You Are Never Going To Be Mark Zuckerberg, And That’s OK

mm Russ Finkelstein

You wouldn’t believe the number of times people bring up Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to me when we’re having coaching conversations about their career aspirations.

It happens so often that I sometimes think, if I were coaching Mark Zuckerberg himself, he might even cite Mark Zuckerberg as the kind of person whose career he’d most like to emulate.

If not him, it’s worth asking yourself: On whom do you fixate, when it comes to thinking about your career path? Who is your professional bullseye?

Let me reiterate that titular bad news. You are never going to be that person, and that’s OK.

It’s all very well to aspire to someone else’s achievements, whether they founded a multibillion-dollar company, directed an Oscar-winning movie, or perhaps transformed society’s approach to a pressing social problem.

What’s more important, once you’ve realized who your professional role model is, is to reflect intentionally on why you’re drawn to emulate them, and to use that reflection to gain clarity on the next steps you need to take in your career.

The point is: Mark Zuckerberg was able to see a void and an opportunity, put in years of work and study in realizing Facebook, and puts in even more hours now. Let’s say you want to start a business. Once you’ve looked at Mr. Zuckerberg and realized what it is that made him most successful, then it’s time to ask yourself: What can I do today, tomorrow, and the next day to make my success happen?

Otherwise, the next family gathering you go to, chances are that your most irritating relative will ask you, again, why you aren’t the next Mark Zuckerberg. So let’s find a firm yet polite response to close out that conversation.

As we move from youth to adulthood, most of us switch up our professional role models. To begin with, our parents impose their professional role models on us. They might talk about how nice it would be to have a doctor or lawyer in the family, or they expect you to go into the family business. Most of us reject those suggestions in the your parents want you to be phase.

Then we pivot and choose something big and new. This is the Mark Zuckerberg phase. We push back against familial expectations and have a broad sketch in our mind about who we’d like to be. And then we embark on our careers and follow the path we are curious about. Most often we pretty quickly realize that being Mark Zuckerberg takes the combination of work ethic, curiosity and expertise, ability to seize opportunity and luck that seems beyond us or more of a gamble than we are comfortable taking.

In response to this failure, we often fold into ourselves. People stop being intentional about their career paths and end up in the I fell into this job phase. They go from job to job, often without direction about what they’re looking for next. Instead, they are moving because you are supposed to switch jobs every so often and grasp at opportunities like the footholds on a climbing wall, choosing the safest and surest route — although not necessarily to the top of anything.

This is the stage in your role modeling where it’s really important to get some more specificity about what you want next. This is where you ideally want to have a vision of what you are moving toward. What does that look like?

Perhaps you decide you want to do something mission-driven with a good salary. Or you decide that freedom and independence are more important to you than security. Get as specific as you can or go through a process to get there.

Let’s say, for example, you decide you want to become the best eye surgeon in Texas. Here’s how you break that down further, so that you can give yourself some actions to commit to:

  • Who’s the best eye surgeon in Texas, right now?
  • Do they speak at a certain conference every year? Are they a member of any professional associations?
  • What was their career arc and that of others who impress you?
  • What’s the sort of influence they have, and how do you begin to direct yourself towards developing in similar ways?

The next step, honestly, is holding yourself accountable and doing the work it takes to make that happen. So many of us want to be Mark Zuckerberg, but we have neither the aptitude nor the focus. If you know now what to pursue next, how do you ensure that you walk down the path to your goal?

To remind you:

  1. Figure out who your professional role model is, and ask yourself why.
  2. Figure out what your career would look like in five years if you were the role model.
  3. Break that down into tangible specific steps and hold yourself accountable.

Many people come to me for career coaching when they’re having trouble sticking to a plan. Or you might choose to work with a colleague or a friend to keep you on track. There are also, increasingly, online tools and services to help keep you motivated and on target in your career. You may never be a Zuckerberg, but you can be the best version of you.

This piece originally appeared on Forbes.

 Russ Finkelstein is Managing Director of ClearlyNext, a guided online career program that helps people of all backgrounds and incomes figure out what to do next. Read more >