What Is The Proximity Principle?
Let’s take a minute to talk about the word proximity. Proximity simply means to be near or close to something. When you are closer to something, it is often easier to access that thing, isn’t it? That’s not a hard concept. It isn’t rocket science. It’s actually common sense. It’s just that common sense isn’t so common.
The beautiful thing about The Proximity Principle is that it works. And it keeps on working for as long as you work it. If you want a new job, it works. If you want to change careers, it works. Even if you’re already working in the right field and you just want to get to the next level, The Proximity Principle works. To put it into practice, you can start by asking yourself two questions:
- Who do I need to know?
- Where do I need to be?
Answering those two questions determines your next step. It will help you gain the education, experience, and relationships you need to climb your Mount Everest. You’ll never stop growing and improving with this principle in play.
Ready? Let’s start.
Who do I need to know?
#1 The Professors
What image comes to mind when you hear that word? Do you picture a college professor wearing a tweed jacket with patches on the sleeves?
A professor is simply a teacher—someone with the skills and experience in the field you want to work in.
So what distinguishes the really good professors from the just-okay one? There are three key qualities that make up great professors:
- They Are Knowledgeable
- They Are Passionate
- They Push You to Grow
Determine which people are good at teaching what you need to learn, then make a list of the classes or opportunities available both locally and nationally.
#2 The Professionals
To get in proximity to your dream job, you need to find professionals who are excelling at the work you’d love to do at the highest level. Professionals have key qualities that make them the best at what they do:
- They Are Experienced
- They Study Other Professionals
Academy Award winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio was influenced by the legendary leading man Paul Newman. Filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan grew up learning from the work of his own favorite filmmaker, Steven Spielberg. Even The Beatles, arguably the most famous band in the world, modeled their style after the early work of rock legend Chuck Berry.
Decide which pros you’d like to connect with, then schedule a meeting and prepare for it. Identify alternative ways to learn from the pros you can’t meet with in person.
#3 The Mentors
Pick up the biography of almost any successful person, and you’ll find that their accomplishments were supported by a mentor. Mentors are people who can guide, encourage, and hold you accountable as you make the climb to your dream job. The reality is that over 80 percent of American CEOs have had a mentor.
In fact, many of the world’s most recognizable and influential people attribute much of their success to the counsel of a mentor. Here are just a few of those examples:
- Media mogul Oprah Winfrey once explained, “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” Winfrey was mentored by the renowned American poet Maya Angelou.
- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sought out the late Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of Apple, to be his mentor.
- Martin Luther King Jr. was mentored by Benjamin Mays, the president of Morehouse College.
So who are these people? What gives mentors the unique ability to help others stay grounded yet grow? And how are they able to guide and direct people in a lasting and meaningful way?
- They Are Accomplished
- They Are Understanding
- They Are Caring
Think about what you want your career to look like in twenty years, then make a list of people you know whose professional life matches your long-term career goals. Include why you admire them and how you want to be challenged by them or learn from them.
#4 The Peers
Typically, peers are your equals. At work they’re your coworkers. At home they’re your siblings. They’re the people walking alongside you in the same stage of life, pretty close in economic status and age. So with the law of averages in mind, take a look around and ask yourself these questions: Who am I spending the most time with? Who is challenging and championing me?
As you begin to get intentional about finding the right peers, there are three key qualities you need to look for:
- They Have Shared Values
- They Have Drive
- They Speak Truth
Connecting with the right peers will accelerate your growth as you learn how other high achievers approach the important areas of life such as work, faith, and family. A strong peer group will give you the encouragement you need to stay focused on your goals when your climb gets tough. They’ll challenge your pace and push you to new levels in your journey.
Write down the five peers you spend the most time with. Answer the following questions for each of them:
Do we share the same values?
Do they challenge me to aim higher?
Do they give honest feedback?
#5 The Producers
In Jimmy Fallon’s story, producers are literally producing shows and movies. In Proximity Principle terms, producers are the men and women building businesses, running teams, and making decisions in your industry or field. They’re the creators of jobs and opportunities. In publishing, they’re publishers and acquisitions editors. In other areas, they’re the directors of marketing, the vice presidents of sales, and the partners of CPA firms. They’re also the superintendents of school districts and the general managers of sports franchises
Their focus is always on the success of their own operation. This means that they aren’t really concerned with your career journey, except as it pertains to the success of their own team. Producers are high-achieving professionals, which usually means they are busy—really busy. They’re always hard at work driving teams and projects to the finish line.
