Three simple rules for lasting career success
These are 80% of the work
I call these the Pro Rules:
Show up when you’re supposed to show up.
Deliver what’s due when it’s due.
Make it your best work every time, no matter how trivial.
When I started college, I was a lousy student. I skipped classes regularly, and my teachers didn’t appreciate my aloofness. I survived as a B-minus student for a year, but I later realized I’d struggle with my degree if I kept bailing on my commitments. So, I set simple goals: instead of striving to be a straight-A student, I’d simply show up to (most) classes, deliver my assignments on time, and do my best work (even if my best wasn’t always great).
In my junior and senior years, I was shocked to see many of my classmates flunk out because they didn’t deliver projects or show up to take their finals. My teachers told the class, “If only they had shown up, I would’ve at least given them a passing grade!” So, I got those passing grades, and soon, my reputation for aloofness morphed into a reputation for reliability.
After college, I brought my three rules into the workplace. I didn’t worry about working 80 hours a week or making a name for myself. Instead, I showed up to work on time, delivered on the critical projects when they were due, and ensured I had the skills necessary to do my best work.
I shared my Pro Rules with an ambitious co-worker, and they rolled their eyes at me. “Seems lazy,” they said. Were my rules lazy? I was new in my career and had no way of knowing if my rules worked in the corporate world. But weeks later, a client told me, “We really like working with you. You just show up and do good work with a smile. That makes our lives a lot easier.” My rules seemed to be working out well.
I moved into management a few years later and saw my Pro Rules from a new perspective: how would I, as a manager, feel about people who put these rules into practice? Was I wrong?
There was an engineer on my team who’d developed similar values: stay humble, show up, and do great work. They were kind, easy-going, and didn’t step on others to move up in their career. As a result, they made a name for themself as being a “go-to” engineer, someone who consistently delivered good work on time. As a manager, their reliability was an asset. Turns out, as the corporate ladder goes higher, that reliability—combined with competence—is rare and valuable.
These rules might seem simple—or even lazy to some—but I’ve witnessed their success firsthand and still live by them. They add unique value to a market starving for people to just show up and deliver.