ou’re telling me that there are three things you love and you want me to tell you which two to cut off…so you can limp along on the other one? This is not how things work. The advice I have for you is: don’t discard. Find a way to keep all three of these things in the mix. We’ll find out [what you should do for a living]. Right now, what you do is spend 2 hours a week whole-heartedly engaged in each of those 3 things. Let them them talk to each other. Something will begin to happen in your life that is unique and powerful.
The world is an incredibly complex place and everything is changing all the time.You can’t plan your career because you have no idea what’s going to happen in the future. You have no idea what industries you’ll enter, what companies you’ll work for, what roles you’ll have, where you’ll live, or what you will ultimately contribute to the world. You’ll change, industries will change, the world will change, and you can’t possibly predict any of it.
Trying to plan your career is an exercise in futility that will only serve to frustrate you, and to blind you to the really significant opportunities that life will throw your way.Marc Andreessen, American entrepreneur, investor, and software engineer.
Mark Andreessen wrote those words in 2009 but they seem very relevant today. If you had asked me what my career goals were back in the 1980s when I graduated from high school, I would have waffled and mumbled something about getting an engineering degree and then going to work for Bell Labs. But the honest answer would have been, “I don’t know”.
My career has taken unexpected turns over the year since I graduated from the University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School. I took my entering degree and started working on micro-controllers in the engine diagnostics division of General Motors/Electronic Data System. That experience helped me get work in the multi-media labs at Sarnoff. I got a lot of experience developing C+ code but I also started working with BASH scripts in Solaris. That experience with BASH and UNIX helped me get hired into the newly formed website development team at Bloomberg, LLP. The web site platform was based on UNIX and open source scripting languages. I learned a lot about model-view-controller development and working to deadlines.
Last year a 15-year-old wrote to Leo Babauta.
‘As a high-school student I’m constantly being reminded to figure out what to do with my life, what career I would like to have and so on. I definitely feel huge amounts of pressure when my teachers and parents tell me to figure out something now. I’m young and I don’t want to make a mistake and ruin my future. I know what I like and what my interests are but when I read about a job related to those interests I always feel as if I wouldn’t enjoy it and I don’t know why.’
Leo wrote back:
Prepare yourself by learning about your mind, becoming trustworthy, building things, overcoming procrastination, getting good at discomfort and uncertainty.
You can put all this off and live a life of safety and boringness. Or you can start today, and see what life has to offer you.Leo
Recently, Bhavana and I have put pressure on our 16 year-old son, Shaan, to figure out his life. He’s only a year from graduating high school and big decisions are looming. Bhavana is concerned (fearful?) by his lack of concern.
I think we have forgotten what it was like when we were sixteen. I think my Bhavana may have been more driven to get somewhere but at sixteen I was more interested in computers, electronics, science, and hanging out on the beach. My pursuit of the knowledge of science wasn’t driven by any specific career aspirations. They were driven by the love of the science and knowledge itself.
Leo had an answer for this young woman on what to tell her parents and I shared his response and the entire article with both of my kids.
Lastly, what do you do when your parents and teachers pressure you to figure things out? Tell them you’re going to be an entrepreneur, start your own business, and take over the world. If you prepare for that, you’ll actually be prepared for any career.
Wise words. Wise words, indeed.