Recent Interview with Eric Barker

This morning, I presented a synopsis of Eric Barker‘s best-seller, Barking Up the Wrong Tree (Harper One, 2017).  Last month, Dan Schwabel of interviewed Barker.  I thought you might be interested in the content of that interview, and I have reproduced that below.  You can find the exact URL at “click here.”

Eric Barker:  Why He Believes Most Career Advice is False

By Dan Schwabel – May 27, 2017 – CLICK HERE 

Dan Schawbel: Why is most of the advice about success wrong and why did you set out to write this book in the first place?

Eric Barker: Most of the maxims about success we grew up with (“Nice guys finish last. Winners never quit and quitters never win. etc.”) have never been verified by research or experts. My own career has been quite unconventional and, first hand, I’ve seen a lot of exceptions to those “rules.” I wanted to look at the science and get real answers.

 Schawbel: What can you tell us about what it takes to gain self-confidence from science?

Barker: California launched a state-wide initiative to raise the self-esteem of school kids, thinking this would improve grades, reduce drug use, etc. It didn’t achieve any of those goals. Turns out confidence is more of an effect than a cause. We all have a baseline level of confidence, but after that we usually become confident as our skill level increases.  Confidence is a very tricky thing because it’s often delusional or contingent. Delusional because we all know people who are overconfident and cut off from reality. And contingent because we often peg our self-esteem to our achievements. Then when we stumble, we think we don’t deserve to feel good about ourselves anymore and that leads to an uncomfortable roller coaster of emotions where we constantly need to prove ourselves to stay happy.

 Schawbel: Can you name a few pieces of advice that are commonly given but are actually proven untrue?

Barker: Adam Grant’s research at Wharton showed that nice guys do finish last… but they also finish first. “Givers” are disproportionately represented at the bottom and the top of success metrics. Some may say “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” but introverts are far more likely to be experts in their field. They get better grades, more PhD’s, and make up the majority of elite level athletes.

 Schawbel: Do you think there is such a thing as work-life balance? Explain.

Barker: There absolutely is — but the line needs to be drawn by the individual now. The doors to the office don’t close at 5PM. Your phone is ringing and buzzing with emails 24/7. And you don’t need to wait until tomorrow morning to get those documents off your desk; they’re in the cloud. The world is not going to say “stop.” Everyone has to have their personal definition of success and draw a line for themselves. The work-life balance problem is caused by people thinking that it’s still like decades ago when the world would say, “You can stop. You’ve done enough for today.” That’s not going to happen. You need to make a decision for yourself and that’s uncomfortable because it often means sacrificing something.

 Schawbel: What are your top three pieces of career advice?


You need to have a personal definition of success. It will change and evolve but if you don’t have an idea of what you want, you’re going to be on a nonstop treadmill towards “more” and that’s going to make you awfully busy but not necessarily happy.

You need to know yourself. Know your signature strengths — those things you are uniquely good at. What do you bring to the table? Doing what you’re good at not only makes you better at your job, research shows it also makes you happier and respected.

Pick the right pond. Find a place that rewards your signature strengths. A great company isn’t a great place for you if it’s not aligned with your talents and your goals. That’s also true for personality and ethics. If you’re a good person working at a place full of sketchy people, you’re not going to thrive.

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