How to Make Yourself Irreplaceable at Your Job

Here’s the bad news: you’ll always be replaceable.

People at companies are replaced all the time. Sometimes they’re fired. Sometimes they take new opportunities and move on, and the company’s left scrambling to find someone to take their place. People who appear to be the backbone of a company schism and go elsewhere, and the company still carries on. Even Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, was fired from his own company and replaced. If that can happen, then it can happen to anyone.

Here’s the good news: you can create job security.

Your question is a good one. There’s even an answer. But it deserves slight reframing (and the answer to the question will start to become apparent as I lay out the mindset shift).

Instead of asking “can I be replaced?” (because the answer will always be yes), ask instead “how much does it cost to replace me?”

How expensive/time consuming is it for my company to find someone to replace me/train someone to replace me?

The higher that replacement cost, the harder it is to make the transition, the less the company will be inclined to incur that cost, and the more job security you’ll have.

In business, we talk a lot about being indispensable (the book Lynchpin talks about this in detail). That’s the goal — to be so valuable people want/need to keep you.

The progression of professional development:

  • To become so impressive people want to hire you
  • To become so valuable people want to keep you
  • To develop so much potential people want to promote you

Becoming indispensable is what drives those second two measures of success — maintaining your job and leveraging it into a better job.

So how do you do that?

  • The more knowledge you have of how the company works, the more valuable you are. A random hire who can produce the same numbers as you has the same monetary value as you (and the cost of your replacement is directly equal to their salary + hiring/onboarding costs), but knowledge of the company is harder to replace, because it takes time and energy to acquire, and a random hire won’t have it.
  • The more knowledge you have of your department, the better.
  • The more cross-department knowledge you have, the more valuable you become. Now you’re more valuable than an employee who has singular knowledge of either one of those two departments.
  • The more skills you have, the better — hard and soft both. A variety of skills exponentially increases your value, because the combination becomes harder to find/replace.
  • The greater your ability to do creative work, the more valuable you become. Fulfilling your job description is valuable; creating things that have a lasting impact at your company carries far more weight, because those things change the value of the company itself.

And the practical step-by-step process to get you there:

  1. First, focus on doing your job really, really well. Master your job description. Become the best at your company at fulfilling it. This is base-level competence/value, which is required for your company to keep you in the first place.
  2. Go above and beyond. Take on additional side projects, create solutions to solve problems you see within the company. This increases your value, because now replacing you requires not only fulfilling your job description, but other things too.
  3. Start to learn how to chip in within other departments. Once you’re going above and beyond in your own department, look elsewhere. Are there things you can provide the marketing team that help them create better content? Information you can help the operations department collect? A shift you can pick up manning the live chat for customer success? The greater your contextual knowledge of the company, the more valuable you are in your own department and to the company as a whole.
  4. Learn, learn, learn. This one’s underrated, but seriously valuable. The smarter you are, the more information you have to work with, the more problems you can solve, and the more value you have the capacity to create. Study. Research. Relentlessly pursue making yourself smarter. The raw information you carry becomes part of what you bring to the table at a job, and becomes something a potential replacement likely won’t have.

So, to sum it up …

Instead of becoming 100% irreplaceable (a losing battle, because you’ll never make it), you want to focus on making the cost of replacing you so high that it isn’t worth the bother. Becoming indispensable means that you’re so good that it will cost a company a ridiculous amount of time, money, and other resources to replace you. They won’t ever want to.

When you hit that point, you’ve become functionally irreplaceable.

[Photo by Studio Republic on Unsplash]


How to Become a Coach

I was 20 years old when I took my first coaching session. On the outside I was smiling, relatively cool, relatively collected. I was acting the part of the coach. I was here to solve problems — I got this.

On the inside I was terrified. I was plagued by questions — “Am I qualified for this? What if they ask me a question and I don’t know what to say? What if I’m not helpful at all? How do I know if I’m actually a coach?”

I had no idea what I was doing going into that call. I’d signed up to be a coach and I was taking my shot in the dark.

I shot and I hit. It wasn’t fancy, it wasn’t beautiful, but I hit the mark. I got on that call and I coached.

When I came out the other side (having answered the client’s questions and helped them identify the direction they needed to move to start solving their problems), I was on an adrenaline high. I did it. I’m a coach!

It turned out I had known what I was doing — I just hadn’t know it.

