April 11, 2022

#25 The Quarter Century Review with James Fricker

Hi all, today marks a special day for Graduate Theory, the 25th episode. It's been nearly 6 months now of weekly content, many interviews conducted and many lessons learnt.

Today's episode is a little different to the ordinary. Today, I'll be going through some of the things that I have learnt through speaking to many different people over the last few months. I've spoken to graduates, CEOs, thought leaders, and many more, each episode containing unique lessons. In this episode, I'm going to outline what I've learned, and add a bit of my personal touch along the way.

This is a summary of everything Graduate Theory so far (caution: long!).

Before we start, I also want to add a bit of a disclaimer. While, yes, we have spoken to 24 different people, the lessons in this post are subject to change (and likely will). I'm not perfect, and I don't have a crystal ball of wisdom to get everything right. This post marks my current best attempt to uncover the principles that you need to follow to have a successful and fulfilling career.

PS, if you haven't already subscribed to the Graduate Theory newsletter to get emails like this every single week, do it now!


The Five Keys πŸ”‘

I'm going to split this into five sections, each containing a significant lesson that is relevant for graduates.

These are πŸ‘‡

  1. Proactivity vs Reactivity

  2. Time Management

  3. Networking

  4. Trusting Your Gut

  5. Personal Branding

I'm going to explain each of these in detail and use relevant context from interviews to drive the points home. After each, you'll have some action items that you can take and use to create the career that you desire. 

Proactivity vs Reactivity

Being proactive rather than reactive is the most important trait that I have picked up during the episodes. Proactive guests, proactive people, achieve so much more than those who are reactive.

You may have heard the saying "You're either growing or you're dying". This idea is similar to what this lesson is about.

≝ Definition

According to the dictionary, to be proactive is to "Act in advance to deal with an expected change or difficulty". To be reactive is to "Tend to be responsive or to react to a stimulus".

In our careers, we can either be proactive or reactive. We can anticipate what is going on in the world around us, seek out solutions to problems, or we can wait until the problem has arrived and then deal with it.

One of the most important traits of people that have been on the show is that they do not wait for situations to happen before they take action. They are constantly looking for new opportunities, new career paths and new adventures.

For example, if they aren't happy in a job, they won't wait for permission before looking at alternatives. If they want to do something, they go out and do it.

They don't stagnate, they progress.

This feeling runs much deeper than just actions people take, it becomes a mindset that people have. Proactive people have a genuine belief that they can go and get what they want, if you didn't think this, you wouldn't even try.

Having this growth mindset that you can go out and change your circumstances is critical to having a successful career.

πŸ“£ Examples and Tips

Dan Brockwell

The first example from this in the podcast is from Dan Brockwell. We will talk about Dan a few times during this piece, and I believe he is one of the best young people in Australia to take lessons and advice from.

One piece of Dan's advice is for people in the process of applying to startups and even companies more broadly. He says that most jobs are filled through referrals or ad hoc introductions, and the best way to get the job you want is to be proactive and get involved with the company you want to work for.

In our episode, he gave an example of when he did this.

Originally I was conceptualizing an app with friends, called "Friends With Deficits", and we were trying to like track debts between friends in different currencies.

We did some competitor research and found this company called Tilt. I was like, damn, they've solved it. But they have an ambassador group, at UNSW. So I emailed the country manager in Australia. I was like, "Hey, I'd love to join the ambassador group". He's like, yeah, sure, man. I opened up applications, joined the ambassador group, and did that for a couple of months.

And then that converted into a growth internship with them leading an ambassador program with a couple of hundred students across Australia.

Warwick Donaldson

The second example comes from Warwick Donaldson. Warwick used to work in the call centre at ANZ. He didn't enjoy working there and wanted something more for himself. While he was working at ANZ, he would use the employee contact book and email employees in different areas across the bank.

And so basically while I was there, what I did was every day I would get on the GAL, the global address list. And I would research people in ANZ that I thought were working in interesting departments and I'd send them emails and say, "Hey, I'm interested in what you do. I want to learn more. Do you have time to go and get coffee?"

So I found someone in treasury and he's like, well, we've never had anyone reach out this is cool. Uh, we're hiring a grad role as an analyst. Are you interested? I said, oh Yeah. Yeah, I did an interview and got my first, you know, "real" grad job.

