How Events Shape Your Career: Are You Paying Attention?

Last Updated Aug 20, 2009 1:48 AM EDT

If you could look back over an unsuccessful person's life, it might tell you a story of missed opportunity and bad advice. The reverse is probably true for a successful person.

When I look back over my life and career, there were hundreds, maybe thousands of potential influences and paths I could have taken. I'm not sure why I chose certain paths and not others, or what exactly determined which advice I followed.

Maybe it was just dumb luck, but I don't think so. I think some things people say really resonate with your mindset and situation at the time. In those rare cases, you not only follow the advice, but you remember it as pivotal in your life or career. A casual piece of friendly or professional advice, given at a time when you're open to it, perhaps need it, can change everything.

Here are ten things people have said to me over the years that stuck with me and, in all but one case, had a significant effect on my life by precipitating career and life changes. In most cases I can recall every detail about the event, even if it happened decades ago.
  1. "The future of electronics is semiconductors." - Morty Brozinsky, chairman of Standard Microsystems Corp. and father of my girlfriend at the time, c. 1978.
  2. "The only true success is happiness." - Nigel Williams, president, Manhattan Skyline (a UK semiconductor distributor), on the way to Heathrow Airport, c. 1992.
  3. "Why do I need a mirror to shave? I know where the razor is and I know where my face is." - Simon, a friend, c. 1990. I don't know why, but I recall that line every time I shave.
  4. "You and I are either going to be a love fest or oil and water." - Brian Halla, CEO of National Semiconductor, during my final interview for VP of corporate marketing, c. 1997.
  5. "You can spend your whole life whining and complaining and annoying everybody, or you can suck it up and think positively." - Dick Carroll, my manager at Texas Instruments, c. 1981.
  6. "What's the common element in all the crap you've gone through in your life? You!" - I know who said that, but I'm not telling.
  7. "It's yours to lose, buddy." - Matt Ready, sales director at OPTi (a chip company), friendly advice during the interview process for my first Silicon Valley marketing management job, c. 1993.
  8. "I think you'd make a great salesman." - Phil Richards, president of Phase II (semiconductor rep company), c. 1988.
  9. "Don't screw this one up, Tobak." - Mike Kusbit, a friend, upon meeting my future wife, c. 1989.
  10. "You can go crazy looking back and saying 'what if?'" I don't remember who said that, but I was a teenager in the 1970s in Brooklyn, NY.
Bottom Line: With the exception of the "shaving" line - which I just can't forget no matter how hard I try -these are ten sentences from ten events that materially shaped my career and life. They're not exhaustive by any stretch, but the point is that a handful of instances can change your world, but only if you're paying attention. So are you ... paying attention?

Now it's your turn to share. Think about it; it's fun.

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