The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers

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Pattern 1: Understand the Value of You

"I conceive that the great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by false estimates they have made of the value of things."
-- Benjamin Franklin

“Value is not intrinsic; it is not in things. It is within us; it is the way in which man reacts to the conditions of his environment. “
-- Ludwig von Mises

What are you worth?

For many, the answer to this question may seem a matter of simple math. Just take your total annual compensation, add benefits, and voila, you’ve got your answer. Not so fast. The equation for determining your true worth over time is more nuanced than you might first imagine. It is more than your annual compensation and benefits.

You need to take into consideration age, demographic trends, the demand for similar professional positions, and intellectual capital (in today’s market, the value of specialized knowledge is at a premium).

Your value in the marketplace is far from static. In fact, it changes at every stage of your career and in every different position you are in. So there’s no single answer to the question, “What am I worth?” However, once you understand what affects your value, you will have the insight to increase that value.

Your true worth in the marketplace is determined by the combination of both potential value and experiential value. At any point in your career, your value can be thought of as a combination of these two elements. Even if you find yourself considering a role similar to one that you have been in, it is important to look for and discuss the growth potential of the new role itself and you in it. And while experiential value and potential value are distinct, they are closely related.

For a child to continue to swing, potential energy must be transformed into momentum, which in turn builds up potential energy again. The path of your career is similar — you must turn your potential value into valuable experiences, which together can be converted into renewed potential.

Which type of promotion, potential or experiential, is more important in your career? Actually, a successful career is almost always made up of both. Remaining with one company may keep your pay lower on a relative basis, but you are more likely to receive a potential promotion within your current organization than through a move to another company.

Being given the chance to move into general management, or dramatically increase your scope of responsibility, is crucial to continued career advancement. So understanding when it is in your long-term interest to do something in the short-run, such as going for a potential promotion within your current organization to position you for an experiential promotion later on, is a key trait of extraordinarily successful executives.


Everyone thinks his career is unique. The reasoning goes that a career in manufacturing bears little resemblance to a career on Wall Street, or in high technology. The guideposts and experiences must be different for each and every sector of the economy. Job titles must vary widely in scope and responsibility. And career paths must differ greatly depending on where you live.

However, there are many similarities. The solid line in the chart shows the steady, upwardly sloping career arc that describes career success. The path of the successful professionals often visibly diverge from the less successful in the middle of a career. Of course it’s not quite as simple as that.

The path of careers varies greatly among professionals, and minor differences in trajectory early on can lead to big differences in career success over time. But the fact is that over the course of your career, no matter what your rate of ascent, you will likely experience three distinct phases, regardless of your specific occupation, industry, or geography; the Promise Phase, the Momentum Phase, and the Harvest Phase.

Read onto Pattern 2!

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This extract is taken from
The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers by James M. Citrin and Richard A. Smith, published by Random House. Order your copy now!

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