A 30-year Wall Street veteran on his best career advice to ‘hack the system’ to find success
Navigating your career path can be a hard task. For people of color and other underserved communities, that process can be even harder, with factors like discrimination, lack of representation, and burnout at play.
Dave Liu, an entrepreneur and 30-year Wall Street and Silicon Valley veteran, faced many of these obstacles during the span of his career in finance.
"I saw a reasonable amount of representation at the mid-level, but none at the managing director level. And it really had a huge impact on me because I wanted to be successful," Liu shares with CNBC Make It. "I wanted to rise up, but when I looked around, it was all white guys. And it made me realize that if I didn't learn how to break through the bamboo ceiling and learn how to hack the system, then I was going to be stuck at the middle management level."
Using the tips and tricks he picked up throughout his career, Liu says he managed to raise over $15 billion dollars for hundreds of companies and start successful businesses himself in areas like commerce, entertainment and artificial intelligence.
In 2021, the Harvard MBA used his career tricks to write his book, "The Way of the Wall Street Warrior: Conquer the Corporate Game Using Tips, Tricks, and Smartcuts."
These are two of the "smartcuts" Liu finds to be the most valuable:
Be a stork, not a pigeon
Liu is a huge fan of analogies and the one he says is the most profound was inspired by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen.
Liu shares that in Andersen's stories, storks are known to "pick babies up from the lake and deliver them to expecting mothers." In contrast, pigeons are known for flying in, "flapping around" and disappearing.
"I use storks as a metaphor for always bringing value. So no matter what interaction you're in with a colleague, boss, client or employee, think about, 'am I adding value to this person so that when they reflect back on our interaction, will they say, wow, that was a really good use of time," Liu says. "As opposed to the opposite, which is like, 'man, I wish I could get my hour back,' because they got nothing from your interaction."
According to Liu, thinking of yourself as a stork, not a pigeon, will help you build rapport in the workplace, and become a valuable asset to your team. By taking the time to provide solutions to problems, summarize complex information for your boss, or advance a project, you're maximizing what Liu calls your return on time invested.
Four keys to fulfillment
As a child, Liu says he witnessed his mother struggle to make ends meet. When he went to college, he knew he needed to choose a career that would allow him to support his mom, and pay off the $100,000 in school debt he accumulated.
Though he found success, Liu says he could have had a more fulfilling career if he followed the Japanese framework, Ikigai.
According to career coaching platform BetterUp, Ikigai means "your reason for being." By experimenting with careers, hobbies, and interests, a person can discover the meaning, and joy, in their work.
When advising others, Liu tells people to ask themselves these four questions:
- What are you passionate about?
- What are you good at?
- What does society value?
- What would society pay for?
According to Liu, if you're able to find the intersection between the four, you've essentially found your life's purpose.
"When in my early 20s, if it wasn't just all about making it out of poverty and paying back debt, I would go back and tell myself to focus on those four questions and spend your young years experimenting, and trying to find meaning in what you do. Because if you ever find it, you'll be really, really happy."
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