In an interview with Toby Stock for the American Enterprise Institute, Ken Mehlman offered students three lessons on how to have rewarding, successful careers.
According to Kenneth Mehlman, Lesson 1 is to find something you’re passionate about and try to get paid to do it. As he said in the video, “I don’t believe that success makes happiness; I believe that happiness makes success.”
Lesson 2 is to “monetize what you know”—that is, have a unique body of knowledge that you can offer to an organization. Don’t go where everyone is like you; go where you are different, so you bring a different perspective and add a different value. As he argued, that way you won’t be monetized “based on how cheap you are and how long you can work; you can instead price yourself based on what you know and what you know that’s different.”
For Lesson 3, he suggested that “life is best lived in chapters.” He used the example of a potted plant that reaches the edge of its pot and then gets transplanted to a larger pot. Its roots still stay the same. As he put it, “a good career is one in which there is a fair amount of repotting.” Ken Mehlman referenced his own 12 years in politics, followed by his 7 years in private equity.
For a fruitful career in public policy, take these lessons and be what Ken Mehlman called a white blood cell, since “white blood cells kill disease; they solve problems. They don’t worry about who gets credit…If you don’t worry about who gets credit, you can accomplish unbelievable amounts of things.” The people who have the biggest impact are the ones who help the people below them as much as they help the people above them—and helping someone above you means telling them what they need to hear, not necessarily what they want to hear.