Ryan’s path to vice president had little to do with fate. Instead, he learned from an early age something that we should all apply at our own jobs.
Paul Ryan burst onto the national scene this week after Mitt Romney named the Wisconsin representative his running mate.
At just 42, Ryan’s a political “boy wonder” to many of us, a gifted legislator who quickly rose through the ranks and seemed destined for greatness.
Yet upon closer inspection, Ryan’s path to vice president had little to do with fate. Instead, he learned from an early age something that we should all apply at our own jobs.
He learned the power of finding a mentor.
The Washington Post does a great job of delving into Ryan’s earliest days on Capitol Hill. The reporter references a key moment when, at age 19, Ryan had to deliver mail (the lowliest job in D.C.) to the Senate Small Business Committee. While in the office, Ryan poked his head into a room and struck up conversation with Cesar Conda, a more experienced Senate staffer.
Ryan asked him about supply-side economics. OK, he’s a political nerd. But his strategy still applies.
That day, Ryan impressed Conda. Even at his young age, Ryan took it upon himself to latch onto people with more experience and knowledge.
In effect, he sought out a mentor.
A few years later, Conda helped Ryan land a job at a prominent think tank, which then led to more connections. Ryan left the think tank to work for a senator and finally met Mark Neumann, the man who held Ryan’s hometown seat in Congress.
At the time, Neumann was running for Senate, so he urged Ryan to run for his own seat in the House. At just 27, Ryan ran and won.
And from there, his political career took off.
Imagine if Ryan had not struck up that conversation with Conda many years ago. All of those ensuing relationships may have never happened.
Too often, young people think they need to stay quiet in an office and blend into the scenery, trying their best not to “bother” anyone.
Yes, older co-workers have the clout, but they also hold the keys to your future success. Buddying up to one — and not brown-nosing (because there is a difference) — can take you places you never thought possible.
The key is to show a genuine interest and curiosity in your industry. Prove to the higher-ups that you’re serious about developing within the company, and the rewards will come back to you ten-fold.
The worst mistake is waiting for someone to come over to you and offer to be a mentor. Bosses are busy people. They’re focused on the company’s bottom line, so the onus is on you to show initiative and prove you’re serious about learning. But when you step up and ask them, bosses are usually delighted to share all they know.
Once you seek out a mentor — and stick to it — you put yourself on a new path. It’s a sure-fire way to command respect from an early age and move up the ladder.
Heck, maybe one day you’ll even wind up a vice presidential candidate.
Danny Rubin is a media consultant based in Washington, DC. He writes News To Live By, a blog that uses the day’s headlines to explore how we can improve personally and professionally. He tweets at @NewsToLiveBy.