y= ax+b Simplest Formula of Career and Life

I always enjoyed meeting university students or fresh graduates during their career days. I always made my time to be an interviewer for Microsoft University Hire program. And I always made sure that in my broad mentee list, there is at least one MACH/Aspire (new graduate employee program in Microsoft). For a very simple reason: Given their energy, perspectives, freshness and directness. I try to learn from them as much as I mentor them.

Last week, I was a guest speaker for career days of engineering undergrad and grad students of the university where I had my PhD. After a great session, during the Q&A, one of the students asked me how I can explain the career journey in the simplest way. Myself; being an engineer of origin, came up with the following idea.. which I keep reflecting on.

Career is like the simplest formula in math: y=ax+b. x, the independent variable is all the opportunities, chances, experiences, problems you will observe. y is the dependent variable; what you will make out of those x’s. You cannot control all of the x’s. But if you want to have good outcomes in your career (y), you need to own and control "a" and "b". That reminded me a statement which I use quite often in business: In business, no problem ever gets solved until someone makes the explicit decision to name it, own it and solve it… So what does that mean: You need to name and own your "a" and "b".

I built upon this: “b” is what you have when you graduate from university. All the learnings, classes, network, experiences you have, make your “b”. “a” is your multiplier when you start experiencing things in your career. How you grow your career depends on the “a”: your multiplier to every problem, every opportunity, every chance, every failure, every role, every project (all those independent variables x).  So b is important sure: when x equals to zero -when you start your career-, all what you have is your “b”. But as your career moves; “a” becomes much more important, your multiplier. You need to learn and grow from every instance of x; whether they are good or bad. So you need to own your “a”, it is your choice and focus on that. Never assume “b“ would be enough.

Once the career days session was over, I kept reflecting on that. As this was a good analogy for a career guidance; I thought that it was actually a better analogy for life.

“b” is whatever we are given in life at some point of time. And it varies from person to person. Some have better skills, some have more money, some have better networks and some do less. But that just makes a difference when x is zero. But when life moves and once we start to experience different x values; the more important one becomes the “a”. Our multiplier. And over the mid and long run; it is so clear that the value of “b” almost doesn’t matter at all. It is all about to your “a”. What you learn and grow from all those possible experiences life brings to you. All successes, all failures, all chances, all problems, all good things, all bad things. These are your x’s and some of them are not the ones we expect, some of them are the ones we do not hope for. But they are independent variables. But if we own our “a” and make the best out of possible x’s; we drive our “y’s”. If you want to get good y’s; focus on your “a” and don’t stuck too much on your “b”. And whatever x you get, you will have much better y.

Let me finish with one of my favorite quotes from Roman philosopher Seneca: “Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity.” Don’t complain or brag about your “b”. Don’t complain or brag whatever “x” brings you. Focus on your “a”: Prepare, learn and enjoy the ride. You will think that you have your “Luck” but it will be your “y”. Make your own "y".