The study originally took place between 1968 and 1974, although it has been repeated in various ways since then. Basically, a young child was offered a marshmallow or some other sweet and then given a chance to make a major decision – eat now or wait 15 minutes and get two. Especially challenging for someone that young for whom those 15 whole minutes of time feel like forever!
As you can imagine, most of the little ones stared down the sweet in front of them and gobbled it up well before the end of the 15 minutes. Only 30% managed to successfully make it to the reward. And the fascinating thing about the study is that, when followed up, the children who were able to wait did much better with things like SAT scores, education, job & career success, relationships, and even weight!
Looks like it pays to be able to hang in there for that second marshmallow after all. But how many of us are able to pass the Marshmallow Test when it comes to how we manage our careers?
The ability to delay gratification matters to your career
Early on in my career – and I’m guessing many of you can relate to this – I was sure that I could take on new things as quickly as they might be offered to me, but the problem was that they weren’t being offered as quickly as I wanted. I didn’t have the employer’s full perspective in mind – I just assumed that if I did well at whatever I was doing (and I was sure I would), that alone would be a benefit to the company, and also let me be happy NOW.
Well, maybe I wasn’t quite that bad. But I certainly didn’t spend any time thinking about organizational needs or the idea that I might be learning essential things apart from my daily tasks that would make me more valuable to my boss, and help lay a great foundation for my entire career. Things like relationship-building and teamwork and being someone who could be counted on even for the boring things that have to get done. These things live on beyond the moment.
My marshmallow was a job in Paris
I was working for CBS in their marketing finance department and saw a job as a product manager in Paris. I applied and got the offer. Wuhoo! But the head of Finance wouldn’t let me take it, since I’d only been there seven months. Seven looong months to me, just like those 15 minutes to the marshmallow kids – but, in reality, just the beginning of a potential career at a major company with lots of opportunities to move on and up to new things – eventually.
I don’t look back in regret. Many amazing things have happened to me since then, and each choice, even things that might be viewed as mistakes, became a piece of the career puzzle. But I do know that it took me a while to understand the benefit of delayed gratification when it came to my career. And in the case of my CBS job, I could have used that extra waiting time to build a strong base horizontally (where I was) before trying to climb up some ladder, there or elsewhere, with unsupported rungs.
What about you? Do you have a marshmallow story?