“How Do I Make Six-Figures?” Is the Wrong Question

When it comes to one’s career, money is the way we keep score; the amount of money we earn is the way we judge whether or not we are successful. And it’s the way we compare ourselves to others; if our annual salary is higher than a colleague’s, we conclude that we are more successful than they are. And there seems to be a salary threshold that differentiates “good money” from making an average wage. People talk about earning a six-figure salary as the threshold for success; once you’re into six-figures you’ve made it and anything lower gets less attention. The result is that six figures is the target for most people who want to aspire to greatness in their career and how to achieve it becomes the challenge that occupies people’s focus, time and energy. But it’s the wrong question. The question isn’t “How do I achieve six-figures?” but rather “What do I have to do to earn six-figures?”. If you do the right things consistently, the six-figure reward is the natural result. There’s no fast track to six-figures; at least I’ve never seen one in my 30+ year career. Yes, every once in a while someone gets a lucky break and their salary soars but this is the exception rather than the rule. Most of us must grind out a six-figure future. We have to consistently deliver value to the people around us — value that is both compelling, relevant and that addresses what people want and desire. These are 5 actions I took over three decades that both rewarded me with a fulfilling career, established my personal brand as different from the crowd and provided me with satisfying financial returns.

Do whatever is required in the moment

Be that “go-to person” who can be pulled into action when there is a crisis in the organization; when someone must be called upon to fix something that is broken. Don’t be encumbered by your position description; be prepared to stop what you are currently working on to jump into a project that the organization deems to be a high priority. I knew many people who resisted responding to an unanticipated project; who viewed what they were currently working on as their primary mandate. They faltered in their career because they didn’t help the greater cause; they couldn’t be enlisted when the organization needed them.

Build alliances inside and outside

Successful individuals rarely do it on their own; they need people around them who support their efforts and talk them up to others. Having colleagues “spread your word” is essential to being noticed and rewarded for your efforts. It takes a community to create a winner, so be prepared to devote time and energy into creating communities of support and follower-ship. Make a point of meeting someone for that after-work libation as a way to maintain relationships and update them on your current activities.

Be different

You don’t find successful people in a crowd where they look the same and perform their roles the same as everyone else. The crowd is a home for those who like the safety and comfort of not taking risks; who follow what others do and who love the consistency of crowd activity which lacks up and down variability — these attributes don’t apply to individuals who have successfully moved upward in any organization. Take every opportunity presented to you as a gift to be different. I have a trick to keep my be different mantra constantly in front of me. I ask myself “How can I do this differently?” as the context for how I approach a new project, role (or a vacation for that matter) I have been given. So, for example, when I was elected president of our home owner’s strata corporation, the first thing I considered was how I could do the job in a way that most other people don’t. And this led me to apply more business principles and processes to the decision making process, making it more productive and raising the strata council’s performance.

Choose a mentor wisely

Most people are attracted by another professional who has a long list of academic credentials and consider the person with a plethora of abbreviated degrees behind their name to be prime prospects to provide advice and guidance. Successful people know that it is important to be influenced by people who have strong schooling, but they also realize that it is not sufficient. Organizations perform in seas of unpredictability and uncertainty and achieving results in this environment is not all about what you know; it’s about what you DO and how you adapt to unexpected events that show up when you least expect it. Make sure your mentor portfolio includes a healthy number of mentors who have actually DONE something unique and special in the real world rather than someone who has discovered a formula that explains some empirical phenomenon. The reality is that it may be interesting to know how to solve a differential equation, but it’s unlikely you will ever find a business problem where that specific mathematical tool will be key to finding a workable solution.

Spot missing competencies

Every organization confronts the need to change as market dynamics impose new opportunities and threats. New technologies open up completely new product categories, regulations change to attract more competition in home markets and customers generally have more choices and therefore more power to exert on their service provider. Each of these forces begs the question “Do we have the necessary skills and competencies to respond and capitalize on them?”. Successful people are constantly watching for discontinuities in the market that will force their organization to change, and they develop a profile of the employee needed to survive and thrive in the new chaos. An order of magnitude increase in the number of competitors in your market, for example, might require marketing and sales skills that you don’t currently have; a new technology might need a new specialized knowledge base to convert this technology into high performing product solutions. If you are perceive to be on the cutting edge of change, with the ability to translate new challenges into the required skills and competencies, six-figures will be within your reach. A six-figure salary requires a proven five-step performance plan. Consider these actions to be your priorities if you are serious about reaching your goal. Related: 5 Secrets I Wish I Knew at the Start