I’m going to give you some great career advice. Seriously, this probably should be communicated by whispering to you while hidden in a misty fog – so use your imagination. Here goes…
When considering career choices, always consult a Ninja Warrior. You’re welcome.
Jinichi Kawakami is the last Ninja Warrior and only heir to Ninjutsu, which is the strategy and tactics used by Ninja Warriors. He’s trained in just about everything you could imagine a Ninja Warrior would be, including: swords, pyrotechnics, poisons, throwing weapons, hand-to-hand combat, horsemanship and of course concealment. As far as I know, he might be watching me as I write this. Impossible to tell. Maybe he’s somehow disguised himself as the chair I’m sitting on now.
So, what led me to learn from Kawakami? The answer is fear.
I was invited to speak to a group of MBA graduate students at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business on the topic of finding their paths. It was an invitation for which I felt like the wrong person.
The truth is, I couldn’t have determined even my own career path. It’s been 35 years of working in several different functional roles and within different industries. It includes Fortune 100 companies and small entrepreneurial startups. Aerospace, medical devices, software and IT services, giant hovercraft… and more. But, when it comes to the “path?” It’s only in hindsight that I can see what led where.
The path has been continual change, learning, remaining flexible, being collaborative and leading by example. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the mistakes and the hard work along the way.
And I’m certainly not alone. The changing workplace over the past decades has a great many professionals continually tackling one challenging obstacle (project) after another. Basically, doing the career equivalent of metaphorically running the course on the American Ninja Warriors television show. It’s a course wherein participants jump, climb, lift and balance their way through various (and changing) obstacles like the Salmon Ladder, The Warped Wall, the Cargo Net and Cannonball Alley.
The working world has us encountering the Clueless Boss Barrier, Insufficient Resource Reservoir, Quality Quicksand, and Interdepartmental Monkey Bars.
Which is what got me thinking about Ninjas, and why I include the thoughts from Jinichi Kawakami, the last real Ninja Warrior.
Here are my Ninja-influenced recommendations:
A) There is no one path
Your path can’t be known in advance. Just like stealthily sneaking into a compound in the dark of night to rescue a princess (or competing on the American Ninja Warrior course) there will always be new obstacles. For one thing, the world is rapidly changing. Technology connects everyone, and makes the world a smaller place. There’s massive knowledge-sharing, and subsequently things change faster than ever.
There’s disagreement on the estimated number of “different careers” new graduates will have in their lifetimes. But regardless of whatever the number turns out to be, your career will be in flux.
B) Never stop learning
We’ll all have many different jobs and meet many different people, the only element that is going to be a constant in each of those situations and projects – is each one of us. The way you add more value is by bringing more to the engagement. What will you bring?
The great news is that there’s innumerable sources from which you can continue your education. Firstly, there’s the workplace itself along with those you’ll work alongside. There are books, online and offline courses. Toastmasters for speaking. And Meetup groups for everything.
C) Never stop training
The strongest professional I’ve ever met never stopped practicing to get better. Steve Jobs, who you might think could just show up and rock a product presentation, would practice not for hours… but for days. Constantly rehearsing, editing, refining. Are you better than that?
Even competitors on American Ninja Warriors replicate the obstacles courses in their backyards, basements or garages, and then train for years. That’s what it takes to get better.
How long until you’re superhuman and can run across a pond or disappear in a blink? “That is impossible because no matter how much you train, Ninjas were people,” laughs Kawakami.
D) Nobody cares about your goals
You’re on your own. That’s a hard truth. And this relates to the importance of the prior advice of continuous learning and training.
Yes, a new job will have its initial share of welcoming enthusiasm and interest. But that will quickly dissipate into the wind. The good news (actually the great news) is that you are responsible for your own happiness and goals. Not a parent, or spouse or boss. It’s all you Ninja baby.
E) Be Selfless
Approach your job with the questions, “What can I contribute?” “Who can I help?”
Even the competitors on American Ninja Warriors are all cheering for each other. They realize their only real competition is with themselves. As in the working world, there is not a limit to the number of people that could conquer the course.
Real Ninja Warrior Kawakami explains, “The red circle is symbolic of (the) Ninja spirit. Red symbolizes a pure heart. So must have a genuine heart and purpose of justice. Execute duties without benefit or self-interest. That is (the) true Ninja spirit.”
F) Pay Attention to the Why
Every leader (or Ninja Warrior) has a “why.” It’s the essence of why they do what they do. For Bono, the lead singer of U2, it’s to make meaningful music and better the world – which has led him to persuade global leaders to write-off debt owed by impoverished countries and to enlist companies and millions of people in the fight against AIDS. Bono is probably a Ninja.
When describing the origination of Ninjas in ancient Japan, Kawakami explains the Ninjas were committed to bettering the community. The harmony of all the residents in the village as a whole, became more important than individual needs. A true Ninja tries to create harmony in their community.
G) Be collaborative
Great work happens when people come together. Cooperate and collaborate.
According to Kawakami, “In the communities Japanese people developed the ability to hide their feelings, fear, anger, grief, sadness, happiness, joy – correspondingly the ability to read other people and act accordingly with consideration is the way…”
H) Graduating is the beginning
You know this already.
And here’s the opportunity for you. Despite having many students, Kawakami has decided he will not appoint anyone as the next Ninja grandmaster. Kawakami now spends much of his time teaching Ninja history part-time at Mie University. ”In the age of civil wars or during the Edo period, Ninjas’ abilities to spy and kill, or mix medicine may have been useful,” Kawakami says. “But we now have guns, the Internet and much better medicines, so the art of Ninjutsu has no place in the modern age.”
So, listen to me. There’s no sense in waiting to be appointed. Go become a Ninja Warrior. That was said to you like a whisper from beyond the tall grass. And….. poof… I’ve vanished!