Storytime aside, here’s the TL;DR version of my answer: start coaching.

If you want to be, do. It’s quite simple.

More on how to do that in a second. First, let’s talk about what a coach is and doesthen we’ll talk about how to start.

A good coach is able to:

  • listen really well (your client always wants to feel heard)
  • ask questions that help the client identify their problems
  • help brainstorm solutions for the problem
  • help their clients put together a plan of attack for implementing those solutions

If you boil it all down to the simplest terms, that’s really all a coach does. There are lots of different types of coaches, with different sets of qualifications and specialties. Some will be experts and propose solutions. Others will just walk with you through the process of finding solutions for yourself.

Your approach will depend on the level of expertise you bring to the table, but most beginning coaches will start out just walking beside their client (I like to use the word “facilitating”). That’s certainly what I was when I started out.

You don’t need expertise to start. All you really need are people to coach.

To become a full-time coach, you’ll need other things too — a little business savvy, a brand, and a steady source of income. Each of those topics deserves a post all to itself. I’m just going to focus here on the raw coaching itself, and all that requires are the people to work with.

So where do you find those people?

I’m going to backtrack for a second — because how does a 20-year-old college opt-out (no credentials here) get a paid coaching gig?

Full disclosure, it was a long road to get there. I started developing my coaching muscle in high school, while I was working as an editor. Being an editor requires a) helping people refine/get better at what they do, and b) explaining the logic of the changes you’re making, so the people you’re working with understand them too. Editing made me good at teaching, and at seeing where people were struggling and needed to get better.

After I graduated high school, I decided not to go to college, and I started teaching writing classes instead. I worked with homeschooled kids age 7–14, and I learned a lot about teaching, mentoring, and facilitating people while they refined their capacity as writers. I got even better at communicating the places I was seeing where my students needed to improve.

When I started working for Praxis in August of 2016, I was in the operations department, but our team had a full staff of coaches (since we’re an education startup!). I’d been at the company for almost a year when I finally pitched myself to become an advisor — and when our education director said yes, I put my profile and my Calendly (pictured above!) up on our private participant site. I was so excited when I got my first booking — which then turned into nervousness, and then terror, and then excitement again when I not only survived my first coaching call, but proved myself as a valuable resource.

I’ve been coaching with Praxis for almost two years now, and full-time for a year and a half. I train our coaches now, too. So what I did seems to have worked. 😉

To turn the above story into general advice:

It doesn’t really matter where you start. The most important thing is to find people to work with and start coaching. Once you start to get reps under your belt, you become more legit. People start to notice. You become more confident. It starts to get a little easier.

If you don’t have a track record as a coach, finding existing structures to coach within will help you get off the ground (like I did by working as a writing teacher, than as a coach at Praxis).

If you don’t want to work within an existing structure, find a pain point you can help people resolve and start to create a niche around it (helping young people figure out what they want to do after high school? Helping yoga teachers turn their passion into a business? Helping writers actually sit down and write, and finally break through their creative block?). Make sure it’s something you know something about, but don’t worry about being an expert. You’ll become an expert through the act of coaching.

Take some clients for free to start, to get testimonials and experience. Ask for referrals.

Over time, you’ll start to build up a client base — and with each new client helped, every new problem resolved, you’ll become a better coach.

And again — do not, I repeat, do not, worry about being an expert.

I’m going to reference that story I told again. Remember how terrified I was?

If I’d waited until I was “ready” to coach, I never would have started. Two years later, I still wouldn’t be coaching. I’d probably still be too scared to start — because I’m still not an expert, and no amount of “preparation” can ever make you ready.

Have you heard the adage “we don’t know what we don’t know?”

Here’s the other side of the coin, and one of my favorite truths about life: we also don’t know what we do know. I learned this on that first coaching call — and the countless calls and meetings I’ve taken since.

We have a lot of information we collect on a daily basis but never force ourselves to actually stop and acknowledge. You don’t realize you have this information until someone asks you a question and you’re in a situation you have to answer — or at least try.

You might panic a little. You ask clarifying questions to stall for time, while in your head you’re trying to figure out a way to tactfully say “I’m sorry, I don’t know.” And without realizing it, your stalling questions turn into resolutions to the problem, and your client is happy, and you’re happy too, because you’re coaching and it’s working.

