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Sunday, December 9, 2007

Early professional success is only the part of the story...

Early Professional Success is only the part of the story……….

While swimming laps, Pavel Etingof thinks about math. The crowds and noise on a city bus do little to distract Allen Knutson from the equations he scribbles on a notepad he keeps handy. Francis E. Su gave up his songwriting hobby to spend more time on his proofs.

The constant devotion of these and other mathematicians to their work has allowed them to produce seminal proofs and impressive results that have won them high praise early in their careers -- all are under 35.

Abel died of tuberculosis at age 26 after solving a 300-year-old problem and discovering what are now known as Abelian functions. Although death cut short the careers of those two men, Albert Einstein lived for 50 years after formulating his most famous equation, E=mc2, when he was 26.

Early professional success is only part of the story, even there are more failures than sccess however. Many researchers in other fields show early promise but typically take more time to make important contributions because of the nature of their work.

But starting at a young age doesn't necessarily mean one's career will end early or that later contributions will pale in importance -- the second half of the legend. In fact, Mr. Simonton found that mathematicians make their best research contributions (which he defined as the ones mentioned most often by historians and biographers in reference books) at what many might consider doddering old age: 38.8. That age is very similar to those he found in other sciences: 40.5 in biology, 38.2 in physics, and 38.0 in chemistry.

"Life takes a lot of time and effort," Mr. Fefferman says. "I think the big jump there came with taking care of babies, taking night shifts. There's nothing like sleep deprivation to make one less than brilliant."

"Doing the great mathematical work requires a hell of a lot of energy," says Mr. Etingof, of M.I.T. and Columbia, suggesting that older mathematicians may not be able to keep up that pace. "Doing mathematics at a very high level is really as exhausting as any sport." We’re talking all about mathematicians here, because at certain level all the science get mixed together and become philosophy of life. Watch this video below.

Many of these forms of public recognition are given only once to a researcher, so "there's an impression that [older mathematicians] have run out of steam," says Mr. Simonton, even if their work continues at the same level.

Doing significant work late in one's career involves seeking out problems that require more knowledge than young mathematicians can have accumulated, according to George W. Mackey, 84, an emeritus professor of mathematics at Harvard. That often means learning about several different areas of math and looking for ways to tie them together, he says. Princeton's Mr. Fefferman agrees, adding that picking up new specialties, while risky, is the best way to avoid going stale.

"In mathematics, it's not a game where the fastest wins," says Edward V. Frenkel, a 32-year-old professor at Berkeley. "But rather, it's more like who can see farther, who can see deeper. That's the one who achieves more."

Mathematics is not a closed intellectual system, in which everything has already been worked out. There is no shortage of open problems. Mathematicians publish many thousands of papers embodying new discoveries in mathematics every month.

Mathematics is not numerology, nor is it accountancy; nor is it restricted to arithmetic. So, isn't it the same like Life, very few could describe it in words.

Pseudomathematics is a form of mathematics-like activity undertaken outside academia, and occasionally by mathematicians themselves.

So if we re-phrase the above lines what Frenkel said it ought comes out like a philosophy “In Life, it’s not a game where the fastest wins, but rather it’s more who can see farther, who can see deeper. That’s the one who achieves more.”

At this point, tell me how many times we've heard this story in our childhood " The Hare & the Tortoise", isn't it sounding the same?


Anonymous said...

I think there are too many differences in the ways that individuals think, learn, and work to make any pat assertions about this. For example, people who are "synthesizers" and innovate based on combining old ideas in new ways need simply a huge volume of information to work from, for example, and might be expected to be more successful later in life when they've had time to acquire all of that knowledge. OTOH, some people simply burn out early for whatever reason, sometimes having been very successful, sometimes not. Who can explain why that happens?

From a business perspective at least, I like what Donnie Deutsch has to say about hiring people who are a little further along in their careers but "haven't done anything yet." The idea being, you're looking for people who are hungry to achieve and have realized that they might be running out of chances.

Everybody wants to accomplish *something* significant in their life, probably, it's just a question of when you expect to do it. See the movie Vision Quest for a great story about someone who was only 18 but felt he needed to "do something." That works for some people, maybe some people only become really "hungry" later in life. (shrug! )

Anonymous said...

Not neccessarily. If a person works hard, then he or she may be successful early on, but suffer burnout. However, you do get high flyers who maintain their initial success. Maybe a person needs to show promise early on, but that does not mean that that person will live up to that promise.

Anonymous said...

I think it has got something to do with consistency. I feel people who are able to succeed early in life and maintain the consistency of their upward growth are the ones who do well in long run. It does not mean that a person who has succeeded early will continue to do so. Or person who has failed so many times in his initial career/personal front will not be able to succeed. I feel it is a person who has succeeded early in life and who has been consistent throughout will do well in the long run.

Anonymous said...

