David Kirby: Define Your Own Success

David Kirby

“How do I succeed in the liberty movement?” It’s a straightforward question on the mind of many recent graduates embarking on careers in the nonprofit sector. However, according to David Kirby, vice president and senior fellow at the Cato Institute, curious young professionals are asking the wrong question.

The right question: “What is my calling or unique talent, and how do I put it to use?”

A varied and highly successful career in the liberty movement informed Kirby’s commentary at AFF’s October 23 “Lunch with a Leader” event. Prior to Cato, Kirby was vice president of public opinion and data analysis at FreedomWorks, campaign executive director at the Institute for Human Studies, and executive director at America’s Future Foundation. But despite his many achievements, Kirby contended that ranking in the movement is a false benchmark for success.

“Managing or leading people doesn’t have to be your definition of success,” Kirby advised. “In fact, many of the most distinguished scholars prefer to focus on research and writing. That’s how they use their unique talents and find joy.”

Kirby also argued that a passion for liberty isn’t necessarily best served by working in the movement: “If your talent doesn’t fit here, get out of the movement! Don’t limit your options.” Sometimes success comes by pursuing challenges and taking risks.

So how should you start thinking about your own definition of success? Look to role models. Accomplished business leaders and entrepreneurs exemplify the traits vital to all success. They are problem solvers, innovators, counter intuitive investors, risk takers, untiring activists, and passionate philanthropists; they embrace and understand their flaws, know their strengths, and never stop learning.

“Who do you admire?” Kirby asked. “Identifying your heroes and draw inspiration from their stories.”

Consider your unique talents and learn from your heroes, and you’ll be well on your way to defining your own success.

Interested in learning more about AFF opportunities for students? Contact Greta Pisarczyk, director of student outreach for America’s Future Foundation, at Greta@AmericasFuture.org.

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