Fame, fortune and love: Thoughts on career optimization

Speaking to lots of designers I often get asked for career advice. Questions about what skills are the best to learn and what the optimum path to take is to arrive at a particular outcome. These are nuanced questions that require individual context to even attempt for answer effectively. So instead of trying to answer those questions with general advice what I'll do instead is provide my personal framework for how I think about career progress.

For anyone who's worked with me they've probably noticed I like to think about abstract problems and define logical frameworks to solve them. Defining the optimum career path, or just defining what the ideal career is for someone at a single point time is one of those hard abstract problems. I think the first step solving that is giving yourself a frame of reference for every decision that you make that will affect your career.

So here's the logical framework I personally use when I think about career progress. I call it the Rule of 3: Fame, Fortune, Love. The logic goes that for any position in your career you take on it should fall into one of the three categories. And whatever you are doing now should be building toward what you will do next (whether you know what that is or not is not necessarily important).


The first category is fame. If we take this literally as the definition of "fame" we get "the state of being know by many people, especially on account of notable achievements." If you are currently engaged in a position that brings you recognition for your achievements, you are engaging in fame. In the context of career progression fame can be very useful. Fame means that the skills and achievements you are producing now are being recognized externally by many people. While this might not be immediately valuable now, it's could be incredibly valuable for what comes next.

Think about fame as an investment. The more people recognize your achievements the more likely it is to lead to opportunities in future. Are you know for a particular area of expertise? When someone is hiring for a position that requires those skills if you are well recognized it is highly likely they'll reach out to you for it. This is how you find career opportunities that you didn't know existed.

So how do you use fame strategically? If you already have a strong skill set it might mean changing jobs to a position where your work is more externally visible and sacrificing fortune or love to do it. Sometimes fame isn't about your direct achievements so much as it is who you are associated with. Is there a team or company that's very well known? Joining a team that's more well known to get the visibility and CV boost is a strategic move. For individuals early in their career or attempting to establish recognition in a new area of expertise fame is useful for gathering "portfolio pieces." This might mean pursuing a position that will give you opportunity to work in a new area which you can leverage in your portfolio for future opportunities.

Whether we like it or not personal fame or CV driven fame can unlock opportunities. So even if you have no interest in being "famous" it's still important to consider how to utilize the fame lever.


Fortune is about money or other forms of compensation. Sure, getting paid lots of money is not always going to solve all you problems but it can make some things easier by giving you the capital to invest in other opportunities. We all require some compensation to continue to meet our basic needs or pursue a future endeavour. Fortune gives us the runway to make our own career opportunities or take gambles, so it's another lever that should absolutely be used tactically.

Pursuing a position with a high salary or comp package can give you the ability to take on a future position where you optimize for fame or love at the expense of compensation. Fortune can also give you the buffer you need to take a sabbatical while you search for your path forward, or even start your own company.


Love is doing something that you love, something that you have a particular interest in. Something that you would likely being doing whether you were paid for it or not. Or at least something you are willing to sacrifice fortune or fame for to pursue instead. Doing something you love might seem like the endgame but it's actually not.

Even if you have something you love doing right now, is that something you'll love doing forever? If it is, then you can use the fame and fortune levers until you arrive at that opportunity and take it. Sometimes doing you something you love isn't a sustainable career path or you eventually get tired of doing that thing and will want to pursue something else. Out of the three levers love is probably the best driver to lead you to producing your best work. If you can find a position you love you'll pour your passion into your work, and with these results you can pull on the fortune and fame levers to cash out. And the cycle continues.

The balancing the three levers

As you can see, each lever you pull now, will correspond to another lever you can use in the future. Fame (recognition) can lead you to a position of fortune(high compensation) and that can be leveraged to pursue a position of Love (area of passion). These can be combined in just about any order.

The rule of 3 is all about rotating through these three levers to create forward momentum. While you'll probably rarely be able to consistently find career opportunities that combine all three levers I think it's important to always have at least one. So think about what you are doing now in your career, what that lever is and how that will connect to what's next.

The last thing I'll say is that career progression doesn't have to be about progression in the sense of moving forward at all. Depending on your needs or desires a lateral move or even a move that could be perceived as moving backward could be instrumental in creating better future opportunities. The optimum career path is as much about finding the space you fit in best and enjoy right now, as it is about finding that ideal space in the future.

My Five-Year Journey to Landing a Job at Figma Articles You don't have a strategy: KPI psychosis and data obsession