Developing career capital is absolutely crucial if you want to have a fulfilling, flexible, impactful long-term career in this day and age.
In the last article in this series, we talked about what career capital is, and how important it is for your ability to develop the career that you want, but some readers wanted to know more about how to develop career capital. So, without further ado, here are the six most important things to do if you want to build up your storehouse of career capital.
1. KEEP LEARNING NEW THINGS
Being a lifelong learner may sound like a boring extension of your high school years, but it can actually be a lot of fun. As adults, we can pick and choose the things we want to learn, and focus on the things that are interesting to us. If you enjoy (for example) playing on the internet and making lots of money, you might choose to learn some web development skills.
Learning new skills is fun when you can start to see the results of your hard work. Skills aren’t just fun for showing off at parties; there’s a certain kind of satisfaction that comes from knowing that you are able to do amazing things… especially things that other people can’t.
Investing in your own education is the most important part of developing career capital. If you don’t have money, invest your time into learning things for free on the internet. If you have a computer and an internet connection, the world is literally at your fingertips. You may also be able to find many free resources in your home town. For example, here in Miami, FVI offers huge amounts of financial aid to students, so that students can attend our classes, without having to worry about where the money is coming from.
2. BE PATIENT
In his famous interview with Charlie Rose, Steve Martin explained what was going on in his head when he decided to learn how to play the banjo. “If I stay with it,” he reasoned, “then one day I will have been playing for four years, and anyone who sticks with something for four years will be pretty good at it.”
This kind of long-term outlook breeds the kind of patience you will need in order to build a huge stockpile of career capital. If you want to learn coding skills for example, and you expect yourself to become a world-class coder within the first few months of starting your journey, you’re likely to get discouraged and quit. It’s better to take a patient, long-term view of things. After all, if you stick with something for four years, how could you not be (at the very least) pretty good at it?
3. PUSH SO HARD THAT IT HURTS (but not so hard that you quit)
In his book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You,” Cal Newport recommends having a realistic mindset when it comes to the struggle and the pain that comes with building a new skill set. He compares developing career skills to body building.
“You should be seeking to be in a state of mental discomfort frequently.” — Cal Newport
That said, don’t burn yourself out! The world is full of super-intensive, three-month coding bootcamps — and is also, unfortunately, becoming fuller and fuller of well-intentioned, perhaps overly-enthusiastic people who burned themselves out in those programs.
We set up our nine-month, evenings-only web developer course so that it hits that perfect balance between “feeling the burn” and “burning yourself out.”
4. SEEK FEEDBACK
Be willing to be embarrassed. If you’re not willing to show your work to anyone, or put yourself out there, it will be hard for you to know how you’re doing.
Without feedback, you’re flying in the dark. You might think that you’re doing a great job and that your skills are improving by leaps and bounds, but that might all just be in your head. You could be going totally in the wrong direction, or making major mistakes and never even realizing it
Feedback from other people (especially experts in the field, if you can manage to get their feedback) tells you where you need to improve, so you can work toward improving your skills. Improving your skills is the only way to gain career capital.
Many people who learn to code on the internet have trouble getting good, quality feedback on their work. While some nano-degree programs have popped up online that offer feedback for people who are trying to learn to code, it’s always better to be able to get feedback in person. This is one of the things we take most seriously here at FVI. We do our best to make sure to provide feedback to our students, so that they can see where they need to improve, learn from their mistakes, and grow their own personal career capital reserves.
5. MAKE “LITTLE BETS” (also known as MVPs)
One great way to get feedback, to see if your skills are really improving, is to make “little bets,” as Newport puts it. Basically, do short-term projects that can be completed in less than a month. Then put these projects out there and see how people react.
For example, if you’re trying to improve your web development skills, you could create a simple website, and put it out there for people to see. That way you can get immediate feedback and find out what people like and what people don’t like. People can point out bugs in your code that you might have missed otherwise.
This is much more useful than trying to improve your skills by working on long-term projects, which might require many months before you can even begin to get feedback.
6. STOP WASTING TIME. FOCUS ON DEVELOPING YOUR CORE SKILLS.
There are so many ways to waste time nowadays! Social media, video games, virtual reality are all huge time drains. But wasting time is not just about playing video games and watching TV. There are sneakier, more sophisticated ways of wasting time; like spending half your day answering emails. Email, social media, and the internet can provide you with a potentially infinite amount of work, but if you focus on those things, you’ll always be treading water and never really getting anywhere. Instead, focus on developing the skills that you really want to develop.
“I’ve never had a Facebook or Twitter account, and people say there are some benefits to them since I’m a writer, but I don’t care. I want to ruthlessly focus on the things that matter, so I’ll write a book, I’ll write another 10,000 words. People with career capital don’t do a lot of things, but what they chose to do, they do with great intensity and over a great period of time.” — Cal Newport
In the end, developing career capital comes down to constantly learning, refining, and developing new (valuable, marketable) skills. If you spend your time focusing on developing your valuable skills and putting them into practice through small projects, getting feedback all along the way, you’ll have built a huge stockpile of career capital before you know it.