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Identifying and Living Your Values for a Meaningful Career.

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Work that encompasses your personal values feels better than “just a job”. Tim Kendall, BS ’99, talked about how he has incorporated his values into a career that has spanned diverse roles and senior leadership, and how he is living them as he invests "tech for good" and advises founders on growth and scaling.

When Tim was an undergraduate, his motivation was basically fear driven - impacted by maximizing achievement and minimizing discomfort. Surrounded by so many talented people, imposter syndrome kicked in. He wanted the internships/jobs that would look impressive to others - without knowing what they actually meant! This felt like a trend at Stanford - because everyone here is already on that path of achieving what is most coveted.

This fear-based paralysis continued into his 20’s, and he didn’t have the capacity to look outside of himself and assess his career properly. Tim wishes that he’d taken the time to figure out his values and what mattered to him independent of what peers, professors, the wider world was saying. He’s been doing it more recently, (in his late 40s), but realizes he has spent so much time getting power, money, and success without doing the foundational work first.

In doing this sense of self work, Tim has found that a useful model is the Japanese concept of Ikigai - a reason for being.

Tim found himself in the ‘profession’ area, (one that is very easy to fall into). He came back to Stanford for his MBA, after which he tried to be more thoughtful. He’d realized from his post-UG pre-MBA career in finance and investing that he’d prefer to be at a company building a product that the world needed. Facebook (back then) wasn’t perfect, but Tim was able to build something aligning with their initial mission of connecting people.

Tim realizes that, as humans, we’re programmed to want to have impact. When he moved to Pinterest he had better alignment, because he was able to focus on company culture, which was fulfilling. He got to help people discover what they loved and to then do it. This is work he would have done even if he wasn’t getting paid for it, which is his main mental test/check on if something is the right thing, and a question he recommends people ask themselves about their work.

Our careers are multiple decades long journeys, and the reality is that the first internship or job is just not going to set the whole direction. It is a long and circuitous journey, and there will be changes. Having a big name brand like Stanford under the belt can create a mindset of “what is the next big name” when building a career, however, It is healthy, and a good idea to take some measured and calculated risk, especially in their 20’s before geographic ties/spouses/children etc. Tim recommends everyone do it at least once!

When Tim joined Facebook after his MBA, there were only 100 people there, and in his own words: “I had no business being the person figuring out the business model”. In small companies, there are more opportunities to build and do things, more responsibilities, and therefore, more learning and growth. It can be intense - Tim lived just 4 blocks from the office yet still had a mattress on the floor, just like everyone else.

Tims advice:

  • Figure out which culture you excel in, where you feel the best sense of self, the most belonging etc. 
  • Test the value system of the company by speaking up and out. Can the environment withstand it? Can the system tolerate dissent? With good companies and systems, the answers will be yes. If the answer is no, or there is a dictatorial leadership, get out!
  • Work to create perspective around accolades, because they can be a validation drug and lead down a path that is successful but not necessarily happy. Traditionally, this has been accolades like admission to/graduation from a prestigious school like Stanford, then similarly with a job offer, then wealth and power with career growth. This path encourages and incentivizes behavior around increased accolades. Instead, figure out your own value and reward system.
  • Think about which quadrant the company you’re working for/thinking about working for fits in:
 ConsensusNon consensus
RightThe big stable companies such as Microsoft, Apple etc.You’ll be/do fine, though you’ll be a cog.The companies that most people haven’t heard of. They might not work, but you’ll learn and get responsibility.
WrongDon’t want to be here!Don’t want to be here either!
  • How then do you identify the right, non consensus companies? They’re going to be ones that have momentum - they’ve raised some capital, about 50-100 people working there already, good people on the board, strong signals of product market fit.
  • The consensus/right companies are hiring over summer and autumn. The non-consensus/right companies will be hiring last minute - so you’ll have to endure FOMO. Don’t worry! Tim didn’t get his Facebook job until a week after graduating from the GSB, when pretty much everyone else had had their job offers wrapped up for maybe even several months already.
  • (Note that starting a company is also a legitimate choice for someone with razor sharp focus, but it was not something that Tim wanted to do)
  • In terms of knowing when to change roles or directions, ask yourself the ‘Four Consecutive Mondays’ question. This is something Tim learned from a friend. If you really don’t want to go to work for four consecutive Mondays (beyond the usual post-weekend blues or being annoyed at the commute) it’s time. If you’re finding yourself outside of work having a shift in where your mind is focusing - a different industry, or role, it might also be time. You can get pulled, or you can be pushed towards a decision, ie, something else might be more exciting or promising (pull), or the current situation might have lost its luster (push).
  • Meditation helps you figure things out. The way we experience the world is a function of our brains, so helping your brain see things more clearly has a lot of virtue. Take the time to quiet everything so that you can get to know who you are. 
  • Redefine success. So many life outcomes are out of our control. Measure the things you can control, such as how you treat people every day. Be generous with kindness, feedback, honesty, compassion, time, advice - this is what brings happiness in career and life.
  • Recommended reading list:
    • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. 
    • Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey. A cliche for a reason.
    • How to be Successful (list of 13 things), by Sam Altman. Some unique insights.