Let’s talk about building a meaningful career. A work in progress.
Understanding your values, acknowledging your motivations, and hedging them against the opportunities in front of you can make your early career a challenging road to pave. For some, it comes easy, they’ve always known what they wanted or needed to do. For others like myself, I’d compare the outlook to a three dimensional game of snakes and ladders, with you starting up from the bottom, trying to figure out which ladder to climb first.
“The problem happens when we have multiple desires. When we have fuzzy desires. When we want to do ten different things and we’re not clear about which is the one we care about.”
I’ve had people tell me all sorts of things: “Maximize your learning opportunity”, “you can’t go wrong”, “doesn’t matter what you pick, just do it well”. While all this might be rooted in some legitimate ground, it doesn’t make the problem go away. Regardless of what you decide to do, you’ll feel some sense of missing out, anxiety and dread alongside all the joys of stepping into the real world and getting started. It’s like they say, in life you only ever trade in your current problems for better problems.
My parents always nudged me towards a traditional career; pick a reliable job, put the work in, cash the cheques and work your way up. In my opinion; a calculated exercise in boredom and non-average outcomes. Don’t get me wrong, I believe it’s a perfectly valid and rewarding route to take. You’re contributing to society in some scope of the word. I just feel most people pick certain careers for the wrong reasons.
Most of you reading this have your basic needs fulfilled. It’s a luxury beyond words, but it also complicates life in several other dimensions. The dynamic sense of purpose rooted in survival is no longer a base priority. Today, we’re driven to seek other forms of fulfilment; from our careers to relationships, family, and the impact we have on solving problems we care about.
“The fundamental delusion — there is something out there that will make me happy and fulfilled forever.”
I’m not a particularly exciteful person. I try not to buy into merit badges or pats on the back for a job well done. I’m motivated, and I do seek enjoyment from the things I do, but I try not to tie my feelings to any sort of external validation one might be afforded for conforming towards certain outcomes like money, fame or praise. Instead, I’ve tried to self-select for a career path that puts my values and intrinsic motivations ahead of those extrinsic motivators. Note the overuse of the word “try”.
Today, a lot of things you could want are simply a question of education and desire. Getting back to my three dimensional game of snakes and ladders… technically your career objective should be to minimize the number of ladders with the hope of getting to a point where your values, motivations and work are are aligned. Traditionally progress is left to a roll of the dice, but in life you get the chance to skew the odds by being educated. I don’t mean that in any one dimension; but a more composed version of education built around seeing different perspectives, understanding people, acute pattern recognition and finally, industry expertise, experience and credentials.
“Knowledge is a skyscraper. You can take a shortcut with a fragile foundation of memorization, or build slowly upon a steel frame of understanding.”
At least that’s how I approach things now, and it’s what drives me to put my faith in things I’m passionate about doing, things I find rewarding regardless of the outcome. That to me is building products and experiences that make people’s daily lives a tad better. But that too goes both ways; you get to have the freedom to build cools things if and only if you put up with the risk and ambiguity of going out on your own. Finding the funding, finding people to use it, and betting on your own ideas.
“Following your genuine intellectual curiosity is a better foundation for a career than following whatever is making money right now.”
I have no agenda with this post. It’s simply me putting my current thoughts into text. If you’re going through a similar experience right now I hope this post raises some questions and sparks some ideas about how you think of your own career.