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Failure to launch

I wanted to offer some observations on a phenomenon we see with many clients. We call it a failure to launch.

What is a failure to launch?

Joining McKinsey, BCG et al., is a great achievement but certainly not the pinnacle achievement of your life. It is a stepping stone. And we always encourage clients to aim higher and do bigger things with their lives. We find across all levels of clients we mentor – associates, managers, principals and senior partners – many believe they lack that one skill before they can pursue their big goal.

The skill that clients think is lacking is a little different at each level but broadly similar in one way. They have convinced themselves success is not possible without a specific skill and there is no point to even try without this skill. So they keep trying to gain this skill, and it can set them back years.

They pursue an MBA, they join McKinsey, they join industry, they join PE firms and so on, with the goal of developing this elusive skill. What is also common is they truly believe there is an experience that will give them the skill, and they end up disappointed. They repeat the cycle because they believe there is another experience which is the one true experience that will give them that elusive skill. And it repeats itself.

Slowly the years pass, kids are born, graduations are attended, reunions are attended, and they meet that person they never expected to succeed, because they did not have said skill, and still don’t, but the person succeeded against all odds. And they cannot understand how that happened.

This is what we call failure to launch. It is the mental barrier we create where we convince ourselves we are just not ready and not good enough. The truth is no one is ready and no one is good enough. The ones who make it just do it.

You should have confidence in your ability to learn as you need to learn. And you need to act.

I recently read a story about a famous writer, whose name I cannot recall, who started writing at the age of about 39 when her kids had no food and her husband had left. She went on to become one of the most successful writers of all time. You will miss the shots you do not take.

We always encourage our clients to aim very high. McKinsey is not the goal. It can never be the goal. When you are 70 years old I can assure you being a partner at McKinsey is not going to feel like a great accomplishment. Life starts at McKinsey, for some. But life certainly does not end at McKinsey. And it should never peak at McKinsey.

Our goal with clients who are partners is always to take them to the next level, outside and beyond McKinsey. That should be your goal as well. Everything you can learn at McKinsey, and more, we teach to Insiders. Lack of access to skills should not hold you back.

If you found these thoughts useful, please share it with your friends.



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