For some people success comes swift and dwindles, for others it's a slow and steady simmer until the boil when well seasoned, and for others they're just darned lucky with the Midas touch.

Galenson wrote about old masters v. young geniuses (book linked below) when it comes to artistic creativity. Some artists peak early others seem to systematically build to something great. I think that same observation carries over to business.


Anonymous said...

Well, Dibyendu, what an interesting topic.

I've been discussing with several clients recently their thoughts on what constitutes success in life; as opposed to professional success; and I must admit, for the most part, success in life is just as I said - opposed to professional sucess for most of those clients.

Phillip talks about achieving something significant in our lives. I must admit that I've been struggling with the concept that society percieves our professional self to be striving for success between the ages of (let's say) 25-45, which is the same time period that our family and children need us the most.

To go to work to make a diference in the world or the lives of others. Is that professional success or personal success?

I feel we create the pressure to be professionally successful for ourselves. We have the choice as what this means for us and whether our professional self gives way to helping our personal self achieve something.

If we do something that has meaning for us, not just on a superficial or materialistic level, that really reaches into our soul and fills us with passion and excitement, how long will that last? Life is the breath of a buffalo, upon a cold winters morning!


Anonymous said...

Hi Dibyendu,

Although the parameters potentially utilized for any given professional to define what a successful performance is in his/her criteria could vary from person to person, if success occurs early in the professional life, nevertheless several implications could be possible. Let us see:

- Early success in professional life is an expression of the professional capacities, personality traits and attitudinal character that can be determinant in the young professional for him/her successful future career development in him/her professional life.

- Early success in professional life could be an indicative from outstanding skills, exceptional competences and positive attitude that being nurturing by training, capacitating and experience are key factors to identify to future managers and leaders.

- In some strange cases early success in professional life is just a punctual and strange event in the life of a professional who being unable to react pragmatically and of showing a healthy emotional balance, finally fails to succeed due to inherent personality disorders.

- When we review the successful professional history of someone who got early success in his/her career is easy to find out how was profound and determinant this early success was in the posterior evolution of his/her professional career.

- In what has been my professional experience so far I have appreciated how the assistance from mentors and coaches when happens early in the career is determinant to create a self-confident person, a proactive professional and an encouraged employee perfectly enabled to respond creatively and securely against any of the typical workplace’s challenges.

- Most of the most interesting career shifts that I have observed after analysing the resume of many of the candidates that I have interviewed so far have precisely occurred after an unexpected and successful experience in which this professional actually found what him/her passion was.

- Early success does not come free when it is the outcome of hard and focused work, outstanding commitment, passionate attitude and personal desires to succeed in him/her career development’s highway.

- The absence of early success in professional life should not dismiss the possibility of reaching it later when in the maturity this professional more focused, enlightened, best trained and more conscious finally acquire a sort of self-confidence attitude and the due empowerment to be as successful as he/she really deserves.

I hope this helps you.

Anonymous said...

In my own case I had some great early successes and great responsibilities.
But that was in the power generation field and in field service.
Once I moved into large corporate structures with several layers of upper management it became easy to lose momentum, and fall into a "slow but steady wins the race" mentality.

At GE it is always about "what have you done for us TODAY". At some point the fire in your belly to succeed turns into a desire for survival of your sole.

Anonymous said...


Early succcess in ones career or life can be a huge source of motivation. If one happens to fail eary on it's often disastrous. But at the same time you can use those early failures as "lessons in life" and propel yourself to great heights afterwards.

Anonymous said...

Great topic...Dibyendu and great inputs so far. I do not consider myself to be an expert on this but still I have certain things to share.
I have a some good amount of sucess thus far (I have just stepped on to the other side of my twenties) and that has really helped me in achieving what I have achieved so far. But the biggest challenege that I face is that I am over burdened with expectations. The "FEAR OF FAILURE" haunts me like anything and it's not the case with me but with some of my peers also who have had early success professionally.
I can't help but relate to Micheal Owen in footballing terms somebody who showed immense potential but has faded out in comparison.
Though I am elated with my success, I still feel the need to be steady and consistent, I dont think that I can afford to be slow now. What I realise that the pace needs to be perfect early on in your career.
One of reasons that I am in Linkedin is the presence of seasoned professionals who indirectly and directly take on the role of a mentor for professionals like us.
One of my mentors famously metioned "Potential when achieved is greatness" and I feel that the best of professionals need a coach/mentor who would set their "pace" to make them succesful for entire life.


Anonymous said...

I find that early success is useful to career documents only if it is relevant to your current career objectives. Most employers, I have found, want to see achievements that are current with in the past five - seven years.

Employers want to see what you are doing now, what they can expect from you, and what you can do for them.

Not sure this is what you are looking for, but I hop it helps.


Anonymous said...

The success of a person against one objective indicates a cpaacity to respond to a particular challenge, market or situation well.

What it doesn't highlight is the capacity of the individual to think critically about what they need to do to resolve, solve, sell or move forward to next situation, market or challenge.

