Our guest today is Tom Rath, the New York times bestselling author of How Full is Your Bucket and Amazon’s top selling non-fiction book of all time StrengthsFinder 2.0. For the past five years Tom has served as Gallup senior scientist and he recently co-founded the publishing company Silicon Guild with Peter Sims (a previous guest on this podcast). Tom has sold over 10 million books, including his latest works Life’s Great Question: Discover How You Contribute to the World, and the autobiographical It’s Not About You.

Whereas most people estimate (and hope) that their lifespan will stretch into 70, 80, or 90 years, since the age of 16 Tom has been facing the reality of much smaller estimates: 20, 40, or, with sincere dedication to health, perhaps 60. Diagnosed with a unique genetic predisposition to developing tumors, hardly a moment goes by that Tom is unaware of his mortality. Luckily for us, Tom has channeled much of his energy into producing wonderfully insightful books that challenge readers to examine how our lives impact others.

“I’ve written some books on those topics and most importantly, I guess that got me focused back then and continues to focus me on – what are all the little efforts that I can contribute to today that will continue to grow in my absence, not just when I’m gone and an existentialist standpoint, but what are the things I can do today that somebody might read tomorrow or that my kids might benefit from a week from now or a year from now.”

While many thought leaders focus on individuals “finding their passion,” Tom believes that we must shift focus outward to find work worth doing.

“[I]f you start with your passion, it assumes that you’re the center of the world. And I’ve learned it’s a lot more productive to start with what the world around you needs.”

In his latest book, Tom provides an assessment tool called “Contribify” that helps individuals take inventory of the roles they play when working with others, and then how they can best contribute to the group. The focus here is more on “eulogy roles, not the resume roles,” with special weight given to influential life experiences that shape individuals as opposed to simply a list of skills they’ve developed.

 “I want there to be much more efficient tools [for] helping people to land in jobs that they’re more likely to experience success and growth and satisfaction, wellbeing because the mechanisms we have out there now are not that much better than flipping coins in random chance based on the survival.”

Can we create a world where the sterile language of resumes no longer exists? Where we leave work with more energy than we arrived with? Tom believes we can.

Join us as we discuss the “buckets” of contribution, how to have conversations at cocktail parties, and the importance of challenging experiences.

Listen to the episode in the player above, or download and enjoy it on iTunes. If you’re so inclined, please leave us a review!

Takeaways from this episode:

  • Having battled cancer numerous times in his life, Tom has learned to refocus his thinking and constantly researches ways to stay ahead of his condition instead of merely being responsive. What are the little efforts he can do today that will help tomorrow? This attitude has spread from thinking about his health to how he contributes to the world at large.
  • Tom spent much of his life thinking he would be lucky to see 40, so he “built a lot of life into those years.” Now that he is over 40 he is having to evaluate what he wants to do that will contribute to the future.
  • Perceiving that he had a compressed timeline made Tom take action. How can we use deadlines to accomplish what we want to do?
  • A formative experience in Tom’s life was when he had the opportunity to work with his grandfather, Don Clifton, on a project that developed into the book, How Full is Your Bucket. He credits his grandfather with giving him the courage to write books for a public audience, since his natural strength in writing had gone unnoticed through his years in school. It took a challenging experience for that skill to come to the forefront, and Tom believes that many people have skills that won’t show up in casual observation or assessments because they must be forged in the fire of challenge.
  • can help individuals take their most formative experiences and identify where they can make the greatest contributions on a team. Through contribution and helping others we can accomplish a great life’s work.
  • There are 3 main “buckets” of contribution: operate, relate, and create. Tom encourages teams to focus on “relate,” as it is an area many organizations under index on.
  • “We’ve got to find ways to bring the face of the person we serve into our work and bring some humanity back into it on a functional level as well.”
  • “Contribution is the sum of what grows when you are gone.”

Links Mentioned in this Episode:


Download on iTunes

Click to access the login or register cheese