Three Bucket Theory to Career Success

In my various interactions with youngsters the topic of careers and job offers often crops up. Many a times my students call me up to seek advice about a particular offer. I sense a common thread in most conversations and that is the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality. Unfortunately, this is also combined with strong personal preferences or rather prejudices. This results in a perpetual disappointment with regard to the options available.

My standard input about careers revolves around a piece of advice I got many years ago. This has been validated by my personal experience and I have no qualms about propagating the same. This is the “Three Bucket theory”.

A typical career spans three decades plus starting from the 20’s and going on till the 50’s. These thirty odd years should be split up into three buckets or segments of ten years each.

In the first bucket, one needs to focus on learning. This learning should be all encompassing and not self limiting in any manner. One should have an open mind and learn about the working styles, organization styles, people, communication, teams, practical tips, etc. In short anything new and unknown needs to be explored and learnt in depth. Herein lays an inherent trap.

Most youngsters who start their career are educated and have spent their past decade and a half learning or rather studying. Often, they mistake this studying to be a substitute for learning and more dangerously act as if there is very little if at all anything left to learn. However, during the first bucket the focus should be consciously on learning and not on designations, compensations, matching up to peers, besting colleagues, etc.

During the second bucket one has the opportunity to become an expert. If there has been extensive learning in the first bucket one would be clear about their strengths and weaknesses as also in a position to judge which of the learnings can be leveraged better for their personal success. Becoming an expert requires one to have extensive and intensive experience in the field of choice, spanning first hand front line experience to overall strategic exposure. This gives one a true perspective and makes one an expert as also brings about a deep rooted maturity with regard to their expertise.

If these two buckets are managed well and one develops true deep rooted expertise, the third bucket is the easiest part of a successful career. In this bucket, one needs to work towards personal branding by sharing their expertise in public forums and be known for their expertise. When this is done properly all kinds of success including materialistic success follows even if one does not wish for the same.
Given the increasing life expectancy nowadays, I have added a fourth bucket to this theory.

During the fourth bucket one should consciously work towards giving back to the society. It could be by sharing their expertise for public good. Such as sharing their experiences with students to help them sculpt a successful life or mentoring promising youngsters to create a better future.

My personal view is that there is no success formula and as such this should not be taken as gospel truth. The formula for success lies in each individual’s own hands. As such, this theory is indicative. Take it, craft it, mould it to suit your personality and hopefully you would create your own successful version of the three bucket theory.

V Rajesh

V Rajesh is a Retail subject matter expert, Teacher, Trainer, Writer, and Mentor. His extensive experiences with regard to Retail, Service Delivery, etc., are captured in his book “The INDIAN reTALEs” and on his a popular blog –