I spend a lot of time on college campuses as part of my job. I’m there to recruit, which means I’m there to listen. I hear from students – each of whom has huge ambitions, has already accomplished a lot and has plans to do much more. I meet mathematicians and economists and writers, and their dreams excite me and make me optimistic about tomorrow’s leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs. I leave these schools believing that the future – regardless of whatever uncertainties may exist in our current day-to-day realities – is actually quite bright, full of opportunity and promise.
Despite my best efforts to focus the conversation on them, many students ask to hear about my journey and how I “made it”. I’m always happy to share my own story, but I’m also quick to point out that I don’t believe my version of success will necessarily correspond to someone else’s. Work evolves, technology advances, circumstances change and, of course, people are different. The demands of the modern workforce and economy are certainly not the same as when I started out; they’re not even the same as five years ago. All of this can raise the question – how exactly do I manage my career and get to where I want to be? Over the years, the mentors whom I gained the most from have been those who encouraged me to pursue my passion and build my own path, rather than follow the one they blazed themselves.
With that said, I do believe that there are lessons which can help you on whatever path you choose. And so, as the year comes to a close and I begin to look ahead to 2017 with hope and purpose, I thought I’d share a few pieces of advice:
- Success is personal. Don’t waste energy benchmarking yourself against other people. Rather than try to replicate another person’s achievements, determine what is important to you, and take it from there. Part of maturing as a professional is not just defining your goals, but also knowing when you’ve done well. When I think back on my career, I don’t look at promotions for validation – I remember specific projects, people and teams that brought out the best in me.
- Feedback is not. If you surround yourself only with people who compliment your strengths rather than call out your weaknesses, you are bound to limit yourself. More often than not, it’s your toughest critics who push you towards success. So, when you find someone who tells you the truth about yourself – keep them close.
- Surround yourself with difference. It’s natural to gravitate towards people who have similar styles, interests and experiences. While this approach can feel safe, over time, it will stifle growth, limit learning and impede innovation. Your best ideas are likely to be borne from conversations and interactions that occur outside of your comfort zone.
- Pick your spots. You’re not going to be great at everything every single day. Be clear about your priorities – to yourself and those close to you – and know that some days you’ll be the hero at work and some days you’ll be the hero at home. And that’s OK.
- People remember people. I’ve been fortunate to work alongside highly motivated and highly talented people throughout my career. Many of these folks have been among the best in their respective fields. As I look back now, what I remember most about certain individuals is not the revenue they produced or the titles they held – it’s the interactions that we had and whether our relationship was based on trust, respect and collaboration.
While these lessons have served me well, what I try to emphasize to others is – it’s not about how I made it to “the top” – it’s about what you will do when you get there. At Goldman Sachs, our firm is itself in a period of transition, with new leaders emerging and longstanding ones saying goodbye. Our workforce is nearly 70% millennial – even our latest partner class is composed of 11% millennials, and of course, that number will only increase as the years go by. More and more, our firm is passing into the hands of a new generation, with different expectations for work and different dreams for what our firm can be. And that’s the way it should be. As senior leaders, it’s our job to prepare the next generation. We must teach them the lessons that will help them take on the challenges Goldman Sachs will face ten or fifteen years from now, and empower them to lead us further into the future.