“Larry Smith has hit on the new millennium’s major career issue.” —Booklist “Have you ever had a conversation with someone about your life that leaves you feeling so elated that you have goosebumps? This is a typical result of how I feel after chatting with Larry.” —M. Azam Javed, Tesla “Had it not been for the time I was able to spend with Professor Smith during my university years gaining his advice on career success, I would not be where I am today.” —Mike McCauley, Google Over the past three decades, Professor Larry Smith has become something of a “career whisperer” for his students at the University of Waterloo. His stunning TEDx talk on finding your calling has been viewed by more than six million people and counting. This book captures the best of his advice in a one-stop roadmap for your future. Showcasing his particular mix of tough love and bracing clarity, Smith itemizes all the excuses and worries that are holding you back—and deconstructs them brilliantly. After dismantling your hidden mental obstacles, he provides practical, step-by-step guidance on how to go about identifying and then pursuing your true passion. There’s no promising it will be easy, but the straight-talking, irrepressible Professor Smith buoys you with the inspiration necessary to stay the course.
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About the Author
LARRY SMITH is an adjunct associate professor of economics at the University of Waterloo. He is a recipient of the University of Waterloo’s Distinguished Teacher Award. During his long-standing tenure, Smith has taught more than 23,000 students, representing more than 10 percent of UW’s alumni. And, of course, millions from all over the world have viewed his provocative TEDx talk, and the numbers continue to grow on a daily basis. Professor Smith is also president of Essential Economics Corporation, an economic consulting practice that serves a wide range of public and private clients. The firm specializes in forecasting and in the economics of innovation and development. He also advises UW students who start their own ventures. Smith has now worked with more than 450 teams of student entrepreneurs. Many have gone on to create companies of significant size and success. They include enterprises in such industries as communications, software, robotics, culture, entertainment, design, real estate, and professional services.He lives in Kitchener, Ontario.
Read an Excerpt
PART I: FINDING YOUR PASSION
Why Good Work Is No Longer Good Enough
John was sure his life was on track. Upon graduation, a degree in computer science in hand, he had joined one of the world’s great and iconic IT firms. They paid well, with generous benefits, and after five years of good performance reviews, he had been promoted to team manager. John was married, lived in a large house in an upscale neighborhood, and he and his spouse were talking about children. John had even begun making contributions to a retirement account.
Charlene’s life was in sharp contrast to John’s. Though she excelled in science and math in high school, she chose to study sociology because it was “about people” and math “bored” her. Upon her college graduation, the only job she was offered was at a call center. When she was told that if she worked there for five years, she might be promoted to be the team leader, she declined the position and went back to graduate school to continue her studies in sociology. “When in doubt, go to school,” had been her motto. Nearing her second graduation, Charlene found that her employment options included high school teacher, and little else. (Ideally she would have researched this much earlier on, but more on that later.) Charlene may not have been sure what she wanted, exactly, but she knew with certainty that she did not want to be a high school teacher. To buy time, Charlene took a clerical job, filing and fetching.
One of these people has upward momentum, financial success, and security; the other is stalled, with few opportunities for improvement. One is confident; one is apprehensive. Perhaps you think you already know which is which. But you are wrong if you think Charlene is the one who is doomed to struggle.
Why John Struggled: Competition and the Demise of the 9-to-5er
If this had been 1980, John’s comfortable world would have been assured. But he was born too late. When his general manager asked to see him one day, John had no idea he was at risk. Indeed, it took a few minutes before John recognized he was being terminated.
It made no sense. His company was growing and profitable; his performance reviews were favorable; he had done nothing wrong. The manager was vague, citing changing corporate priorities, and talked about severance. John was still numb when he read in the news media the following day that his employer had laid off hundreds of employees because their skills were deemed inadequate. Now John was mystified; he’d never failed at any task he was given, so how could he be judged to be deficient?