✍️ Actions

So, now you know what it means to be proactive rather than reactive, what steps can you take to become more proactive?

(1) Understand Asymmetric Risks

In life we take risks.

Sometimes we make decisions that could end well or could end badly.

Putting your money in the stock market is one example of such a situation.

Asymmetric risk would be one where the probability of a positive outcome is the same as a negative one.

An asymmetric risk is one where the probability of a positive outcome is not the same as the negative.

Networking and creating connections are examples of asymmetric risk.

Like the worst they can do is say 'no', The best they can do is say 'yes'. And you ended up getting a job. There's no downside, there are only upsides. It's a pretty good risk to take If you want to call it a risk at all.

(2) Understand what you want

The second key to this working is that you must be clear on what it is you want to be proactive about. Dan had clarity in his desire for an internship, and Warwick had clarity in his desire for a role at ANZ.

What do you want? If you ask for anything and get it, what would you ask for?

Who could you ask today, to get closer to getting that? Unsplash

Time Management

Time management is one of the most important skills that leaders must-have today. With ever-increasing pressures on our time from meetings and social activities, knowing how to get things done effectively is extremely important.

As Adam Geha said in our episode

If you are not interested in the question of how to extract maximum from those 16 waking hours, in my view, you are not thinking straight and you're frankly, you're not even on the field in terms of a high-performance.

≝ Definition

So, what is time management? According to Wikipedia:

Time management is the process of planning and exercising conscious control of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity.

As Adam said, we have 16 waking hours every day. To maximise what we can achieve and the experiences we can have, we must consider how to use these 16 hours most effectively.

πŸ“£ Examples and Tips

Adam Geha

In the episode with Adam, he gave many examples of things he does to be more effective with his time. To be clear, Adam takes his time management extremely seriously and he has huge pressure on his time. These may not be necessary for you but are nonetheless interesting to see what a high performer like Adam does with his time.

  • don't default to one-hour meetings

  • have a predefined wardrobe

  • reverse your car in so you get out faster in the mornings

  • brush your teeth in the shower

Adam says the following about using these techniques in the context of creativity. He says that people often mistake routines for hindering creativity.

Adam spoke about how having routines to free up your mental bandwidth makes you more creative. He says not having a routine makes you less creative.

So if you've got tasks that are routine, you should have routines to deal with the routine tasks so that they don't use RAM. You are going to get problems and tasks that are non-routine for which you need to consume genuine RAM.

His productivity hack is to complete routine tasks in a routine way.

Penny Talalak

Penny is another very busy person. She also has tricks that she uses to get the most out of her time.

  • surround yourself with people who also have side hustles / are busy

  • set your schedule

  • use a kanban board to track tasks

  • break pieces of work down into small pieces

  • plan your week in advance

These are all great tips, and relevant to my own experiences with time management and productivity.

✍️ Actions

There are many steps you can take to improve your time management. There are powerful tips from Adam and Penny that, if used, will improve your output.

Someone else who knows a lot about time management is Cal Newport. He hasn't been a guest on the show, but hopefully someday!

He has written several books about productivity, has a podcast on deep work and digital minimalism and is generally known as a productivity guru.

I use my version of his productivity system, and I'm going to outline five of his unofficial seven baby steps below, taken from this podcast episode.

(1) Time Block Plan

Every job needs time. Using your calendar, allocate time for each task that you need to complete. Try your best to follow this, but if you get knocked off the plan, just reset your calendar and build a new plan for the time remaining in the day.

This is what I spoke about in episode 10 of the podcast.

Instead of using the to-do list, your actual implementation of the to-do list is your time. When you have that to-do list, you kind of like, well, yeah, like I'll do this one usually by the end of the day. Maybe half or like this there's always stuff left, you never finished the to-do list.

And I think that process of even just planning my day deciding what to work on, brings a lot more clarity to what I'm supposed to be doing at certain times. I think that's allowed me to get more done.

(2) Task Boards

We need a place to keep track of tasks! Cal recommends that for each of your professional roles, you have a separate place to keep track of what you're working on, what's coming up, what's blocked etc. You could use tools like Trello, Flow or Asana for this but the tool is not relevant, it is the concept that matters!

I use Trello now to track my tasks. I keep notes inside each card and can add comments when the status of a tasks changes or needs updating.

