On Work Life

The Only Way to Succeed

I have a friend who never does things the easy way. I think in a sick, twisted way he enjoys doing things the hard way. I don’t judge though. When I think about it, I’m really not that much different.

I was once an engineering major. I had 5 semesters of physics and math under my belt, and I chose to change my major to Philosophy and Religion. The inevitable argument with my mom ensued.

“What will you do instead, Chip?”

“Well, I really liked my philosophy course, and my religion professor is really great. I’d like to change to Philosophy and Religion.”

“What kind of job will you get? Don’t you realize engineers are paid really well?”

“Yeah, Mom. I know. My new adviser says that businesses need philosophy majors. Being an engineer won’t teach me how to think, only how to solve real world math problems.”

Variations of this argument took place over several years with my mom. She was of the opinion that a degree in engineering was a surer way to a well-paying career. I was of the opinion that no amount of money is worth doing a job I hate.

So I graduated with a degree in Philosophy and Religion.

And I sent out resumes.

And I applied for jobs.

And I made phone calls.

And I struggled to get a job.

It was hard for a new graduate with little experience and a degree in philosophy to land a job. Who knew? Well, alright, my mom knew. She knew the marketplace wasn’t looking for a philosopher; it was looking for an engineer. But she could only point out the short-term benefits to a degree in engineering. Where my experience was lacking, that one phrase “B.S. Engineering” would crack the door open for me. But since my resume read “B.A. Philosophy” the door stayed shut.

I did eventually land a job with the company I interned for during the summers. I had enough experience they wanted to hire me in spite of my degree change. But that early job hunting made an indelible mark on me. Any job I ever got would have to be in spite of my degree, not because of it. That’s been the theme of my career ever since.

Having to earn my way in life in spite of my degree has been a challenge. It has forced me to take on work that I wasn’t qualified for. It has forced me to make connections with people, to build a network rather than relying on my degree to get me in the door. Doing these things has stretched me to do more with less, to reach beyond my capabilities to accomplish each goal in front of me.

Let’s take a look at each of these lessons.

Lesson #1—Aim Too High

Whenever I speak with a young person about the kind of spouse they want it’s typical to hear the list:

Smart

Handsome/Pretty

Funny

Christian

Hard worker

Musical

Similar interests

The lists are great, but I don’t think they go far enough. The temptation, particularly if you’ve been single a while and still haven’t found a spouse, is to settle, to make the hurdle lower in order for the next young man or woman to be able to jump it without face-planting. But the issue isn’t with the height of the hurdle. The issue is with the people jumping it.

Beyond the search for a spouse, the same process applies to anything worth doing. If the hurdle is too low, how worthwhile is it? If you set the measure of success low enough not to fail, you might have succeeded in the short-term but at the cost of your long-term success.

If you set the measure of success low enough not to fail, you might have succeeded in the short-term but at the cost of your long-term success. Click To Tweet

Let’s look at this another way. Let’s say you want to get stronger. Do you do that by lifting weights that are light? No! You grab weights that are heavy enough that you can just barely complete the set. If you’re not lifting heavy weights, you’re not getting stronger.

Lift heavy

The same goes for success. When you aim higher or dream bigger than you think is possible, hitting your mark is so much more satisfying. Yes, you’ll fail along the way, but that’s not what’s most important. What is most important is stretching your own capabilities.

So if you’re looking for a spouse, aim out of your league.

If you’re looking for a manager role, apply to be a director.

If you want to start a small business, start one that can scale to be a publicly traded corporation.

Let’s get practical

To get used to aiming too high here are some things to do:

  • Set a goal for yourself, but set it beyond what you think you can do
  • Take a current goal and try to do it sooner, cheaper, and with fewer other resources to help
  • Find a new job that you don’t think you qualify for but one you think you would enjoy
  • Take some online courses through Coursera
  • Subscribe to a Master Class

Remember, you never get stronger if you’re not lifting heavy.

Lesson #2—Make Connections

Full disclosure: I’m an introvert. I really hate mingling. If I’m at a gathering, unless it is in my honor and there is a natural reason for people to seek me out, I will gladly sit in the corner with the 1 or 2 people I know well and hang out. I hate large gatherings of strangers.

But when I look at how I’ve gotten jobs, how I’ve made my best friends, how I’ve learned some of life’s greatest lessons, it has always been because I met someone along the way who directed me. I got hired in my first job because my mom knew the people there. They liked her. They hired me. It was then up to me to prove my worth apart from her.

