September 22, 2021

What are you so good at that you make look easy?


Some people have an amazing facility for parlaying their modest collection of gifts into a successful career.

Even if their natural talents are not that extraordinary, they still find a way to integrate and deploy them with maximum effectiveness. That process is actually a skill unto itself. One that can be learned.

The key word here is parlay. In the gambling world, parlays are also known as accumulators, multiples or combo bets. They happen when two or more individual wagers are linked, and the payout depends on all wagers winning together.

It’s a long shot, but the benefit is that there are much higher payoffs than placing each individual bet separately, as the difficulty of hitting all of them is much greater. But for the brave gambler, it can be the difference between a few hundred dollars and a few hundred thousand dollars.

Careers are similar, as they are a form of betting on ourselves. And in fact, the word parlay derives from the term which means, to exploit to advantage, or to increase and otherwise transform an asset into something of much greater value.

And so, leverage is the name of the game. Each of us can turn our gift into opportunities, as long as we think about our talent stack strategically.

Here’s a framework that helped me parlay my first career as a freelancer into my second career as an employee.

The first step is asking the passion question.

What are you so good at that you make look easy?

Most people can come up with at least two or three items on that list. If nothing comes to mind, simply ask that question to a few close friends or a spouse. They’ll know.

The next step is to ask the process question.

How might you deconstruct what you do rather intuitively and abstractly, so it can be replicated more exactly and practically?

This phase requires a lot more reflection and codifying, but tracing your own steps and searching for the principles that have been silently guiding your work is a deeply energizing and empowering exercise. Who knows? You might surprise yourself with just how much useful knowledge you have accumulated.

The final step is to ask the pivot question.

When you get hired for a new position, what will be the impact of their ownership of that value?

Answering this question requires considerable empathy. Because in order for the parlay to work, you really have to get out of your own head and think in terms of resale value. Imagining how your unique collection of gifts increases revenue, decreases cost, create connection, reduces friction, adds joy, saves time, or whatever other form of currency might be valuable to an organization.

This series of questions and exercises around passion, process and pivot has worked several times for me. It allowed me to create considerable career momentum during the transition into act two of my professional life.

There’s no guarantee of a payoff, but then again, hitting the parlay is all about increases your odds. Besides, if you’re unemployed, what else are you going to do all day? May as well double down on your own value and figure out how to bet on yourself.

Remember, you can’t use what you can’t find, and you can’t leverage what you forgot you had.

How will you build and leverage your personal competitive edge?