From Playground to Boardroom: The Kindergarten Guide to Career Success

Almost 30 years ago, Robert Fulghum wrote a book called All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things. This lovely little book put forth the idea that most of our training for a good life comes very early in our experiences

Now that I have a first grader of my very own, I wonder how much of that idea is true. Certainly, there seem to be some skills my 6-year-old will still need to master. Keyboarding, basic computer programming and tying her own shoes come to mind.

Still, she’s got 11 years left before college, and then probably at least 4 more before she heads off into adulthood and a career.

The vast majority of jobs today, though, require more social skills than they do computer programming (or even shoe tying.)  To be successful, she’ll need to put those kindergarten skills to work juist as much as she’ll need to apply all the more career-specific skills she acquires along the way.

And probably way more than she’ll have to apply shoe-tying.

She’s not the only one. Most career success comes far more from how we’ve learned to act more than what we knowWhile it’s important to keep learning and keep growing, it’s vital to hang on to those early lessons and remember those earliest lessons.

Without much ado, here’s our Kindergarten Guide to Career Success.

Follow Instructions

One of the first skills you learn is to do what your teacher tells you. Read and follow the instructions. Listen.

Pop culture loves people who make up their own rules as they go along. Most bosses, not so much. Sure, we reward innovation…sometimes. But more often, bosses and customers have performance expectations that you need to meet. Exceed those expectations and your boss or clients will love you, but at minimum do what you’re supposed to do.

Otherwise, your boss or clients will find someone else to meet those expectations.

Which leads us to…

Ask Questions (or for Help)

Anyone who spends any time around kids answers lots and lots of questions. Where’s my coat? Why did you do that? Do I have to take a bath tonight? What’s for dinner?

Lots of us stop asking nearly so many questions. We decide we can figure things out on our own, or we assume we know the answer. Maybe we don’t want to look silly by admitting we need clarification or asking for guidance.

As Socrates reminds us “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Making assumptions or going on incomplete data leads us to numerous bad decisions. We need to take the time to ask questions and understand, whether it’s a new task, a new procedure, or a new goal. Some of us let ourselves get over our head and forget to ask for help when we need it, even when asking for help would lead to more success.

Ask. Clarify. Make sure you understand what you’re supposed to do so you can do it.

Show and Tell

You remember Show and Tell? You’d bring one of your favorite toys to school, get up in front of the class and proudly tell your classmates how great it was.

Congratulations, kid, you’ve given your first presentation.

Isn’t it weird that we stress public speaking in early childhood and then forget about it for years? But when you get into your career, you have to be able to pitch or defend your ideas in meetings, make sales to clients, and explain things. You need to be comfortable speaking up, answering questions, and communicating your passions. 

So remember those early presentations. You probably weren’t nervous, just excited to get your turn. You just spoke. Try to get back to that mindset, because most of us can’t avoid public communication.

Dust Yourself Off and Try Again.

Everyone fails sometimes. Fact of life, sometimes we fall down.

Little kids are way better at getting back up after they fall than most adults. Skinned knee? Wash it off and keep playing. Can’t do something? They’ll keep trying far longer than an adult, and apply way more creativity to figuring out how to get it done.

Adults can take longer to recover from setbacks. And we’re way more likely to give up unless the stakes seem high enough.

It’s okay to give up sometimes, but sometimes you need to reach back to that childlike confidence that even if you can’t do something yet, you’ll be able to do it eventually. Just keep trying.

Play Well with Others

Few of us work in a vacuum. We have customers, bosses, and/or coworkers, and we need to be able to get along with all of them (at least most of the time).

So use the lessons you learn early about the proper way to treat people. To quote Fulghum

Share everything.

Play fair.

Don’t hit people.

Put things back where you found them.

Clean up your own mess.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. 

The book includes a lot of other great things, but we’ll stick with these for now. And I’ll add a few more items:  Say please and thank you. Do your part. Clap and cheer when someone else does a good thing.

It all boils down to one truth: Be a person you want to work with, and other people will want to work with you. Be a person you wouldn’t want to work with, and no one else will want to work with you either.


The Kindergarten Guide to Career Success

From Playground to Boardroom

It can be easy to rely on our knowledge and skills to bring us career success. After all, we spend a lot of time developing them, and they’re important. You need to be able to do the things our job requires, and you should keep developing your career-specific skillset.

Long-term career success, though, requires a lot of people skills. No matter how much you know, someone else probably knows it too. The person who gets ahead is the person who can balance the two.

Fortunately, most of us have been working on people skills our whole lives. Just don’t forget to employ them.

Follow instructions, Ask Questions. Show and Tell. Dust yourself off when you fall. And, most of all, play well with others.


What people skills do you think people need most to succeed in their careers? 

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16 Responses to “From Playground to Boardroom: The Kindergarten Guide to Career Success”
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