I marvel at redwoods. These trees are enormous. Looking at them makes me feel small and insignificant. But redwoods don’t stand on their own. Their roots systems intertwine with other redwoods in the forest. Their roots are shallow, so if they don’t intertwine with other redwoods, the harsh winds of the California coast will topple them.

We’re no different.

To survive and thrive, we need to be in community. Click To Tweet

To survive and thrive, we need to be in community. Even if the roots are shallow, our success is tied to the success of others. That’s why I do my best to connect others with what they need. If you need a plumber, I’ve got a guy. If you need an electrician, I’ve got a guy. If you need some muscle, I know a guy that knows a guy. (Anyone else having visions of the Godfather?)

The point is that I want to connect with other people because providing meaningful connections between people is the way I stay standing. It’s how I got my start, and I intend to do the same for others.

Let’s get practical

If you’re like me, making connections does not come naturally. Try these things to build your network:

As you build your career, you need to stretch yourself to reach your full potential. Take some risks, do something new, and then look back in a few years at how far you’ve come.

How have you stretched yourself and grown your influence in spite of the odds? How have you aimed too high or built your network? Please comment below and please take time to subscribe for more inspiration.

 

I am a husband, a father and a follower of Christ. I have been an entrepreneur, a pastor and a politician. Through many hardships I have learned lessons about faith and life. I am also a contributing writer on faithbeyondfear.com. Follow me on Twitter @twelve2nds. If you want to contact me, write me at chip@chipmattis.com.

29 Comments

  • Alice Mills

    This is an honest and thorough evaluation. I think the everyone needs a circle of counselors to encourage and give honest feedback. Settling is not the answer but sometimes refocusing is.

    • Chip Mattis

      Thanks, Alice. You’re right about focusing in on the right stuff. That’s the value that connections bring, particularly mentors. They help us focus on what’s more important as we move toward a goal.

  • thefaithtoflourish

    Thank you for all this great advice. My son graduated with a Bachelors of Arts-Film degree. He is still struggling to find steady work ten year later. I will pass this on to him.

    • Chip Mattis

      Thanks, Dawn! It’s tough with some degrees. I’m glad I got the degree I did, but it’s been a tough road. I sometimes hate that I do things the hard way, but I’m taken care of. Thanks for reading!

  • karentfriday

    Hey Chip,

    The conversation with your mom is an age-old debate. But I loved how you made intentional decisions and choices to move forward, to aim too high, and to make connections.

    My friend, Elaine, says she’s an “introverted extrovert.” She describes it as someone who is a social bug, but who also likes to be alone. I think it’s a necessary balance when we consider making connections. We were created to live in community and to do life together.

    By the way, one of my favorite sayings about enjoying our career is something like…Love the work you do and do the work you love. I’d much rather get up every day to a job I love than the opposite with a high paying salary.

    • Chip Mattis

      All excellent points! Your friend and I sound similar. I call myself a functional introvert 🙂
      As I’ve grown in my career, it’s funny that I still don’t really know what I want to do. If someone asks whether I like what I do, the answer is yes but only until something better comes along. So far nothing has. I’ve beaten my head against the wall trying to find my “calling” but it hasn’t come. So I work with all the skill and joy I can until God gives me different direction.

  • Bryan Stoudt

    Hey Chip, love the part about getting used to ‘aiming too high’, and the suggestions you give. I’m currently in the process of moving toward my first paid product through my blog, which is definitely stretching me both internally and externally. Thanks again for this thoughtful post.

  • Marcie Cramsey

    What you’ve written is so true. A community of people whom we network with is crucial to our success. I like how you say that after your mom helped you get your first job you had to prove your worth. My mom did the same for me when I began working. What a privilege to start my career with her connections but I had to do the same as you point out: prove my worth. To get a job, in many ways, is the easy part, keeping it is the tough part. To do that we must connect.

    • Chip Mattis

      Thanks, Marcie. I have had to work harder to be good at what I do compared to others with the “right” degree. I think my mom would be proud that I’ve made my way. I couldn’t have done it alone, that’s certain.

  • Christy

    Thank you for sharing this, Chip. I’m sure it will be an encouragement to many people just starting out (and moms). Also a good reminder for us older ones who sometimes get sidetracked far too easily.