The point being: you don’t have to know everything to be a coach. Don’t expect yourself to, and don’t use that as an excuse to not begin.

If you want to be a coach, start coaching.

Note: read the original Quora post here!

How to be Successful Without a College Degree

I recently came across the following question: “How can you be successful without a college degree?”

This is one of my favorite topics — and the answer is much simpler than we’re often led to think.

You become successful without a college degree the same way you’d become successful with a college degree — by building skills, building a portfolio that showcases the ways you use those skills to create things of value to other people, and using that portfolio as leverage to work your way into positions of greater and greater responsibility (which, typically, is equated with “success”).

For example, imagine you want to work as a marketer. Here’s how this might look in action:

Step 1: learn how to run Facebook ads (building skills)
Step 2: run ads for small local businesses at a low cost to gain experience (building a portfolio)
Step 3: use those as examples to land a marketing role at a startup (leveraging your portfolio to gain a position of greater responsibility).

Once you’ve gotten your foot in the door with that first role, the process repeats — create evidence of your ability to be valuable (bringing in clicks/subscribers/purchasers through your marketing work), and then use those results as leverage to sell yourself for a higher-paying role at another company, or for a promotion.

The thing employers are looking for is your ability to create value on the market. That’s all.

Their opinion on what’s required for being successful on the market (the hard and soft skills you need to bring to the table) might vary, but the underlying principle is the same

Having a college degree doesn’t change your process for success at all. With or without a degree, the approach is the same — build skills, create (and showcase) results, use those results to sell yourself for better opportunities. Rinse, repeat.

Here’s the thing that most people don’t talk about: employers don’t actually care whether or not you have a degree.

A degree is just a proxy for your ability to create value.

I want to be clear on the logic behind why you don’t need a degree to be successful, but to obtain that clarity, we’re going to have to get into the weeds for a minute and get philosophical.

Bear with me.

A proxy is a substitute — a stand-in. In this case, a college degree is a proxy for your ability to create value in a job.

Here’s another example: money is a proxy for value. Fiat currency doesn’t actually have inherent value. It’s just a way of measuring the amount of value people owe each other.

A college degree is the same way. It doesn’t actually tell employers what skills you bring to the table, or what your individual potential is for being useful/creating results. It’s a generalized way of measuring someone’s predicted ability to create value, based on a set of hypotheticals (the person successfully completed college, which hypothetically signifies that they can: commit to something until it’s finished, consistently show up and get things done, communicate, think critically, manage projects, etc.).

The things the employer actually cares about are the things the degree signifies, not the degree itself — the same way someone who has $20 doesn’t actually want the piece of paper, but rather the things that piece of paper signifies (your ability to purchase $20 worth of things).

Having a college degree isn’t even that great of a signal of your ability to create value. Lots of people have them, but still aren’t effective in the professional world. And even if you have one, there are a lot of missing links of information an employer is looking to fill — like your ability to complete the actual tasks you’d be responsible for in a business. (Having a marketing degree doesn’t mean you can effectively drive results in a Facebook ads campaign. You have to have a Facebook ads campaign under your belt to prove that).

Which is why, degree or not, you’ll still need to follow the above formula to obtain success — build skills, create (and showcase) results, leverage results to land higher positions, ad infinitum.

Here’s another data point to consider: after a couple years in the professional world, people stop caring whether or not you have a degree at all. They care about what you’ve done and what you’re able to do, not where you went to school. Once you have some experience on your resume, nobody even thinks about your degree anymore.

Here are a few practical pieces of advice to help you not only execute on this process, but excel at it:

  • Build a digital footprint. We live in a digital world. If there isn’t digital evidence of your work, it doesn’t exist. Write blog posts, answer questions on Quora, establish your LinkedIn, post your projects on an online portfolio. Document everything of value you do. Anything you don’t document is as good as shorting your own stock.
  • Work hard. This is another absolute that’s consistent both with and without college. No matter what you do, you won’t be successful if you don’t put in the work to earn it. Success is a derivative of effort.
  • Don’t be too precious to do hard things. You have to pay your dues before you can rise.
  • Don’t hold out for the “perfect” opportunity. Take the opportunity that’s right in front of you, and then leverage it into something better. There’s no such thing as a perfect opportunity, only a perfect time to start — which is right now.
  • Get smarter. Make building your knowledge base your most consistent hobby. If you can, become obsessed with it. In its ideal sense, college is designed to make you smarter. Depending on the college you go to, it’s possible to make it through without becoming smarter at all — but if you embrace anything from college, it should be the ideal of knowledge. Knowledge — information — is one of the most important factors in the equation of success.
  • Stay curious. Cultivate your curiosity as much as possible. Curiosity is the road that leads to knowledge (which fulfills the point above), but curiosity is an end as well as a means. Build your curiosity muscle. It will make you better at tackling and solving problems — which, in turn, will make you a more valuable employee.
  • Maintain a definition of success. Don’t be afraid to change it as you learn and grow and evolve (because it will change — probably often), but make sure you always have a definition — and make sure it’s one that’s created based on your own values, not general societal definitions of “success.” Everyone’s idea of success is different, and knowing what yours is (what you’re striving towards) helps you bring purpose to your work— and purpose is the fuel that drives you forward.

This post was originally inspired by a question on Quora. Read the full thread here.

Photo by David Beatz on Unsplash

Quora Answer: What are the Benefits of Not Going to College?

There are a variety of benefits to not going to college. College is an expenditure of a number of resources — time, energy, money, etc. If you aren’t using those on college, you can be spending them elsewhere — namely, on something that’s in more direct alignment with your goals.

A few tangible, easy-to-measure benefits:

  1. You save money. Even if you’re working with scholarships, college is expensive; $20,000-$60,000/year is a steep price to pay as you’re starting your adult life. It isn’t guaranteed to pay off.

    Debt is a limiting factor in your decision-making process. You have to make choices that accommodate that debt until you pay your bills off — which will take years. Nearly 40% of students default on their loans.

    Not carrying the burden of debt means you’re able to make strategic financial decisions without factoring for your student loan bills. You can take a lower-paying but more strategic jobs. You can use that $20,000-$60,000 a year on something else — cars, a house, travel, other training resources, etc. College is a general investment. What specific investments might you make with that money?

  2. You save time. Why spend four+ years in school when you could be spending that same amount of time getting four+ years of working experience?

    In a lot of careers (especially in the business world) experience makes you more valuable than a degree does. Getting four years of experience means you’re four years ahead with savings, earning potential, competence, and status.

    Arguably far more valuable than four years of theory (but no real-world, tangible proof of your ability to create value in the workforce).

Those two quantities are objective and easy to measure — but there are a lot of other variables to measure, too.

College is a very general thing — a one-size-fits-all formula for launching your adult life. While it’s more specified than high school (different majors, etc.), it’s still a generalized system moving you towards generalized goals. There’s a lot more room for customization if you’re following a unique and specific path.

If you want to run a travel photography business, college might help you get there — but there may be much more direct ways of obtaining that goal (picking up photography gigs, building a presence online, networking with people already established in the space, establishing mentors, funding your own trips to build up your portfolio).

If you want to work in business, you might be able to get a degree in business from college — but going and working for a couple companies, gaining resume experience, building skills, obtaining references, and building your real-world competence is a much more direct route.

You’re working with finite energy and resources. The benefit of spending those resources on the most direct route to get you where you want to go is very high. If college isn’t the most direct route to get you where you want to go, then the benefits of not going to college will be substantial.

And as an extra bonus — not going to college makes you interesting. The world is becoming more and more friendly towards people who aren’t traditionally educated (the questions around college are becoming more and more prevalent) — so people will be tolerant of your decision, but they’ll also be interested, because you deviated from the norm and did something unusual.

Unusual = interesting.

Interesting = the formula for a good story.

Humans are storytelling creatures. We’re compelled by good stories. So on a human-interest level (and most of our interactions are impacted by human interest), you’ll get people’s interest when you tell them you didn’t go to college — and that’s beneficial too.

Read the full Quora thread here.

Quora Answer: How do Startup Employees Work for Such Long Hours?

There are two factors: stamina and ownership.

Let’s talk about stamina first.

Your ability to work, like a muscle, is built over time. Stamina is not inherent, but earned.

You could ask the same question about running a marathon — “how do runners consistently run for such long distances?”

The principles are the same. They start small, consistently push their limits, and build muscle and capacity over time. When you’re used to running 5 miles, 26 seems painful, near impossible. But when you consistently push your limits — go from 5 miles to 7, 7 to 10 — you build up your threshold for what you’re capable of doing. 10 to 13 is a small jump — and at 13 miles, you’re already halfway there.