You need to consider the individuals capacity to change, to re invent themselves and to meet the changing expectations of market, demand and challenge to be truly successful in the longer term.

The short term success could be luck, fluke or a one of perfect combination of style or ability and timing. It maybe the only one, it maybe the start of many.

Anonymous said...

Hello Dibyendu,

There can not be Rule(s) of Thumb for the success in the professional career which depends on several factors viz. job profile, team work, working environment, personal and professional capabilities & competences, management support, risk factors and also the luck factor.. Therefore, it is difficult to extrapolate early success to later stage. Nevertheless, early success boosts the professional career.

The difference in early professional career and in later stage is the support and protection from the senior management in the early stage, while later, a professional has to perform independently as he keeps on moving through the profession. Besides the competences in the core area(s) , one should have good management skills because he has to lead a team and coordinate with other colleagues of the organization.

Other than core competence, an executive has to develop personality and behavioral aspects, and also several related skills such as communication, management.........etc. to be successful.

Furthermore, this is the era of global competition where there is continuous change in business models in view of recently emerging new concepts and technologies, which requires upgradation of professional skills to be competitive. Under such scenario, early success does not guaranty throughout success unless a professional gets prepared to compete through global challenges.

However, a candidate who is innovative, creative, dedicated, sincere, courageous, dominating, accepts challenges, gets along with the team members, if clicks an early success, there is very good possibility that he will be in commanding position to achieve success at any stage of his profession provided nothing unfortunate happens to him, which is in the hand of almighty God and which can not be predicted.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

I belive that experincing early sucess is good, however, we need to continue educating in the event that we find ourself facing changes.
As we all know, changes or business enviroment shift demand for us to learn new skills and to be able to adjust to new challenges.

Anonymous said...

Acadmic research indicates that if success is defined as a continued climb up the corporate ladder then early success is crucial. It is quite difficult to gain "ladder" success later in your career. If moving up is your goal, slow and steady doesn't seem to be the preferred method.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dibyendu,
First of all:"Success is a never ending journey, it's not a destination."
It may be good to be success in the eyes of others, but it's the best if you succeed for personal satisfaction, and it often wins honor from others as well. Early success is a good beginning, it does n't settle everything there. Success is result of our appropriate & targeted actions,no matter whether you had success or failure in the past. Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...


Life changes in a moment - Professional life included.

Previous success does not guarantee future success and in the same vein, previous failure does not mean the person is doomed forever.

It is upto various factors that an individual taste success: Determination, Ability to handle the tough situations well, a well constructed professional road-map, tenacity, resilience and some old fashioned luck (being in the right place at the right time, to name a few.

If any individual has tasted success, the key is not to get carried away but to plan meticulously for the next challenge. The success tasted must act as a catalyst for more successes along the journey. Replication of the "success" template is important. Re-living the good and magical moments of success can be a very useful motivational potion when the chips are down.

Failure, on the other hand, is a tough child to raise. It needs care and nuture - The key, as John Maxwell says in his book "Failing Forward" (a must read) is to fail but in the forward direction. The ability to stand up (after falling) and to continue on the path ends in success sooner or later.

The other school of thought is to stay "Ever Present" (very tough to do) in the current moment and "Act" (work) - Eckart Tolle in his book "The Power of Now" makes good reading. The book has spiritual overtones but could be applied to everyday life, including professional life.

Hope this is helpful.


Anonymous said...

Not necessarily but it is a good indicator of one's potential. I believe everyone has the potential to be great, to be very successful in whatever endeavor he wants to succeed on (and also according to his own definition of success).

I do believe that it is our parents ultimate responsibility to instill in us a sense of awareness in how things happen and develop in us an attitude that is very open to learning and change. It will greatly affect whether we can be very great or simply great.

Anonymous said...

By my own opinion, of course, no. Our life is something incredible...sometimes:) There are always ups and downs, ups and downs and we never know then will be up and then will be down. Succesess today doesn't mean succesess all your life. But we have to work and don't give up ever:)

Anonymous said...

It helps to get a good career break but that doesn't ensures you a successful career throughout the life. Even people with MBA from IIM-A get sacked, when they do not deliver on time.
Good break helps you to have a successful career but it doesn’t ensures the same.

Anonymous said...

Dibyendu , i tried to find the answer in your question itself. lets take them one by one

- your question brings out one point - pressure, fear of failure. as most of us outward-inward looking individuals, we constantly compare draw a picture of an utopian professional ( outward) and then compare with where we stand ( inward). we pressurize ourself , we set our targets against the utopian benchmark and fear to fail.

- only if we do a outward- inward approach, i.e drawing what we are, ( not drawing the sketch of the utopian professional this time), and this time planning for , how do you want to shape up this drawing of yours in future, are are not under pressure, there is no fear of failure.

the only person you benchmark with this time, is you, yourself ( the way to want to see yourself in future)

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