(3) Full Capture

At the end of each day, Cal suggests that we need a shutdown ritual. When you're finished for the day, make sure that your tasks are all reviewed and that all the information for them is out of your head and onto the cards. You can sleep well knowing that the information you need won't be ignored or forgotten.

You can place items that need to be captured in either your task board, your calendar or your email.

(4) Weekly Plan

Now we've got our daily plans sorted, it's time to consider our days in the context of our week. At the start of each week, look at your tasks and begin to schedule time in your calendar for when things need to be done.

(5) Strategic Plan

Now we have our daily plan and our weekly plan, we add in the strategic plan. This is where we plan for long term goals. Perhaps it's the things you need to do to get a promotion at work, or it's your goals for the next quarter. I have a plan for the next quarter and some big goals of things I'd love to have achieved by then.

Once we have the strategic plan, we can look at this when we are doing our weekly plan. We see what our goals are for the quarter and then see how those map into what we are doing this week. This is a fantastic way of keeping yourself on track for those big goals.

If you aren't already doing some of these, adding them to your week will significantly improve your productivity, as it has done to mine. 


Networking is a dirty word! Joe Wehbe had this to say on networking

Networking can be a dirty word but it's one I'm happy to use because every time I think about it, the way to do it most effectively is just at the end of the day, to become a better person.

Let's do it.

≝ Definition

We define networking as the ability to connect with others. Someone good at networking is good at connecting with people and growing their network. Often networking is seen as something negative because growing your network can be done maliciously.

As we have already seen though, the best way to network is to be a genuinely good person.

πŸ“£ Examples and Tips

Joe Wehbe

Joe is full of wisdom. When we spoke, he gave a great summary of Give and Take by Adam Grant. In this book, Grant outlines different archetypes of networkers, and which ones are most effective.

So takers are always what's in it for me.

So that's like there always has to be something in it for me, that's obvious. For me to be willing to help.

Matchers are like traders, has to be an even exchange of value in both directions. And obviously like pretty like at the same time.

Third is givers and givers are like, all right here, I'll come on the podcast or I'll introduce you to this person without an obvious or tangible thing to come back.

I think we're all everyone's benefit is linked to everyone else in the big picture.

Haynes D'Souza

Haynes is an incredible guy. What he has achieved over the last few years is special, and he has great advice for reaching out to people.

Given his status, he often has people reach out to him. In our episode, he outlined two things that people can do to be more likely to get a response.

You have to be very careful about just cold emailing, cold reaching out to people and saying, can I pick your brain? Because folks are generally busy. And you have to be conscious of their time and their calendars. I think you've got to sort of structure that. I look for two things.

One is, is this person legitimate? If I say yes, will they take this seriously? And will they show up on time?

And the second thing is, what is this person looking to get out of this. What do they mean by just picking my brain?

So I think when structuring this, be very clear on what it is you want to get out of it. I think you have to be sort of wary of people's times.

✍️ Actions

So, how can you be better at networking?

Similar to other points we've made on the show, don't hesitate to reach out to people you find interesting. Like Warwick and Dan when they were being proactive, get out there and meet people that you want to meet. There is no risk in reaching out.

Secondly, we want to reach out in a good way. Reaching out is great but our efforts will be wasted if we don't do this effectively.

As Haynes mentioned, we want to be both conscious of the other person's time, and clear on what we want to get out of our interaction.

When I'm reaching out to guests for this podcast, I make sure I am clear on both of these things.

There are many different resources out there on the best ways to send emails to people, but one template that I use is this one from Dave Perell.

David Perell's podcast invite email from https://marketingexamples.com/ This email covers all the bases. Show interest, describe yourself and what you want to get out of this interaction.

Short and sweet, but very effective.

Dan Brockwell also mentioned in his episode the following techniques when reaching out.

Make sure you include:

  • Who you are

  • Why you're reaching out

  • What's in it for them

And use the following techniques

  • provide value (write a post, suggest an improvement to the business)

  • clear ask ("would you be open to ....")

These combined will make sure you've given value to the person you're reaching out to, and make them much more likely to respond. 

Trusting Your Gut

We all have that feeling, something deep within us knows what to do. Do we listen?

≝ Definition

As Michael Gill (Gilly) said to us during his episode

you have three very important ways of knowing, and that's your head, your heart and your gut. You got to keep them all in balance.