Keep in mind that you’ll have to approach them differently than you do any of the other types of people we’ve talked about so far. That said, there are four key qualities producers provide that can help get you in closer proximity to your dream job:
- They Share Knowledge
- They Provide Connections
- They Offer Opportunities
- They Give Direction
Make a list of companies and organizations in your desired field, then find out who the producers are. Determine exactly what you want to learn about their industry, then write down a few key questions you’d like to ask them. Schedule a brief meeting (in person or by phone) to learn about their industry.
Where Do I Need To Be?
#1 The Place Where You Are
The Law of the Zip Code is simple and liberating. It states: everything you need to get started is within your reach. You don’t need to move across the country or even rent office space. You can simply start with what you have. Many of the most successful business people did this very thing by starting out not just in their own zip codes but in their garages! Walt Disney, creator of one of the highest-grossing media companies on the planet launched his company in his uncle’s cramped one-car garage. Walt didn’t need the perfect location to start some of his earlier animations. He simply used some creativity and what he had available—some spare lumber and old boxes for an animation stand and a tiny garage for a studio—and got to work.
And many other companies did this same thing. Jeff Bezos’s launched a little company called Amazon in his garage. Steve Jobs started Apple in a garage. And one of the world’s biggest producers of business equipment, Hewlett-Packard, began in a garage. Location had no bearing on the success of their work, and it shouldn’t for you either. So don’t believe that you’ve got to go looking for space to rent to start a new thing. Just move that old Camry or Chevy out of the garage and into the driveway and get started. If Amazon and Apple began this way, you can too.
#2 A Place to Learn
Finding a place you can learn will give you access to the culture of a profession.
The culture of a profession is simply all the things that make up a workplace: the people, the mission of the place, employees’ attitudes and the way they work together, the company morale, even down to the feel of the place when you walk in. Gaining access to a company’s culture can help you clearly understand how what you want to do fits into the industry as a whole. As you learn about a role you are interested in, this will either confirm your direction or push you to change direction to a role you are better suited for.
It can be intimidating to jump into learning something new at first, but don’t allow yourself to stay stuck in work that doesn’t matter to you and that you have no passion for. You can do this! See places of learning as an opportunity to look into the future and imagine yourself working in that role. Set aside those limiting beliefs of pride and fear, and take on the challenge of pushing yourself closer to your dream job. The knowledge you gain will help you decide for sure if this is the career you want to go after.
#3 A Place to Practice
When you spend time practicing what you have learned and observed from the experts in your industry—the professionals and the producers who are experiencing a ton of success—you’ll quickly discover the payoff of practicing your craft. Here’s what you’ll gain from the hours of practice you put in:
- Real Experience
- Freedom to Fail
Finding a place to practice takes dedication and grit, but don’t be afraid to start small. Remember, every stage prepares you for the next. It will take some sacrifice, but every worthy endeavor does, especially on the climb to your dream job.
Finding a place to practice doesn’t have to be complicated. If you want to pursue a career in digital marketing, help a friend set up his or her website. Want to become a mechanic? Start by working on your own car. If you want to speak publicly, consider joining Toastmasters and find opportunities to speak at schools, nonprofits, and business clubs.
#4 A Place to Perform
Comedians and musicians know that more can be gained from one hour on stage than five in the studio. A live audience isn’t always accepting or forgiving. When these performers are in the middle of a song or set, they can feel how the crowd is responding in real time. They learn to watch for cues and adjust their material to keep the audience’s attention. Comedians like Pete Holmes, who now has his own HBO show, and musicians like the three-time Grammy Award–nominated band The Avett Brothers spent time in these places before making it big. No matter the field, most successful professionals started small and refined their craft in their place to perform.
Your place to perform might not be ideal, but it should always be in the field you want to be in with people doing what you want to do. This is where you’ll learn what it means to be a professional. You’ve simply got to show up, give it 100 percent, and add value to the people you work with and the place you work for. When you do, you’ll learn or gain three things to help you on your climb:
- How to Handle Pressure
- When to Pivot
You’ll learn and grow with real-world experience, and you’ll get confirmation that this is exactly where you need to be.
#5 A Place to Grow
At this stage in your climb, all of the elements of The Proximity Principle will start coming together. But finding a place to grow will take some time, intention, and discernment. Look for places where there are clear opportunities for you to develop and maximize all of your strengths and talents for the organization. That’s how you’ll begin to advance your career. And you should be open to changing zip codes in this phase. Now’s the time to seize opportunities you’ve always dreamed about and worked tirelessly to claim!
No matter what area you want to work in or how big or small the company, you should look for a place that shares your same values, provides a healthy challenge, and offers a clear path forward. These three things will keep you motivated in your place to grow and will advance your career and push you higher up your mountain.