments here that, even if I lost my job, our performance will be attractive to many companies.” Since he has gone on to be the CEO of multiple companies, this is sage advice for us working in the trenches.
Your job performance isn’t easy, of course, especially in trying economic times for your company. Keeping your performance high in the current job you are in needs exceptional discipline, both in doing the work and documenting the accomplishments.
Many people have accomplished much, but don’t document the accomplishments in a way that shows their work and the positive business impact it had on the department or company. Take the extra step that most people don’t and document the impact of your accomplishments on the business.

Skills + Performance = Opportunities

The payoff for building and delivering on your job skills and high performance is this: opportunities will be presented. You won’t necessarily have to go find opportunities; no, with this formula you will be presented opportunities.
Are not having multiple opportunities to choose from the essence of a fulfilling career?
When you consistently review your career to decide what’s next, presentation of opportunities is where the payoff comes. Now you can evaluate the opportunity towards where you want to take your career. Now you can decide if the opportunity makes the most sense for what you want to do next. Now you can have an intelligent choice.
Take this simple formula and apply it to your daily work and career management reviews. It reflects the everyday work that builds the fulfilling career.
Scot Herrick is a career management consultant. He publishes CubeRules.com, a site providing career management advice for knowledge workers, whom he calls “Cubicle Warriors.”
This article is part of September 2009 theme: Fulfilling Career
Photo by theogeo


  1. I definitely agree. A career doesn’t happen over night and you have to build up your experience. And even if you have the skills, you have to have good performance to support your skills. In order to be successful, you must, as a whole, be very presentable and convincing to future employers in order for them to take that chance.
    But to be successful and meet your personal goals, you must love what you do!

  2. You’re absolutely right. A career is a marathon- not a sprint. The problem with most people is that they don’t realize this.. Everyone wants to graduate college and start out making a six figure salary, and what ends up happening is the wind up miserable. While you’re in college, don’t just take classes- make sure you do an internship in a field that you’re interested in. Even if it is unpaid, it will at least give you the experience that you need-enough to make a determination whether or not you will be happy doing it. Additionally, most employers nowadays want to see more than a 4.0…Numbers don’t really mean much if you’ve got nothing to back it up. Great post!

  3. Brian Tracy gives the excellent and simple advice for success in any career: (1) Find someone who has or had your same position in your company and was wildly successful at it; (2) Ask them how they did it; (3) Do everything they did. It really is as simple as all that. Now, actually doing all of these things takes courage. The courage to give up whatever you think is going to make you successful. The courage to trust someone else’s advice. The courage to do things differently than you would b/c it’s much more frightening to move that far out of your comfort zone. But, try it for 30 days and see if it doesn’t make a difference for you!
    I summarized all 21 of Tracy’s tips in a post that shares the title of his excellent book “Eat that Frog!” at http://shanelyang.com/2008/06/02/eat-that-frog/

  4. […] As part of the September theme “fulfilling career,” I wrote a piece that addresses “A Simple Formula for Fulfilling Career.” […]

  5. @Shanel — I’m not sure you can simply find someone successful in the position, learn what they did and then go do it. There are too many dynamics to “do what they did.” Different business circumstances, different managers, and different networks ensure there are too many moving parts to just do what they did.
    You can, however, understand the job skills they used to move forward. You can see the performance level they reached in order to move on. Then you can go and get those job skills and perform at that level to see where that would take you.
    The cool thing about modeling yourself after other successful people is that in gaining the skills and doing the work, you may end up in a totally different area that is more fulfilling than your original target.

  6. It is true that a career is a marathon and not a sprint, and it is one that probably will take many twists and turns. I think most people don’t really know what they want to do when they graduate, and they often change their mind after a few years. I am a strong advocate of work-study programs in college or university, and even in high school. I really like the idea of building up your skills in new areas all the time. Volunteer work is a great way to do this. As with anything else, being diversified is a lot safer than putting all your eggs in one basket. I would agree too, that finding someone who is already doing a really good job of the skills you want to master and learning from them is probably the fastest way to move forward. It is important to document your performance, not just for your employer, or future employer, but also to build up your own self-confidence and willingness to take risks. And I think that more than anything else, the key to success is a burning desire to acheive. That starts with finding work that you love to do. If you really enjoy your work, you will be more motivated to do the best job possible, more proud of your accomplishments, and more open to new opportunities.

  7. Nice article.
    Most people under-invest in the skill-building phase. In a rush to results, they don’t spend enough time working on their ability to add value. But early skill-building work can pay off massively down the road.

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  9. […] A Simple Formula for Fulfilling Career by Scot Herrick from Cube Rules […]

  10. […] career really what you want?  Think about your job skills, performance and opportunities to get yourself a more fulfilling career, choose an employer that suits your vision and goals for the future.  Think about how happy […]

  11. […] career really what you want?  Think about your job skills, performance and opportunities to get yourself a more fulfilling career, choose an employer that suits your vision and goals for the future.  Think about how happy […]

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