Jonathan Yabut: Find Your Grit and Keep Going Even When You Feel Uninspired

03/26/2015 12:49 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2015

This is part of the #CareerAdvice series -- featuring successful professionals who share their advice to people who would want to take their career to the next level.

He was the Season 1 winner of the hit pan-Asian reality TV show, The Apprentice Asia, hosted by Malaysian business mogul Tony Fernandes.


Jonathan Yabut, Chief of Staff at AirAsia

Popularly known in the show for his people skills, leadership and passionate speeches in the "boardroom", Jonathan Yabut is currently based in Kuala Lumpur as the Chief of Staff of AirAsia reporting directly to the CEO.

Now he shares with us about how he started his career and the importance of working smart, as opposed to what most people commonly do -- working hard.

Tell us a bit about how you started and highlights of your career.

After deciding to ditch law school on my last year in university, I tried out as management trainee for marketing at a local telco firm (I studied economics, so I was clueless about marketing and learned a lot from my first job).

Wanting to learn something different, I moved on as a Sr. Brand Manager a multinational pharmaceutical company where my leadership and sales acumen were honed for four years.

I was humbled to receive the 2012 Young Mansmith Marketer Award for breaking a sales record in my company during this stint. In December 2012, on the day that I was dumped by a grand cheater, I saw a TV commercial about auditions for The Apprentice Asia, which I happily joined -- and triumphantly won.

A year after serving as the "apprentice" of Tony Fernandes for AirAsia, I published my first book -- From Grit To Great -- and launched my own marketing and consulting company while currently being based in Kuala Lumpur and still working for Mr. Fernandes' group.

If you could advise your 20-year-old self today, what would you tell him?

I'd warn my 20-year-old self that I'm up for a crazy and wild ride! When I was 20 years old, I was your classic goody-two-shoes.

I stay late until 10 p.m. in the office, and I rarely go out socializing. I realize later on that there's a big difference between working smart and working hard, and I was working too hard.

Life is beautiful outside the office and the key challenge (which I'm still working on today) is how to strike success at work, while still appreciating the rest of what life can offer -- family, friends, travel, laughter, good food, etc.

That's when you have to work smart: shorter hours to get things done at the best quality of output you can give.

What has been the most valuable advice you've ever gotten when you were faced with challenges in your career?

There will be phases in your career when you want to quit on something because you think you can't bear the challenges anymore, or because you deserve something better.

Those are the moments when I learned that it's ok to quit and move on. Society looks down on quitting because we fear the status of losing, or because we stigmatize on people who give up. But remember that sticking too long in a company that doesn't appreciate you is an opportunity cost. There's an upside to quitting: the faster and earlier you move on, the higher your chances become in succeeding in another environment that can truly set you up for success.

What would you advise those who are looking to take their careers to the next level?

There's this graduation speech delivered by the Grey's Anatomy creator, Shonda Rhimes, that I always tell to myself.

She said that dreams are "fleeting, ephemeral, pretty" but in the end, it's hard work that makes change and makes those dreams come true, nothing else. I can so attest to this.

We all fall in love with so many ideas and we talk about it with our friends every night while we go for drinks, but we don't end up doing anything about it because we just love romanticizing it. The people who succeed are those who get the job done -- and in today's times, that's very tough, given so many distractions such as social media.

But how does one sustain hard work?

I'd always advise people to find their grit whenever they feel uninspired -- to keep on moving. Grit is passion and perseverance combined that fuels someone to achieve his long-term goals, despite the hardships he will face along the way.

You can't buy grit in the nearest 7-11 store, unfortunately, you have to develop it on your own. I believe that people who go places aren't necessarily smart, rich, or that good looking.The one's who do have grit.

Learn more from Jonathan by connecting with him on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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