By Claude Penland
I am entering my 20th year in recruitment. Over my 20 years, I’ve thought a lot about how people progress and succeed out there in the world, and I’d like to share with you a handful of my recent observations from being a recruiter—20 observations for 20 years.
Maybe some of these 20 points will seem relatively obvious, but I hope you will find at least a few of these refreshers worthwhile to help manage your own career—and I’d love to hear from you if you do find that they help.
Develop your decision-making skills to such an extent that you will eventually trust your own judgment. Second-guessing and self-doubt can get in the way of enjoyment of life and work; looking back on them, you might even consider them a tragic waste of your time, efforts, and talents. Aspire to make the right decisions and then see them through.
2. Keep an open mind.
Frank Zappa said that a mind is like a parachute—it doesn’t work unless it is open.
3. Watch the experts.
When you have an opportunity to watch an expert do something, pay attention. Really pay close attention. Doing so will supplement the things that you’ve read and can put a charge and purpose into your own work. Seeing an expert do anything has always been a tremendous experience to me personally, whether at work or at leisure. When I see greatness, it has made me want to shoot for the moon, too.
4. Embrace competition.
When managed properly, competition frequently raises all boats.
5. Control only what you can control.
A very analytics-based approach to work and to life is to focus on the process and not only on the results. It can sometimes be very difficult to think about how little we can actually control how things turn out. Allow yourself to trust the process.
6. Don’t try to please everybody.
When you try to please everyone, you typically please nobody.
7. Stay in the moment.
When we’re worried about what’s going to happen three hours or three days or three weeks from now, we’re not always able to focus on what is right in front of us. By staying in the moment and focusing on that moment, we can be the best versions of ourselves. There will always be time to worry. But once that moment passes, it isn’t coming back—and then we’re on to the next thing. Staying in the moment is possibly one of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned … after a lot of hard practice at it.
8. Be patient and thoughtful.
Learn patience, and figure out when to talk and when to listen. If you’re not sure whether to talk or to listen, you should probably listen. It’s much harder to learn anything by talking. Most of our daily communication has little to do with the actual words that we use, so pay attention to how people say things and their body language. Let them talk while you patiently watch, listen, and learn.
9. Settle down.
After you’ve made your decisions, and controlled what you can control, and stayed in that moment, relax and settle down. A former boss of mine used to say it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Take the long view and happiness magically improves.
10. Devote yourself to something spectacular.
One of the things that I admire about actuaries is that many actuaries believe in a vocation, and they devote themselves in various ways toward achieving that vocation.
11. Give others credit,
and take the blame. In today’s team environments, this couldn’t be more true as an important key to being successful. When nobody is concerned about who receives credit, it’s incredible what can be accomplished through teamwork.
12. Don’t give up.
Some of your success will just be showing up, but the rest of it is often due to persistence. We learn by making mistakes—it’s how we’re wired. The person down the hall who gave up won’t have the benefit of learning what you’ll learn by not giving up.
13. Be kind.
Be as kind as you can be. Everybody is fighting a battle that you know nothing about. Being kind can also help settle whatever inner turmoil you currently have on any given day.
14. Change your mind.
Have the courage to change your mind when the facts change.
15. Make a basic plan for yourself.
Think about where you want to be in five years and in 15 years: not because somebody asks you to, but because you’ll feel better about you. What you do in those years could eventually be completely different, and that’s OK, but make that because you controlled the narrative, not others. If you don’t know where you’re going, any path will take you there, and then … time’s up.
16. Change jobs for the right reasons.
If you look back on your career and keep running into the same issues, it’s possible that it’s you that you have to work on. Your overall happiness can depend on breaking that cycle.
17. Like what you do.
We almost never talk to an actuary who doesn’t like the profession. The job satisfaction among actuaries is really something. When entry-level actuarial candidates—and even their parents sometimes—ask me about whether actuaries are happy, they seem to like my answers. When you see polls that say 75% of people wished they had chosen another path in life, those folks generally aren’t actuaries.
18. Be positive.
A positive attitude is a choice. Reduce or even eliminate the negative influences in your life. If you’re exposing yourself to things that aren’t improving your life, get rid of them. Honestly appraise what daily activities, people, and things are worth your time. Take a red pen to the rest.
19. Conceive and achieve.
Successful people plan a bunch of stuff and then find a way to get it all done. They break things into manageable chunks and then incrementally do them. I see it on resumes every day. The difference between resumes where there has been real achievement and growth, versus the resumes where limited ambition is artificially expanded upon, is striking. It hits you in the face when you’re specifically looking for it.
20. Don’t necessarily listen to guys who write columns.
Your mileage may vary.
CLAUDE PENLAND, MAAA, ACAS, is a partner at Ezra Penland Actuarial Recruitment.