A CBP | #13 | Applying Vertical Progress to Vocation

I was asked to be on a panel discussion taking place later today at General Assembly located inside Ponce City Market. The topic? “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” I’m sure the keynote will cover major bases and give wonderful, practical advice. Me and the other panelists? I might be speaking for myself but I think we’re unsure of how the panel discussion will even be structured. In an attempt to be prepared and try to put words to my life path, read on.

As someone who is now fully immersed in the technology field, I’m doing what I can to become better educated and well-versed. One of those things is taking 15 minutes out of my morning, every morning, to read as many of the articles fed to me via my Medium Daily Digest as I can. If you aren’t utilizing this source, I highly recommend it. You can tailor it to topics of your interest and choice.

Two articles in my digest from the last few days referenced PayPal’s co-founder Peter Thiel in one way or another. One of the articles references his book, Zero to One. The other article references his hiring strategy. Feeling relieved after reading, “Peter Thiel would focus on finding really strong people without experience because they come at a much higher ROI,” from the latter article, I almost immediately bought a digital copy of his book. (I technically haven’t held a PM position until now so you might understand said relief. But wait, doesn’t planning a wedding count?!)

Anyway, in the opening chapter of Zero to One, Thiel talks about the differentiation of vertical and horizontal progress. In a nutshell, horizontal progress is copying things that work. Going from 1 to n. Globalization. Vertical progress is doing something no one else has done. Going from 0 to 1. Technology.

This concept is easily applicable to commerce and innovation, and thus startups. Shoot, I could make the case that it could be applied to sports. But here’s a thought. What if we applied the concept to our own vocational journeys? Instead of making horizontal progress in our lives, what would it mean to make vertical progress? To go from o to 1?

Most of you reading this know my story. If you don’t, here it is in bullet format from 2008 to present:

  • BA in History
  • Assistant managed a retail store
  • MS in Sport Management
  • MDiv in Theology
  • Multi hat wearer for an international development and STM nonprofit
  • Communications for a nonprofit that helps other nonprofits
  • PM for a mobile agency and multi hat wearer for a tech-related nonprofit

Vocationally speaking, going from 0 to 1 doesn’t necessarily translate to doing something no one has done, although it could. For me (and assumedly for many of us), going from 0 to 1 simply means doing something I haven’t done. Certainly it could mean taking on a new hobby. But for the purpose of staying on topic, it means strategically upgrading my vocational life by taking on a new job (or in my case, going back to school), so long as I benefit. It might sound self-serving, but if I’m going to spend almost HALF of my waking hours working, I may as well enjoy them.

Some of you can relate to my experience. Some of you are wondering if I’m even capable of sitting still. The way I see it, the more I take on these calculated and strategic moves, the more I learn to adapt and adapt quickly. Also, I believe our inherent tendencies to be curious – albeit curiosity ranges and takes shape differently from person to person – are purposeful. Our curiosity when used positively can awaken us, can make us more fully alive.

I am choosing to be awakened. I am choosing to become more fully alive.

Maybe you’ve been thinking about a drastic career change or going back to school. Maybe you’re working on something on the side. Amidst whatever it is, maybe you find yourself thinking, “Well I don’t even know if I’m capable of making that kind of move.” The fact that you’re even battling the idea of whether or not to leave your current job for a completely different one or leaving your job to go back to school automatically implies that your curiosity could serve you well. This internal battle of yours implies that you are capable of adapting to change.

In all cases of people mindfully choosing what might appear to be a drastic move or career change, something good always come of it. Always. I beg you to show me otherwise.


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