When I was a kid everyone would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I never had a good answer, until I watched Jack Nicklaus win the 1986 Master’s Golf Tournament.  The announcer called him a “living legend.”  Well the next day at school my fourth grade teacher asked everyone what they wanted to be when they grew up.  She went around the room and heard all of the typical answers; nurse, police officer, fire fighter and teacher.  Then she came to me and I said I wanted to be a “living legend.”  I figured if that was good enough for Jack, it was good enough for me.  I had no idea what it meant to be a “living legend” and she really couldn’t explain it to me either because she was too busy laughing.

Do you want a meaningful career?  When you look back over your career what will be the highlights?  One of my favorite events to watch is the Olympics.  There is something compelling about people who love what they do and work hard to master their craft.  But they don’t just wake up with that level of skill, they work at it.  When we see someone who has put in the effort to deliver extraordinary effort we applaud it, we celebrate it and we pay for it.  Starting in the 1960’s Olympic athletes started to use visualization to prepare for their events.  They had a clear picture of success.  They would play this highlight reel over and over in their head long before they stepped on the field of competition.  I believe having a clear picture of success is also critical for our careers.  Unfortunately when I ask leaders, “What is your career highlight reel?”  Typically they have no answer.  They will spend months planning a vacation with a clear image of success, yet when it comes to their career it’s a blank page.

What if you could start filling in that page?  If you want to develop a career highlight reel, it must start with your core competence. A core competence is a unique skill that provides great value to customers, and contributes to your continued growth.  A core competence is what will fuel your career highlight reel.  Your core competence is where people seek your advice it benefits others.  One of my mentors would always ask the question, “What do you bring to the buffet?”  You can’t just show up to the buffet of life and enjoy the all you can eat line, you must contribute something.  What is your core competence?

Examples of core competencies include:  Walt Disney’s was storytelling.  Phil Knight of Nike is equipping champions.  Author and researcher Brene Brown has the core competence of courage.  Each of them mastered their core competence and created an amazing career highlight reel.  Leaders that love their work know their core competence and are relentless about honing that skill.  They read everything they can on the topic; they never stop learning how to improve and they are rewarded for their efforts.  Good luck on the journey of creating your own career highlight reel.

Questions:  What is a career highlight you hope to hit this year?  What is your plan to define and develop your core competencies?


  • Gregg McCarthy says:


    My career highlight for 2017 will be become a better father, dad, and Human Resources leader! With always keeping the “eye” on the ball of servicing others and paying it forward. This is what I focus on each and every day this year and continue to hone this belief.

    Core Competence – Engagement – I see this in many ways. To help or influence leaders achieve their career goals. Ensuring those professionals know I care about them instead of focusing on what I’ve done in my past. This has been a swing in my mind over the past 2 years and this motivates me each and every day.

  • Jill Swenson says:

    Another way to think about one’s core competencies is to answer the question: what is my superpower? What is that one thing everyone tells me I do exceptionally well? There may be many areas of competency, but what’s the arena for your personal excellence? You won’t be surprised to know one of my core competencies is asking critical questions. I enjoyed your childhood story of wanting to grow up to be a living legend.

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