On Potential

Ronny Li
January 9, 2022

For most of my life I’ve been lazy and proud of it. Among my friends, I had a reputation for coasting whenever possible. Needless to say, employers rarely considered me for promotion and I had a few disputes with previous managers concerning my lackadaisical behavior.

I’m sharing the above information to make it explicit that I’m not a self-help guru with advice on how to “unlock your potential”, but I know firsthand what not to do to avoid career purgatory. (Doing the opposite of what I do is good advice most of the time, but doesn’t make for engaging content.)

Since starting Composer, I’ve had the pleasure of building a team of actually talented individuals and comparing their habits with my smooth brain 20-year old self. Here’s what I learned based on the mistakes I’ve personally made:

  1. Success will never come to you passively unless your parents are fabulously wealthy, in which case... can they adopt me? For everyone else, you’ll need to constantly put yourself in the shoes of your manager/CEO/customer. What would they need to know? What do they need done that they haven’t thought of?
  2. Simply doing what you’re told is pretty good, but will quickly reach a limit. I was always quite good at accomplishing what I said I would do and as a result, my salary increased rapidly in the early years of my career. In the later years, I noticed the raises would get smaller and smaller, and as already mentioned, no promotions.
  3. Seeking efficiency is not enough either. If you’re like me, you naturally want to avoid tedious work and anything that smells of office politics. Unfortunately for both of us, this work can be incredibly valuable if nobody else wants to do it. Think about it in terms of supply and demand; if there’s demand but no supply, consider becoming the supplier.
  4. It feels completely natural to explain why a task wasn’t completed on time, or why the outcome was worse than expected. These seemingly rational explanations will pretty much always be interpreted as excuses, and too many excuses will damage your reputation, no matter how good they are. Counter-intuitively, it can help your reputation to do nothing and accept the temporary embarrassment.
  5. Being bad at one thing doesn’t mean you’re bad at everything. A likely explanation is that you dislike this particular job! Do something you enjoy and you’ll be much more likely to find success.

You might think to yourself, “Why should I do all this? My boss isn’t going to reward me for going above and beyond.” But that line of thought is too focused on the short-term. Breaking out of these habits will make you universally more valuable.

If your current employer isn’t rewarding you enough, go somewhere else! It takes some effort but you’ll find someone who properly appreciates your work ethic, even if you have to start your own business to do it. The important thing to realize is that you need to prove yourself before you can be successful, as opposed to waiting for the raise or promotion so you can work harder after. It sounds obvious on paper, but I fell into this trap and I’m sure I wasn’t alone.

If you want to level up your potential with an ambitious team, check out our Careers page or reach out to me directly at ronny@investcomposer.com!

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