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15 Key Lessons from Career Superpowers: Succeeding on Purpose by James Whittaker

This post presents a summary of the book Career Superpowers: Succeeding on Purpose by James Whittaker.
David Adamo

Senior Software Engineer, Square

In the last few days of 2021, I read a thought-provoking book, Career Superpowers: Succeeding on Purpose by James Whittaker. The book and the stories within have fundamentally shifted my views on career and success. Here are 15 key lessons from the book.


  • Be ambitious. Ambition sets the bar for your career. Ambition means wanting better for yourself and expecting more out of life. Align your skills and work ethic to achieve what you want. Be proactive about what you do and how you are rewarded.
  • The employer-employee relationship is a professional one. Your company will look after itself. You should look after yourself too.
  • Treat your career like any other project. Plan it, monitor its execution, and make adjustments as you go.

Specialization and Passion

  • Specialize. Find a specialization that few others are good at; something at which you could excel. Choose a specialty that is visible and critical to your profession. Choose something that has implications across your industry and not just at your company. Aim lower difficulty-wise and higher impact-wise.
  • A specialty is only valuable if you master it. Invest your time, enthusiasm, and work ethic in mastering your chosen specialty. You do not have to be passionate about every aspect of your chosen specialty. Find an aspect of your specialty to be passionate about. Be ready to change your specialty when the time comes.


  • You are who you learn from. People, especially experts in your chosen field, have much to teach you. You can usually gain more knowledge by listening to and learning from experts than you can gain on your own. The things you learn from the people around you are the biggest influencers on how high you might climb.
  • Have multiple mentors. For every challenge you face, find the right mentor. Every career challenge you face has been faced by someone else. Mimic your mentors and extend what you learn from them. Choose mentors that evoke an emotional response and are subject matter experts.
  • Expertise breeds expertise. As you become more knowledgeable in your field, seek out other experts and interact with them as much as possible. No one is ever good enough that they can afford to stop growing.


  • Create derivative ideas. Derivative ideas are often better than the original ideas from which they were derived. If the derivative idea is more important, more useful, and subsequently more successful, then it is a more important contribution than the original idea.
  • How does one learn to see derivative ideas that others miss? First, pay attention to your industry. Second, pay attention to how you use products that your industry develops. Looking at the world and wanting to fix it is part of the derivative superpower.


  • Find your creativity. The first step to being creative is to develop expertise in something. Expertise makes creativity more probable. The more you know, the more creative you become.
  • Make your creative moments predictable. Take stock of your creative moments. Be aware of what you are doing whenever you have creative ideas. Try to recreate those creative moments as often as you can and track your success rate.


  • Learn to tell your story. Do interesting things and relay those interesting things to others so that they simultaneously inform and entertain. How does one become interesting enough to have stories to tell? Think of stories you would like to tell and then line up the people and activities that will make those stories come true.


  • Lead yourself so you can lead others. Leading yourself means that you know where you want to go and where you want to be in the future. No one follows someone who is unsure of their own direction.
  • Never stop leading. Your actions and the way you approach problems should continue to earn the respect of your peers.

In summary, the career superpowers are ambition, passion, specialization, storytelling, imitation, derivation, creativity, and leadership. James Whittaker does a fantastic job of illustrating each of these ideas with thought-provoking stories that will simultaneously inform and entertain you. You can find the book on Amazon.

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