Aug 18, 2022 - Economy

A foolproof roadmap for early success

Illustration of a newspaper with the Axios logo and a thought bubble.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Kathleen Nisbet Halpin, an early Axios hire who made herself indispensable with sharp instincts and good cheer, took to Twitter this week with wise advice for all the young people in our lives, Jim writes.

  • It boils down to: Get sh*t done, no matter how small or dull. Then ask for more — lots more.

Why it matters: The fastest way to success isn't sucking up or leaning on a fancy degree. It’s doing — and therefore learning — more than your peers, cheerfully and relentlessly.

  • "I learned what people were working on and looked for ways to help," Kathleen writes. "Practically, this meant taking notes in every meeting and offering to take action items off people's plates. I absorbed everything I could."

Kathleen rose fast in her early 20s to Director of Strategy — because she knew more, did more, and asked for more than most others.

  • Not too shabby for an international affairs student with zero business experience.
  • She's now getting her MBA at NYU to prep for her next big act.

In her words, and through my observations of Kathleen in action, here's a clear roadmap for any young person to follow:

  1. Past is past. At work, in the beginning, what matters most is today and tomorrow. In the trenches, people want to see you deliver the goods with humility and grace.
  2. Volunteer. Raise your hand for every little task. Someone needs notes typed up or researched? Do it. Someone looking for help on a project? Offer it. "My biggest piece of advice: the more people associate you with getting things done, the more top-of-mind you'll be for the next big task," Kathleen wrote.
  3. Hustle & learn. Don’t just do a lot. Learn a lot. Study what's happening and why. Ask questions. Watch and take notes on people you admire. Also, watch and take notes on the jerk, so you don’t become one. "I kept a list of all the words used in meetings that I didn't know and googled them after. I'm not embarrassed to admit in the early days, I searched 'what is B2B?' (a few times 😀)," Kathleen recalls.

The big picture, via Kathleen: “Always take the initiative. If you love the company, the mission, and the people, it won't feel like 'work' at all."

Reality check: It’s vital to recognize that too many workplaces for too long failed as meritocracies — hustle and hard work weren’t enough for people without privileges. For this perspective, two resources we recommend:

Read Kathleen's thread.

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