When you’re running 5ks, a marathon seems impossible. When you’re running half-marathons consistently, it’s a reasonable stretch.

When you work 40-hour weeks, the 60+ hour work weeks of a startup employee seem ridiculously long, but they don’t feel like a stretch for people who are working those hours. It’s all about conditioning.

But as I said, that stamina is earned. Some people work long hours as soon as they start working at their first startup, but many don’t. You build your capacity over time, as your responsibilities within the company increase — and when you’re used to working 9 hours a day, what’s one hour more?

There’s an underlying principle in working at a startup, though, that defines the way a person interacts with their work. That principle is ownership (the second item I had on my initial list).

Ownership is both what pushes people to build the stamina of working long hours in the first place, and to embrace that as their reality.

A startup is a company that’s building things. It’s growing, and their products are growing too. There’s a lot of agency for creativity, and a lot of responsibility for each team member to be growing and improving too.

Work isn’t something you clock into and out of. It isn’t about filling a desk from 9–5. In principle, at the end of the day, your employer (probably — with the caveat that every employer is different) doesn’t care about when you work, or how much. They care about the results you’re creating and the impact you’re having. They care about the ways in which you’re making the company better.

That’s what startup employees care about too.

They want to be working long hours, because they want to creating the results those long hours enable them to create.

Think about school assignments vs. passion projects. Startup work is akin to that second category. There’s a purpose to it. It’s something you have agency in and ownership over. And because you’re legitimately excited about it, there’s energy to back you as you throw yourself into your work.

When you have ownership over something, it’s really easy to spend lots of time working on it, because it doesn’t feel like work at all.

One more note about the reality of all this: when you work at a startup, the lines between “work” and “life” often get blurred — not in an unhealthy way, but rather, in an organic way (the harsh defining line between “work” and “life” is a rather industrial construct (derived of bells and time tables and cogs and systems), and not a natural phenomenon). Living while working (taking a personal call at the office, running groceries in the middle of the afternoon) is as seamless as working while living (answering an email while you wait for dinner to cook, thinking about improving your work systems while you drive around town on the weekend).

Each person’s balance is different, and each company’s policies are different, but in general, the lines tend to be more blurred — which makes working long hours much less about the interval of time between clocking in and clocking out, and much more about the amount of effort you feel excited about putting in vs. the output you want to create.

Those are all general notes, though, about principle and paradigm. A few other specific things to bear in mind:

  1. For a lot of people, the amount of hours they work is a form of virtue signalling. It’s a way of bragging and showing off. As a couple other people have already pointed out, working long hours does NOT equate to being productive. Just because someone says they’re working 70 hours a week does not mean they’re delivering 70 hours a week worth of output.
  2. Startup work is often project based. Even people who work long hours have fluctuation in the amount of time they’re spending each week. Usually a big push is followed by some lower-intensity “rest time” (in quotes because you’re still working, but using the terminology ‘rest time’ because you have more space to recharge).
  3. Pacing is key, even when you’ve built stamina. Even when you can run a marathon, you don’t run one every day. You train in smaller, more paced increments, with marathon-length runs happening only at intervals. Keeping yourself healthy is important!
  4. Because there’s a lot of agency in your work, you can chose the hours and the workflows that work best for you. This makes working long hours feel less like a struggle (e.g. forcing yourself to be productive during your downtime), and more like an organic process.
  5. Burnout is a real thing. Even when you have agency, if you push yourself too far, you’ll break. Runners tear muscles and sideline themselves, and startup employees can burn themselves out and take themselves out of the game. See above — pacing is key.
  6. Ultimately, the goal is NOT to work ridiculous hours, but rather, to work smarter rather than harder. Startup employees are constantly thinking about how to work faster and more efficiently — how to systematize their processes and how to automate tasks to free themselves up for more creative, higher-level work. A good startup manager realizes that your down time is often your most productive — the time when you’re able to think creatively and solve problems (see above — startups are always growing, and growth requires a lot of creative ideas and energy). Even though it’s a form of virtue signalling (my 70 hours is more impressive than your 60), working long hours actually isn’t the goal. Having the capacity to is valuable, but being efficient in your work is more valuable still.

Here’s the post on Quora, if you want to check out the other responses!

Photo by Lost Co on Unsplash