How Far Have They Come?

Whenever I chat with someone, I enjoy learning about their background. It’s easier to connect if we find we have something in common. Over time, I’ve started to pay attention to something else: I want to understand their journey. I know it sounds odd, so let me explain.

People take notice of where someone is in life—what they’ve accomplished. It’s thought of as evidence of many things. The person is working in ABC position, so they must be of X intelligence or Y caliber. It’s believed to predict the degree of success they’ll reach. There may be some merit to this, but I think there’s a better indicator of future success. How far someone has traveled, metaphorically speaking, to reach their current position is more informative, in my opinion.

For example, Bob and John both graduate top of their class from the same prestigious university. They both receive employment offers from top-tier firms. Most people would think Bob and John having the same odds of success. I disagree. I would like to understand the journey each of them has taken.

Bob attended great K–12 schools. His parents are alums of his college, so he networked with other alums and faculty before he even got there. He joined the same fraternity as his father and chose the same major as his mother. He interned at a company where his mother had worked. He graduated with a stellar GPA and job experience.

John went to public schools with inadequate resources. He doesn’t have any college graduates in his immediate family, so he chose his university by researching those with strong programs in his desired major. He learned about the admissions process and got to know admissions officers by attending conferences in high school. He didn’t join a fraternity. He learned everything about his future profession through his coursework. He networked his way into an internship via career fairs. He too graduated with a stellar GPA and job experience.

Bob and John are at the same place professionally, but John traveled further to get there. He had far fewer resources. John and Bob will both go on to do great things, but I’d bet on John. Given adequate knowledge, relationships, and capital, John has the potential to go further faster than Bob does.

How far someone has come can be a strong indicator of future success. The determination that has served John well so far isn’t likely to go away.

Next time you’re evaluating someone, find out more about their journey. The information you glean may be revealing.