Career Advice from Tom Hanks


Career Advice from Tom Hanks


#GrowYourLife  #BuildYourBusiness

Life Area: Professional  
Topic: Career Success

Career Advice from Tom Hanks


Toward the end of Tom Hank’s 2020 Golden Globe acceptance speech, Hanks shared a 3-step formula for success that he learned decades ago. It’s simple and brilliant–and could completely change the way we work.


He’s widely regarded as one of the greatest actors of all time. So, when Tom Hanks shares career advice, we all do well to listen. In his acceptance speech, Hanks repeatedly got choked up as he thanked his family, co-workers, and several notable actors and directors. After all, Hanks said, “you’re a dope if you don’t steal from everybody you have ever worked with.”


But it was toward the end of Hanks’ seven-minute speech when the famous actor dropped the real golden nugget.


Hanks shared a story of when he worked in his first professional job, as an intern at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival. Hanks said he and his fellow interns showed up to rehearsals after doing a little too much partying the previous night. The director wasn’t having it.


“He screamed at us,” said Hanks. “You know what your job is?” the director asked. “You have got to show up on time, and you have to know the text, and you have to have a head full of ideas. Otherwise I can’t do my job.”


And there it is, a simple, brilliant, three step-formula for success:


Show up on time, know the text, and have a head full of ideas.



Hanks says “that was the greatest lesson a young actor could possibly ever get.” But in reality, the wisdom in that single line will do wonders for your career, regardless of what industry you work in.


Let’s break it down.


Show up on time.

 “Showing up on time is one of the greatest liberating acts you can give yourself in a movie,” explains Hanks.


“That means those people with radios in their ears don’t need to knock on your door and say they’re ready for you. You’re actually already ready. And you have the liberty, and you have the freedom of being there early enough to settle down–because when the time comes, you have to hit the marks, and you have to ‘go there.'”


This lesson extends far beyond a film set. Being on time, or “early enough to settle down,” as Hanks calls it, is a key way to develop emotional intelligence, because of everything it does for us and the people we work with.


For example, being early gives us enough time to:

  • get comfortable with our surroundings,
  • get a drink of water, or use the restroom, and
  • settle our mind and gather our thoughts.


These things may seem small, but they each help us to achieve calmer and confidence.


But that’s not all. Showing up on time gives the added advantages of:

  • showing respect for others’ time,
  • demonstrating the abilities of good organization, reliability, and a good work ethic, and
  • building your reputation as a professional.


Do you have the habit of always showing up late? If so, it’s time to make a change.


If you’re trying to do too much, cut out the unnecessary. Don’t overbook. Start scheduling more margin between appointments, and plan to arrive early–this will help when you run into the unexpected, like bad traffic or a missed connection.


Know the text.

“Knowing your text–it’s not just your lines, it’s the whole thing,” Hanks continued. “You might not be right in the opinion you bring to it. But you’ve got to come at it with some direction.”


In a word, Hanks is speaking here about: preparation. Generally speaking, the more prepared we are, the more successful we’ll be.


The way to set yourself apart from the pack is to make sure you take the time to “know the text”, so to speak.


Think about it: professional athletes, Creatives, even analysts and number-crunchers–often, it’s not the smartest or most talented person in the room who’s the most successful. It’s the one who comes most prepared.


This is one reason behind one of Amazon’s most interesting business practices: CEO Jeff Bezos insists executive meetings begin with about half an hour of silence, so that everyone has time to read a well-prepared memo, all getting on the same page before they begin a discussion.


Of course, most of us don’t have that liberty of time in meetings. So, the way to set yourself apart from the pack is to make sure you take the time to “know the text,” so to speak.

Come prepared.


Have a head full of ideas.

 Speaking to this final point, Hanks said the following:


“The head full of ideas: Bring anything. Try anything. They might not use it. If it stinks, they won’t use it. Am I right, Marty Scorsese?”


The best companies, like the best actors and directors, are successful because their employees are constantly seeking to try new things, to grow and improve.


Routines and processes are helpful, but growth doesn’t happen when we always do things the exact same way. Growth is a result of being willing to take risks, to break out of our comfort zone, and to embrace failure when it happens. Because out of failure comes learning. And out of learning, comes growth.  Without new ideas, we’ll never even get the chance to fail. That’s why taking time for concentrated thought–filling our head with ideas–is a major key to success.


That’s easier said than done, in a world where scrolling and watching has replaced concentrated thinking.


But if you buy out time to think, you’ll have a major advantage. Don’t leave it to chance; put it on the calendar: “Think time.” Then, treat it like an unmissable appointment.


So, are you ready to do more, to go higher? The formula is simple:


Show up on time. Know the text. Have a head full of ideas.


And trust me, if it worked for Tom Hanks, it’ll work for you.



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