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Jason Mayden Shares Four Key Ideas to Balancing Career Success and Happiness

Round Editorial

By seven, Jason Mayden knew he wanted to work for Michael Jordan. At ten, he called Nike using the number from the back of a shoe box, asking for a job. At 19, his dream came true when he began working as a design intern for the Jordan brand. Mayden rose from being Nike’s first black industrial design intern to eventually become the division's Senior Global Design Director. Since leaving Nike, he has had a wide-ranging, multi-hyphenate career as the founder of Trillicon Valley, an award-winning design and strategy consultancy, published author, and ethical entrepreneur. What connects Mayden’s career path? Ensuring that he leaves something a little bit better than he found it. Mayden joined Round to share insight about how to pursue creative, professional, and emotional growth.

1. Daily habits build the foundation for bold action

We expect bold people to push through new technologies or chart explorations into deep space, but bold acts often start with small choices. Like the choice to be compassionate to your coworkers or consistently follow through on daily tasks. “Everybody wants to hit the home run, but I'm just trying to get on first base,” Mayden said. “If you can’t do the small things well, imagine what you'll do when you have bigger responsibilities.” Mayden called these regular acts of courage and discipline “shadow work”: the work you do when no one is watching to be the best person you can be.

2. Bosses are not the same as leaders

For Mayden, becoming a leader means developing a skill set, not achieving a certain place in a company’s hierarchy. Leadership begins with self-awareness and effective, compassionate communication. Can you persuade others to adopt your point of view rather than bulldozing them? Do you know how to unite people around more than a paycheck? Are you willing to make difficult choices and stay accountable to those around you? Mayden believes society should move from a command-and-control style of leadership toward “enlightened leadership” that prioritizes long-term impact and values stakeholders over shareholders. As Mayden reflected on his own career at Nike, he shared, “I thought about what it felt like when no one knew my name and I wanted my shot,” he said, “and I decided to design myself out of my own system. I design myself out of everything I build, because if it lives and breathes with me, then it only serves my ego.”

3. Choose a vocation, not a job

“I’m deployed, not employed,” Mayden said, explaining his philosophy on work. He strives to hold on to his child-like sense of curiosity and defines achievement in terms of discovery and impact, not mastery. Rather than focusing on accomplishing discrete goals, he suggests asking yourself:* How do I want to feel at the end of the week? *This mentality shift has helped him focus “on being present in the moment, rather than putting my happiness into some distant location I may never actually reach.” Mayden advocates having a mindful attitude toward one’s talents. We are stewards of our gifts and talents, not owners, he said – “and If you’re going to be a good steward, the goal is to leave something a little better than you found it.”

4. Ruthlessly edit your life

Managing time is a struggle for everyone. Mayden described experiencing a period of professional frustration at the height of his career. He wanted his family to get “the best of me, not the rest of me”, but he felt drained at the end of each week. So he looked at his calendar and began reflecting deeply on how he felt after different conversations or engagements: “After 90 days of looking at that data,” he said, “I was like, wait, anytime I meet with that person, I feel anxious. Anytime I'm in that environment, I feel overwhelmed.” Mayden learned to optimize his mental health and happiness by ruthlessly editing his life to value how he wanted to feel over the output he had at the end of each week.

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