Actually, there was little mystery about why John found himself in this difficult position. He’d been sucker-punched by outside competition and kicked in the head by technology. The warning signs had long been there, had John cared to notice them. For several years, the business media had covered his employer unfavorably. There was much commentary about the company missing recent new developments in IT, while other companies advanced on its markets. It was criticized for losing its competitive edge. In my conversation with John it was clear that he had paid no attention to these concerns and was barely aware of them. “We’re still profitable,” he noted, correctly. (And I noted he was still saying “we” when, in fact, he was no longer part of the team.) John went on to insist that since the company was profitable, the media criticism was unfair.
“Could it be,” I suggested, “that the company has finally concluded that the critique is valid? That future profitability is at risk?”
“Maybe,” he said. “But it still doesn’t make sense. If they’re concerned about competition, why fire me, when I have tons of experience and always get my work done, and hire newer, less-experienced people?”
In the media coverage about the terminations, there had been references to the company getting rid of the “9-to-5ers.” I asked John if this description might have applied to him, and he said he didn’t even know what it meant. It was time to get blunt; only truth would serve John now. So I told him that the term was dismissive, implying that the 9-to-5er just puts in his time doing ordinary work, instead of aggressively using initiative to tackle whatever problem appears to be important.
“The company doesn’t like that,” John said firmly, referring to the aggressive initiator. But maybe that had changed. Maybe some of the executives were 9-to-5ers, and they were gone, too.
“John,” I said, “do you recognize that, by several measures, your former employer is losing to other, more nimble competitors?”
John’s answer was “Maybe,” indicating that he didn’t see it. He had unfortunately taken his job for granted. He had chosen computing as a career because it was in such high demand. And having chosen computing, he’d figured there was nothing else to worry about. He would work as long as he chose. But look at all the evidence he had ignored. Is it evidence you are also ignoring?
How could he — or you — discount the fact that, for much of the last sixty years, if you were a large and market-dominant company, you could expect to reign for decades? If you were General Motors, IBM, Sears, Kodak, U.S. Steel, Polaroid, or Xerox, it would have been suicidal for competitors to attack you. And then, more swiftly than might have been imagined, Japanese imports suddenly destabilized the auto market of the former Big Three. IBM was blindsided by Microsoft and Intel. Technological advances pushed Kodak, Xerox, and Polaroid to the sidelines. Apple disrupted the established music industry, even as Uber destabilized the taxi/limo business. And these examples barely skim the surface.
Here’s what happened next: Microsoft suddenly faced competition from cloud computing and mobile devices. Google quickly found itself under pressure from Facebook, which was itself under pressure from Snapchat and WhatsApp. If you don’t grasp just how quickly this all happened, then you don’t understand how gentle the past was. Dominance was supposed to last many decades, not just a few decades or even sometimes just one. Most of this disruption happened in John’s lifetime, and even a superficial knowledge of the past would have helped him see the future.
Please understand, I was not trying to make John feel badly about himself. He felt terrible enough already, and his self-confidence was seriously damaged. His confidence hadn’t collapsed yet, but I feared it would when he started his job search. The conversation with John was painful, and I have had more than one such conversation. Many more than one.
You can see, I think, why I decided it would be wrong to tell him about Charlene’s success. He wasn’t yet ready to hear about it.
Table of Contents
Part I Finding your Passion
1 Why Good Work Is No Longer Good Enough 3
2 Why "Safe" Jobs Are a Myth 20
3 How Logic and Evidence Will Find You Work You Love 37
4 The Most Common Career Mistakes 65
Part II Creating Your Career Plan
5 Getting Yourself Ready 89
6 Find Your Edge 107
7 Sell Yourself by Selling Your Idea 125
8 Execute and Revise 144
Part III Confronting Fears and Excuses
9 Anatomy of the Excuse 153
10 How Great Careers and Loving Families Go Hand in Hand 170
11 The Bottom Line of Great Careers 189
12 When Your Passion Collides with Your Fears 209
Conclusion: Taking Action 230
Appendix: Preparing Your Plan 242