The gut is that feeling inside your stomach, telling you to do something. A big theme on the podcast has been that people are either grateful that they did listen to their gut, or they wish they listened sooner. I'm yet to have a guest who is thankful they didn't listen to their gut.

Listen to your gut, and do what feels right.

πŸ“£ Examples and Tips

Lidia Ranieri

The first example of this is from Lidia. Lidia was about to work in law until her gut kicked in and she decided that she'd like to try something else.

It was my first job out of university. I was working law firm and thought that I was going to pursue a career in law. And within three months, I was going home and I had that dead feeling. I knew I can't do this. it, when I kind of told friends and family that I was, you know, you know, aborting that mission, they thought I was absolutely mad.

It was like, you can't just finish the law degree. You've got a great job with a great firm You can't do that. And I'm like, no, I, I am doing that. That is not the right direction for me.

Andrew Akib

Andrew is now the CEO of Maslow, a disability and accessibility startup. His advice? The time will pass anyway, follow your gut as soon as you can!

The things that you're thinking about doing, don't just kick the can down the road and keep thinking about doing it. If there's something that you are thinking about doing, just do it. Probably would've started Maslow a couple of years earlier. There's no harm in just starting a new thing if that's what you want to do because you're either going to start it or you're not. So you might as well start it

Mel Kettle

Mel gave some great advice to me about what to do when you have this feeling in your gut. How do you know when is the right time to take action on it?

She has a great rule of thumb for these serious problems. If it keeps her up for 3 nights in a row, it's time to take action on that thing.

Is your job not great and keeping you awake at night? If it's three nights in a row, it's time to quit.

if it was three or more nights in a row, then that's a really big warning sign for me that something's not right in my life.

I've used that three-night rule, with boyfriends, with jobs, with clients. And I just think it's such, it's your body's way of saying to you things aren't right and you need to listen.

✍️ Actions

Following your gut is intuitive. We all know when we get that feeling that we should be doing something differently, or we should be taking a different path.

The actions you can take from this are to listen to your gut and follow Mel's rule. If you're thinking about something so much that you can't fall asleep for three days in a row, it's time to act. Do that thing, quit that position, whatever it might be.

Like Gilly says, your gut is one of your three ways of knowing. It's worth paying attention to. 

Personal Branding

≝ Definition

Personal branding is about creating an avenue for people to get to know you. We want to shift from being someone that watches what's going on, to someone that is in the arena. Someone that is sharing their opinions and getting known among your chosen community.

πŸ“£ Examples and Tips

Dan Brockwell

Wise man Dan is back. One of the great things about Dan is he practices what he preaches. He gave me great advice on the importance of a personal brand, and it's advice that he uses to create his brand. Dan is one of the most popular guys on Linkedin, and if you haven't already joined his EarlyWork community, I highly recommend doing so.

Here's Dan on personal branding

I think having an online personal brand just allows you to get your story out to people in a much more scalable way. It's like you do the work once. And then so many people find out about who you are and, you know, there's that old expression, it's not what you know, it's who you know, the modifying factor there is it's, who knows you.

And the even further modification is it's who knows you for what? Having an online personal brand is just like taking extra shots on goal, right? It's like, you know, you could be a striker in soccer. You might be a shitty striker. Having an online personal brand just means more people are going to find out about what you're doing and just, you know, with enough shots, you get some goals.

Eric and Aiden

I spoke to Eric and Aiden about the importance of mental health in careers. They had some great things to say, and when we were wrapping up the conversation, they left me with some great advice for graduates regarding personal branding. They'd been working on their book "New Job Code" and felt that this was something they wish they had started earlier.

When I was close to graduating, I had a mentor at the time, one that I sought out. [..] Some advice that he gave me that I took two years to act on, is to build something to create a visible identity or content or something that you can be proud of outside of your role, whatever it happens to be.

Adam Ashton

Adam hosts a podcast called "What You Will Learn" and it's all about books. Adam and his co-host (also called Adam) review books and give readers their summaries. It's a great way to get started with books, and a great way to get information from them without reading them the whole way through.

Adam shared a unique perspective of his podcast that I think is great for aspiring content creators to understand.

