If I told you that Ben Stone majored in English, minored in photography, and then worked as a manuscript editor for an astrophysics journal at the University of Chicago Press, you probably wouldn’t predict his future career success as a corporate lawyer at one of the most prestigious law firms in the country, Mintz, where he helps entrepreneurs, investors, and companies generate both profits and positive social impact around the world. You also might not predict that he’d work for American Express and helped start the organization Indego Africa — a lifestyle brand and social enterprise partnering with thousands of female entrepreneurs in Rwanda and Ghana. But Ben has done and achieved all this along an unconventional career path that is instructive and inspiring. I caught up with Ben on our From the Dorm Room to the Board Room podcast to discuss his unconventional career journey. The following short excerpt from this interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Andy Molinsky: What misconceptions do you think people have about building a career?
Benjamin Stone: One misconception people have about careers, particularly when you’re just starting out, is that if you don’t get it right, and it’s not perfect that that’s going to cause you some real challenges down the road. I would say that that’s not necessarily true. I think that puts too much pressure on yourself. Instead, always be looking to gain skills because that’s really going to help propel you to other things.
Molinsky: You mentioned skills, and I know you majored in English. What kinds of skills did you get from that major?
Stone: For me, the English major was about paying attention to details, writing, and, perhaps most of all, about storytelling. People really underestimate the power of storytelling. In basically any job you need to be able to persuade people. You need to be able to keep their attention. You need to be able to articulate direction in a way that people are going to be able to accurately follow it. And I think being an English major helped with every one of these skills.
Molinsky: Tell me about how networking has been important in your career.
Stone: The best networks are the ones that are built with strong friends, and acquaintances, and people who you’ve developed real personal relationships with, not just necessarily transactional relationships with. So, my college friends are still really important to me from both a personal perspective and also from a professional one.
Molinsky: What one thing would you want to be able to tell young people as they start their career?
Stone: In my view, there are five key principles to think about as you navigate your career: be bold, be kind, be curious, be diligent, and be grateful. And for me, they are internalized. For example, if I’m facing a decision and don’t know what to do, I might ask myself “What’s the bold thing to do?” And it’s the same with the other principles as well. I try to follow those principles as much as possible, and I find that things worked out pretty well when I do.