When giving a speech to the University of Georgia students nearly 20 years ago, Buffett began with a question he often gets asked: "Whom should I go to work for when I graduate from college?"
I am convinced that his answer, while it certainly benefits students entering the workforce, is even more applicable to today's seasoned professionals looking for the next best thing. Here's Buffett:
I've got a very simple answer ... the real thing to do is to get going for some institution or individual that you admire. I mean it's crazy to take in-between jobs just because they look good on your résumé, or because you get a little higher starting pay.
Buffett drives the point home with some sharp humor, highlighting an exchange he once had with a Harvard student:
I was up at Harvard a while back, and a very nice young guy, he picked me up at the airport, a Harvard Business School attendee. And he said, "Look, I went to undergrad here, and then I worked for X and Y and Z, and now I've come here." And he said, "I thought it would really round out my résumé perfectly if I went to work now for a big management consulting firm." And I said, "Well, is that what you want to do?" And he said no, but he said, "That's the perfect résumé." And I said, "Well, when are you going to start doing what you like?" And he said, "Well, I'll get to that someday." And I said, "Well, you know, your plan sounds to me a lot like saving up sex for your old age. It just doesn't make a lot of sense."
Too many people chase the elusive, "perfect" corporate career path instead of their entrepreneurial dreams or career desires of their hearts.
Many will lay out a perfect game plan for their dream job or company. They cut their teeth and pay their dues to advance to that prestigious role that says, "I've arrived."
Then reality sets in: They hate the people they work with, their boss doesn't respect them, they work long hours and sacrifice personal and family time, and the hopeful aspirations from college years gone by disappears in a puff of smoke.
To reframe your reality to something more tangible and achievable, follow Buffett's two-step advice:
1. Work for someone you admire.
"Go to work for whomever you admire the most," Buffett later told the students in his speech. "You can't get a bad result. You'll jump out of bed in the morning and you'll be having fun."
Here's the kind of leader who, personally, got me to jump out of bed in the morning. His name was Bruce and he was the one executive whose style I've modeled and taught others to model. Bruce displayed these traits:
- He didn't get caught up in his personal power; he inspired me by making me feel like an equal.
- He never took advantage of his title or positional power. He was the most approachable boss I ever had.
- He shared decision-making with me, even while we played different roles.
- He never pulled rank on me. He made sure I had a seat at the table in all the important decisions.
- He provided me with all the resources I needed to stretch me into becoming a better leader.
The person you admire the most should be a leader to whom you're willing to give your best effort under favorable circumstances; circumstances that set you up for long-term success, make you feel safe, allow you to fail-forward, and give your work purpose and meaning.
This is the X-factor that will catapult you to career success--beyond the "perfect plan" to a destination that may not be there five years from now.
This leads us to Buffett's second piece of advice.
2. Start doing what you love to do.
In addition to instructing the Harvard student to pursue his true heart's desire, Buffett links that move to success: "In the world of business, the people who are most successful are those who are doing what they love."
For most of us, we take for granted our cushy paycheck, health benefits, and job security, even though we may despise our jobs, our bosses, and wish we were doing something else--something we actually loved.
Doing what we love is a major contributor to our happiness and success as humans. And, more important, knowing what you love should be a top priority. If you don't know what it is you love, then finding out what it is should be your first step.
Some people call it passion; others call it purpose. My purpose evolved into coaching leaders and speaking to audiences about the powerhouse principles of care, inclusion, trust, and belonging in the workplace, and how leaders who put practical "love" into action have a competitive advantage.
Whichever term you choose, your purpose is exactly what you can't help but keep doing. Even if there are low monetary rewards, you would probably do it anyway because of your love for it. When you discover what this is for you, it's the thing that makes you come alive.