1. In my career, what is the best way to ensure I get paid well and not be viewed as easily replaceable by my employer?

The key to building a lucrative career, or anything of strong long-term value, is to make it obvious how you are different from others. As I’ve said in previous posts, I have a reminder which is to be “Unus.” That’s Latin for “one” and “only” and is the root of the word unique.

Why Unus? Because the secret to climbing the corporate ladder and ultimately getting what you want is projecting yourself as unique and taking advantage of scarcity. You’re a durable good and you have to make others want to buy you, and only you. You need to make it clear at every rung of the corporate ladder why you are the obvious choice for promotion. If you don’t, then there is always some other chump who costs less, is more obedient, and is definitely better looking. So accentuate attributes that only a few can claim. Scarcity pays.

If you’re really lucky, your uniqueness comes from the magical intersection of identifying an industry (1) where you are really talented, (2) you enjoy and are passionate about, and (3) society highly values. If this is the case then you are in a good spot and on a path to have a lucrative career. If not, you might want to keep looking.

2. I never seem to achieve the goals I set for myself. Is that a sign of being flexible or a sign that I’m not setting my goals thoughtfully?

Don’t be too hard on yourself. People rarely follow through with their goals. In fact, according to a study in 2016 by the University of Scranton, 92% of people that set New Year’s goals never actually reach them. And that’s just an annual goal! So what do the 8% who achieve their goals do differently? In my experience, they set goals that follow advice my 12-year old son learned in middle school. He is taught to set goals that are S.M.A.R.T.:

Specific: You will never achieve goals that are too broad or vague. Set ones that are very specific. For instance, “I will complete X number of successful projects in Y time.” That will keep your eye on the prize.

Measurable: Management thinker Peter Drucker is often quoted as saying “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” The same applies to goals. If you can’t measure it, how will you know when you have achieved it? Or more importantly, how will you know if you are tracking towards it? Set goals that can be measured. Avoid subjective ones like being happy. Rather, set ones such as “I need $X in the bank by 40 years old.”

Attainable: Make goals you have a snowball’s chance of achieving. Not ones that only a miracle will help you complete. For example, don’t aim for your manager’s job a week into your job. Study what others have done in the company and then determine if you have what it takes to get there faster. Set goals based on data and intuition and always make them achievable.

Realistic: This is often the hardest one to stick with because we all have blind spots. We all think we’re flawless and awesome when in reality we are not. As you climb towards your goals, see what is working and what isn’t. Maybe you took a path less trodden and it turns out to be full of landmines. Maybe others have figured out the HOV lane. Maybe you lack certain attributes needed to achieve the goal? Whatever the reason may be, don’t be set in your ways. I love the saying, “Strong Opinions. Loosely Held.” You should be ready to adjust when the data shows you are not on the right path.

Time Bound: Set yourself constraints. Tell yourself that these goals must be accomplished in a finite amount of time. Constraints-Based Thinking is a useful tool for startups to create breakthrough results because it makes companies think deeply about how to do a lot more with a lot less. By setting constraints upon yourself, you are more likely to think about how to achieve your goals in the most efficient way possible. This means less time binging Netflix and more eyes on the prize.

Bonus: One last piece of advice: don’t give up! I’ve seen so many people give up halfway. They get part way through the journey and decide that it is too much work to see it through. Don’t be that person. See it through. Unless it kills you, finish the job.

3. It seems all I do is toil away at my job and meet my bosses whims. How can I get where I want to go faster so I can elevate myself above the rank and file?

From your question, it sounds like you’ve hit a breaking point. You are fed up with your boss and you are likely at the moment of fight or flight. If that is the case then it’s time to break glass. It’s time to go scorched earth. The only thing you have to lose is a job that you really don’t want.

I would first be open and direct with your bosses about your sentiment towards the job. Make it clear to them you are fed up. The work isn’t rewarding and neither is the mentorship, or lack thereof. Being direct and open will put your company on notice. Either they value what you bring or not.

Don’t have a blindspot to your own capabilities. Show your managers how you are capable of adding so much more value. Do this by showing them a plan of what you could achieve if only you had a bigger role (and title!). If they are rational human beings, they will at least listen.

If this still doesn’t work, you have two final options. Go to your manager’s boss and express your displeasure and be 100% truthful about how you are being underutilized and intend to leave if changes aren’t made. The other option is the one you always had from the beginning. Walk out the door.

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About the Author

Dave is a seasoned executive and entrepreneur who founded several companies in entertainment, investments, and technology, and worked on Wall Street for almost 25 years.

He started his career by joining a fledgling investment bank, Jefferies, when it had less than 200 employees.  Today, Jefferies is a multi-billion dollar diversified public company (NYSE:JEF).  He rose from the entry level position of Analyst to Group Head of Internet and Digital Media and was one of the youngest Managing Directors in firm history.  As one of the only managing directors of color in the firm, he successfully broke through the Bamboo Ceiling. He not only worked hard but also played the corporate game. 

Hundreds of bankers have worked for Dave during his career. He has mentored many of them who have gone on to some of the best business schools and companies in America.  He is eager to share his knowledge with Asian Americans and other disadvantaged groups seeking to maximize their potential and achieve their career goals.

If you want some great career tips and insights check out Dave’s book, The Way of the Wall Street Warrior, at TheWallStreetWarrior.com.

You can follow Dave at Facebook@Liucrative, Twitter@Liucrative, Instagram@LiucrativeEndeavors, LinkedIn@DaveLiu, or TikTok@Liucrative.

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