I think the good middle step between consumption and creation is curation, which is kind of where we went with the podcast. It's kind of like, okay, well we're learning all this stuff. And then we're going to try and share that with people as well. We're going to try and break that down and make it a little bit simpler for other people who want to consume, but probably don't have the time to read a book every single week.

Don't want to keep being a consumer? Too hard to be a creator? Start with curation.

✍️ Actions

So what action can you take to start or improve your personal brand?

If you haven't yet got a personal brand, it's time to start thinking about what you could post that you feel comfortable with.

Some questions you could ask yourself include:

What am I interested in?

What do I tell people about?

What do people ask me for advice about?

If I was a YouTuber, what would my videos be about?

If I had a substack/was a writer, what would I write about?

Remember that everyone who has a public image now previously did not have one. My podcast 6 months ago did not exist. Things change and grow over time and you can do the same.

Step out and share your abilities with the world!

Resources Mentioned


New Job Code

What You Will Learn

Give And Take - Adam Grant

Graduate Theory Youtube Channel

Graduate Theory Episodes Mentioned


#1 - On Networking with Founder and Author, Joe Wehbe


Graduate TheoryJames Fricker


#7 - On Purpose and High Performance with Former MD Goldman Sachs, Lidia Ranieri


Graduate TheoryJames Fricker


#8 - On Purpose Driven Business and Transdisciplinarity with Co-founder and CEO, Andrew Akib


Graduate TheoryJames Fricker


#9 - On Mentoring and Mental Health


Graduate TheoryJames Fricker


#10 - On Graduate Theory


Graduate TheoryJames Fricker


#11 - On The Graduate Experience and Careers with Haynes D’Souza


Graduate TheoryJames Fricker


#12 On Books and The Importance of Range with Adam Ashton

Adam Ashton is an account manager by day and a co-host of the What You Will Learn podcast. With 5M+ downloads, the podcast is all about summarising the best lessons from books and interviewing some of the best authors in the world. In 2021 both hosts released their book, “The

Graduate TheoryJames Fricker


#15 On Startups, Corporate and The Importance of Personal Branding with Dan Brockwell

Dan Brockwell is a Computer Science and Marketing graduate from UNSW. He has worked in marketing, consulting, design, sales & ops at Amazon, Uber, Deloitte Digital, IBM + startups and is currently a product manager at Atlassian. On the side, he is Co-Founder and Chief Meme Officer at Earlywork,…

Graduate TheoryJames Fricker


#16 On building a long term and sustainable career with Michael Gill

Michael Gill is a titan of the law industry in Australia. Since graduating from university in 1970, he has accomplished so much. Michael has worked at DLA Piper in Sydney for over 50 years, taking roles as Chairman, Managing Partner and Consultant He has been the president of the law

Graduate TheoryJames Fricker


#18 On Asymmetric risks and The Power Of Asking with Warwick Donaldson

Hello Graduates! Back again with episode #18 of Graduate Theory, providing you with lessons and tips so that you can have a successful and fulfilling career. If you’re not already levelling up your career, subscribe now so you never miss a beat πŸ‘‡ Subscribe NowWarwick Donaldson is a serial entrepre…

Graduate TheoryJames Fricker


#19 On Designing a Successful Side Hustle with Penny Talalak

Hello Graduates! This week we present #19 of Graduate Theory. On designing and side-hustling. If you’re not already growing your career, subscribe now so you never miss a beat πŸ‘‡ Subscribe NowPenny Talalak is a UX/UI Designer @ BCG Digital Ventures, Freelancer, Speaker & Mentor. πŸ‘‡ Episode Take…

Graduate TheoryJames Fricker


#20 On Time Management and Leadership with Adam Geha

Hello Graduates! Welcome to episode #20 of Graduate Theory. This episode is with one of the most impressive guests we’ve interviewed so far. If you’re not already growing your career, subscribe now so you never miss a beat πŸ‘‡ Subscribe NowAdam Geha has over 25 years of experience in the investment

Graduate TheoryJames Fricker


#24 On Avoiding Career Traps and Burnout with Mel Kettle

Hello Graduates! This is episode #24 of Graduate Theory. Burnout is something we hear about but probably haven’t had much experience with. Today’s guest shines a light on what she wishes she knew before burning out in her career. These takeaways, direct to your inbox, every week πŸ‘‡ Subscribe NowMel…

Graduate TheoryJames Fricker