Career Advice: Barack Obama’s Career Tip Led to a LinkedIn VP Role for His Speechwriter

When Aneesh Raman was Barack Obama’s speechwriter, the president frequently gave the former CNN war correspondent this piece of career advice: “Worry about what you want to do, not who you want to be.”

Obama’s career exemplifies his slogan. Before was inaugurated in 2009, the United States’ first African American president spent decades working in community organizing and law.

“He wanted to build communities in a different way,” Raman was quoted as saying by CNBC Make It, “and it led him on his path that led to this moment where he became president.”

That is why, rather than focusing on your dream title, Raman suggests first considering the influence you want to create through your profession and then polishing the abilities required to achieve it.

Raman’s counsel has took him from drafting Obama’s speeches from 2011 to 2013, collaborating with NGOs as Facebook’s head of economic impact, and co-authoring multiple books.

As a vice president, he now oversees LinkedIn’s Opportunity Project, which aims to create a more dynamic and equal global job market.

Your twenties and thirties are for learning skills

Using Obama’s slogan for job success, Raman urges those in their twenties and early thirties to forego titles entirely and focus on skill development before concentrating in their mid-thirties.

Raman believes that this paradigm is the “safest” approach to think about a long-term career since it allows you to control all of those levers vs job title. You might aspire to be a vice president somewhere, but you have no influence over anything, and that job may not exist in 20 years.”

Don’t worry if your job path appears erratic on paper. Raman suggests taking a “squiggly line” strategy, in which your career isn’t quite linear but has a connected thread.

“My job titles as a career don’t make sense,” he added, “but my skills across the board are storytelling and coalition building” around economic opportunity.

Here’s his framework for long-term professional success:

Ages 20 to 35

Raman advised that now is the moment to discover what you’re passionate about, what you’re good at, and what you want to improve. Determine whether specific professions or employers will assist you in acquiring the necessary skills.

Ages 35 to 45 

Now it’s time to put your unique skill set to work on an issue of expertise, whether it’s in a specialized profession like health care or something larger, like Raman’s emphasis on “economic opportunity.”

Ages 45+

Raman believes that only at the age of 45 should you consider the impact you wish to have on your organization and the globe. After all, Obama was 47 when he assumed the presidency, making him one of the country’s youngest leaders.

‘Worry about learning, not your next job’

Obama is not the first leader to advise ambitious individuals to quit worrying about their next job title. Shaid Shah, the worldwide president of Mars Food & Nutrition, has previously stated to Fortune that “career success is more than just hierarchy.”

“It’s about gaining the experiences you need to realize your ambition, to discover what makes you happy, what makes you tick, and what motivates you to get out of bed every day,” added Shah, who worked his way up from sales director to the head of Mars Food & Nutrition.

You’re more inclined to choose roles that get you closer to where you want to be in the long run, rather than taking what appears to be a promotion on paper right now.

Pret’s CEO told Fortune that staying grounded and not dreaming too large is key to success.

“I’ve watched people that have been so fixated on the next role that they really take their eye off the job they’re doing,” Pano Christou told the audience. “My philosophy has always been if you do a great job, people will notice you.”

By focused on excelling at his current work and being the best in his cohort, he was quickly promoted (from shop floor manager to CEO). “If you work hard and put your head down, things can happen.”

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