04/30/2014 01:05 pm ET Updated Jun 30, 2014

Trisecting a Molecule of Career Wisdom

A few companies ago I had the opportunity to work with a very young, very green engineer. As I started moving my out to my next startup, I had the chance to share a molecule of business wisdom with this individual. Four years later this person is now a senior quality manager, and I have no doubt it was 99% her own abilities and drive. As I mentally trisected this molecule of wisdom, I attributed three fundamental rules that enhance or bring down every career.

  1. Find humility in your current limitations.
  2. Find strength in your current knowledge.
  3. Find confidence in your future capabilities.

Sure they seem cliche' and slightly overused, but I found it surprising how often we ignore and downplay the importance of these rules. Let's think about them.

Humility in current limitations - I have had the misfortune of working with some real assholes. People who either acted like they knew everything but didn't, or people who were incredibly smart but reminded everyone in the building every single day. These extremes in personality lacked the same thing -- they lacked basic humility in what they didn't know. Now, humility can be incorrectly seen as a sign of weakness; something you don't know leads people to think that you're somehow lacking. But the reality is that humility is really the sign of someone who is always learning and filling in their limitations with new abilities; keeping their doors open to new knowledge and subsequently new opportunities. These are people who move up the corporate ladder, but with the respect of people around them. We all know the value of respect, whether you like a person or not.

Strength in current knowledge - We each have our own personal bank of knowledge. This knowledge is a mix of experience, formal learning, and some lessons thrown in for good measure. Consider this to be your toolbox -- your go-to collection of insights that you can use each day to solve problems, find leverage towards a goal, or to share with friends and coworkers. Be willing to look at your knowledge and know what you're capable of doing. After all, it's that knowledge that got you to where you're at right now. Your knowledge is the foundation from which you can build your self-business into something grand that others will notice and respect.

Confidence in future capabilities - It's easy to find yourself in a position where you just don't have what it takes to get something accomplished. It becomes a fork in the road for most of us -- do we throw in the towel and admit defeat, or do we see what we're lacking as opportunity to grow and improve our position in life? Feel the sense of confidence that a CEO carries as he walks through his company -- the blood, sweat and negotiations that went into making that company successful. The confidence in knowing that nothings stops you from learning what you don't know, is more than enough to drive you to your destination. But you have to carry that confidence with you constantly without wavering, especially when challenges come up. And it must be balanced with the humility that garners respect from those above and below you.

All of this seems like a lot, and it is. But it is a mere molecule of insight into how we can guide our careers towards the direction that we want to see ourselves heading towards.

... because it only takes a molecule of effort, to move your career miles.