Make yourself useful.
It is the surest path to success in business, it is more important than salesmanship, presentation, image or any degree you may have attained in school.
Take it from someone who spent ten years pushing a boulder up a hill for no reason other than I thought it was what I was “supposed to be doing.”
When you make yourself useful, at a certain point the boulder begins rolling downhill – and it becomes a snowball, picking up business contacts, key connections and dollar bills all the way down. It gets easier to push and in many cases, needs to be slowed down if anything.
I bumped into some of my old broker friends down on Wall Street the other day. They are still pushing the boulder up a hill – still concocting ways to sell people things they don’t need or want. Still not making themselves useful. Still slaving away in a hopeless enterprise because they don’t know any better or have given up. And they know it. It is written on their faces and can be seen in their eyes. Futility and frustration, it coats their throats so that even when they speak optimistically – “Livin’ the dream!” – you still know deep down how useless they feel.
Working hard is not the same as making your work hard for you.
The great personal stories on The Street all have very specific arcs:
1. Rags to Riches
3. The Man Who Believed When No One Else Did
4. The Conquering Hero
5. Worked His Way Up From The Mailroom
The common thread through all of those stories is that our hero figures out how to become useful to his industry, his firm and a wide pool of potential clients and colleagues.
Carl Icahn once told his personal story at an event I attended and it stuck with me. Most people don’t know this but when Carl was first starting out, he was a broker in search of clients (sound familiar?). He found a niche as one of the most knowledgeable options traders on The Street at a time when options mystified a great many market players. He owned that niche and the clients came to him. He was able to build up quite a commission base simply by virtue of how useful he had made himself. That commission base gave him a platform to jump up from to the next rung and then the next.
He’s now a billionaire who has no need of clients or taking outside money – the dream of almost every player in the markets.
Are you making yourself useful? It is hard to be an expert on everything and to be good at it all. Here’s a shortcut – find something you can be very good at, preferably something you are genuinely interested in and will have the patience to excel at. Learn everything about your niche you can and then start writing and talking about it where people will hear you. Make yourself the center of the discussion of that one thing. Care deeply and keep exploring the topic every chance you get.
Make yourself useful. Then sit back and watch your boulder become a snowball.