My Secret to Building a Successful Career - OZY | A Modern Media Company

My Secret to Building a Successful Career

My Secret to Building a Successful Career

By Darin Oduyoye


Because getting to the top is no mystery. 

By Darin Oduyoye

There are a lot of milestones in life that are a wonderful mix of terrifying and joyous: Getting married, having a child, and — if you stretch back farther — graduating college. It’s easy to look at the road ahead — a mystery in those early years — and wonder how you’ll ever make it. I’m here to tell you there’s a trick. My first words of advice? Listen to Hamilton.

In Hamilton: An American Musical, playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda breathes life into one of America’s most prolific founding fathers. In the opening lyrics of the show, one song in reference to the founding father goes: “How does a … orphan / dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot / in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor / grow up to be a hero and a scholar?” In essence, Hamilton exemplifies tenacity, a quality that I encourage anyone starting their career to embrace. “Do not throw away your shot,” the musical urges. And to that I’ll add, find your dream and find a way to make it happen.

But not all career advice unfolds on Broadway. It’s important to be tenacious, yes, but also be strategic. By that I mean, do what it takes to be the go-to person. Become the expert (in what, is up to you), and people will rely on you. I chose financial public relations and quickly discovered that if you can demonstrate you are the go-to person on a subject, people believe you capable of demonstrating that quality in other areas.

Along with the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, I also offer up the advice of Cathie Black, the former chairwoman of the Hearst Magazines empire, who encourages people to live “a 360-degree life” by opening themselves up to a full circle of experiences and people. Sure, Black advises, look ahead, but don’t forget to look around. A lot of great experiences, memories and living goes on in the margins, and you’ll be surprised by what you may find when you stop to take a look.

I’ve also always been a big advocate of active listening. This will help you ask the right questions and find opportunities. Author Stephen Covey once said, “Most people do not listen to understand. Most people listen to reply.” Remember, it’s hard to hear when your mouth is moving.

Another vital lesson is to accept your own role in your trajectory. Where you go is up to you. If you seek out advice and relationships that will challenge you, it will help you develop good judgment, and help you differentiate between what is important and what is trivial. And if you want a mentor, don’t wait for someone to assign you one — go out and get one on your own.

It’s also important to recognize that launching a successful career doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve learned that brainpower is essential, but there’s no substitute for knowledge gained through experience. Regardless of what you do, you’ll never be successful unless you’ve spent time honing your craft. While classes provide a foundation for learning skills, nothing beats actual work experience, especially if you experience a setback.

Using tools like Facebook and Twitter can be effective, but in reality, they are just tools.

That moment in my career came on Sept. 11, 2001. As tragedy struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I found myself thrown into serving as the lead communicator on security measures for our division’s employees. I had to figure out and communicate whether or not to remain in the building, what the process was for evacuating and how to let managers know, what public transportation was running and what we should tell clients concerned about their lockboxes stored in the World Trade Center.

Then came the task of figuring out how to get information out more broadly, via email, voicemails, the building’s loudspeaker. Nobody wants to go through experiences like these, but it’s exactly these experiences that will guide you for the future. There’s no handbook to tell you what to do — you have to write your own.

Finally, don’t lose sight of the importance of substance. By this I mean stay in touch with people. Be a good communicator. Using tools like Facebook and Twitter can be effective, but in reality, they are just tools. You cannot replace human contact. Quality — not quantity — of interactions and engagement should be your goal. Go beyond social media platforms to engage people, and make sure your message is clear and compelling. Ultimately, it’s the message that makes the impact, not the vehicle.

Darin Oduyoye is Chief Communications Officer for J.P. Morgan’s Asset Management division

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