    • Chip Mattis

      I’m glad you think so, Christy. I wish I had started networking when I was younger. I’ve had mentors in my faith since high school, but it’s only been within the last 7-8 years that I’ve sought mentors in my work. They’re invaluable. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Edna Davidsen

    Hi Chip!

    I’m glad you made the shift. Otherwise, we wouldn’t know you in the Christian online community.

    When I went into blogging, I was attracted by the idea that I could write blog post content, and I could earn some money, and help some people that way. But one of the things, that I really liked about it was the fact that I could work alone, without asking anyone, or talking to other people.

    That was a very naive approach. After some months I began to look at how other people, mainly blogger do. And it didn’t take long before I saw that there’s almost always something going on behind the curtains, which we don’t see directly on a blog.

    Today, I know, that it is that part, which is the essential part.

    And that is the part you’ve written about in this blog post, the relation-building part.

    It’s crucial to find one way or another to get acceptance and access to people who have done what we wish to do.

    After reading your blog post, I thought about where I would be today if I did not realise I needed to be more humble, and network with others to get what I wanted.

    Blessings!
    Edna Davidsen

    • Chip Mattis

      Thanks, Edna. I’m glad someone is benefiting from my rash decision to leave Engineering 🙂
      You’re so right. It is crucial to our long-term success to work with others. A rising tide lifts all boats.
      How do you find mentors? I have found the easiest way to find a mentor is to be bold and ask someone I admire and want to emulate. More often than not, they say yes.

      • Edna Davidsen

        I agree; that’s also my approach. I’ve got great advice from reading books by people I admire; often they’ll add an e-mail address in the book. I usually use those; I don’t think many people use that opportunity, but I’ve found it helpful.

  • Yvonne

    Wish I had this advice 30 years ago, lol. Now, I am retired and doing all the things I want to be doing. It all worked out in the end. Great ideas for younger people just starting out in careers and in life. I hope many people will read your story and learn from it.

    • Chip Mattis

      Thanks, Yvonne. I think I feel like that every day about something. I guess it’s part of growing as people. Although, I would say it’s not just for your career. Think about applying it to your ministry. Thanks for commenting.

  • Elaine Goddard

    Hi Chip,

    First, I was really drawn in by the image of the trees and how they make one look up. Perfect way to start a post on success – forcing us to look to the One that defines success.

    I too made the decision to leave Engineering, although it took me a lot longer to act on the decision as after 17 years at NASA. I was a bit slower to act.

    • Chip Mattis

      I hadn’t even thought about the tree image. I was going for, “See how small I am.” I like your interpretation better.
      As far as work, I’m all for engineers. I just don’t feel called to be one. It’s always good when we learn more about ourselves and grow into something else, assuming we’re following the Lord. I’m glad you found something more life-giving.

  • Jeanne Takenaka

    Chip, wow what a practical post! I love your suggestion of setting a higher goal, a harder goal than we think we can achieve. I have a boy who wants to be stronger, but doesn’t want to do the weightlifting, the aerobic exercise to get stronger. I get frustrated with him, but in some ways, I’m the same. I think the first step that needs to be in place is the “want-to.” That can be a great motivator to making things happen that we never dreamed of in the beginning.

    Loved this post!

    • Chip Mattis

      Thanks, Jeanne! You’re so right. The desire to make a change must come first. I’m a natural competitor. When I compare my progress to others’ I ask, “How can I get there?” Then I try to get there faster, sooner, etc. It’s how I’m wired. Although, truth be told, it’s also a weakness of mine. The true path of wisdom is not just in finding what I want and going for it but finding what the Lord wants for me and going for that. Thanks for commenting!

  • nancyehead

    Chip, I love the concept of aiming higher than you think you can reach. And we all need community to reach the stars. I cannot count the number of times I was discouraged and someone encouraged me to keep going. Aiming high and linking arms with others. Two great keys to going somewhere great! God bless!

  • Melissa McLaughlin

    I love how God used your decision to pursue philosophy and religion as a major to then stretch you in new ways, so He could use you. And you have good advice to share as a result. That’s so God! May He continue to bless and use you in ways you didn’t expect!

    • Chip Mattis

      Thanks, Melissa! I never would have imagined what kinds of things God would ask of me. I’m not a risk taker by nature, but because I pursued my passion then, I’m pursuing God’s plan now…at least I try.

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