Karen X. Cheng is unstoppable.
Three years ago, she wanted to work for Microsoft Excel, so she put 100 hours into prepping for the interview–a tactic she’s tried elsewhere and failed with. Then she realized she didn’t want to be a product manager, so she became a designer–after learning the craft in one year. Then she realized she needed to learn how to dance–so she did that in one year, too.
There’s a thread that runs through these three feats–and lets trace it after watching the video.
“Job hunting is like The Bachelor,” Cheng wrote. “Only instead of choosing between 25 beautiful women, the recruiter must look at a constant stream of thousands of resumes and cover letters.”
So like a would-be reality show star, you have to make yourself stand out, she says, which is hard to do given the gnat-like attention span meted out to each resume.
Cheng advocates the going super deep methodology; i.e., showing the person that you can already do great work for the position. (Which is, more or less, the only thing Google found predicts on-the-job success.) But if it’s your dream job, Cheng says, putting 100 hours into a mockup project is better than thinking “what if.”
But even after you get what might be your dream job, you may grow weary after a while. After two years as a project manager on Microsoft’s Excel team, she found she didn’t want to be there anymore–or manage projects, either. After months of figuring out where her meaningful work would lie, she settled on design:
I decided to become a designer, but I had no design skills. I thought about going back to school for design, but the time and money commitment was too big a risk for a career choice I wasn’t totally sure of.
So I taught myself–everyday I would do my day job in record time and rush home to learn design. Super talented people go to RISD for 4 years and learn design properly. I hacked together my piecemeal design education in 6 months–there was no way I was ready to become a designer. But I was so ready to leave Microsoft. So I started the job search and got rejected a few times. Then I got the job at Exec.
Cheng’s after-hours side hustle is evidence of one of the principles of building an antifragile career: When you have a secure but unsatisfying day job, you can take an unbridled bent to your next calling by night. And it goes to show that as Tim Ferriss would say, you can master any skill–if you break it down into pieces and practice well.
And, as Cheng’s popping and locking illuminates, skill acquisition isn’t just for the office. You can learn to dance in a year–which gives the Fast Company staff some hope. She had a domain with the above time-lapse video, serving as a record of the “awkward body” that started its dance steps a year ago.
Like a good teacher, Cheng shares her technique:
Here’s my secret: I practiced everywhere. At bus stops. In line at the grocery store. At work–Using the mouse with my right hand and practicing drills with my left hand. You don’t have to train hardcore for years to become a dancer. But you must be willing to practice and you better be hungry.
The daily practice, she says, doesn’t come from discipline; it comes from being obsessed. She’s devoted, practicing at least five minutes every damn day, and using the app Lift to keep herself accountable. That kind of normalized momentum, we know, is the key to developing skills–regardless of whether you want to be dancing in Coca-Cola commercials like Cheng does now. Or managing projects. Or designing products.