Thoughts on Careers
As a young person who has gone on a slightly peculiar career path, I find that I am in a unique position to share my thoughts on the nature of careers. Indeed, I have explored many different areas of interest — programming, business, and, now, education — and have spent my most formative years on career development. While other people were writing their university applications, I was sitting on the sidelines working on developing my unique competitive advantage — the thing that sets me aside from everyone else. I have a few thoughts on careers that I have acquired over my years of trying to build a career.
1. Showing Up Every Day is Key
Most success comes from doing things over and over again, not doing new things. Every day I try to write an article for work and a blog post. On some days, I write more for work and forget to write a blog post. On other days, I write a few drafts of articles that I don’t feel confident in and that never get published. But the point is that I am writing, every single day. I believe that in order to be successful, you need to turn up every day and work toward refining your skills. Many young people spend their time exploring a variety of different paths, and although this is a good thing — I have certainly done my share of personal exploration — most forget about actually doing something with what they are learning. If you commit to showing up and going something every day, you will get better over time. Your progress will compound. And in a year, you will look back and be able to say “I made so much progress”, and you will have a repository of work on which to look back and reflect.
2. Do What You Are the Best At; Love Doing It
The single most important thought I have on careers is for you to do what you are the best in the world at. When you are trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, the only thing you need to focus on is what unique skills you have. After you know what you are the best in the world at, you need to spend your time figuring out how to turn that into an actual career. Do what you are the best at and love sounds like advice you would get from a fortune cookie. But it is very easy to show up every day if you love doing you work. Every day, I spend hours writing, whether it be for this blog or for work. And each day I get lost in my words, and derive immense pleasure from this experience. Loving what you do is important for a few reasons. Most prominently, though, if you love what you do, you are more likely to stick around when times get tough — you know that what you are doing makes you feel great, and that you have the ability to overcome the obstacle you are facing.
3. Being Young is a Competitive Advantage
Contrary to public opinion, being young is a major competitive advantage. As a young person, you are free to take more risks, and can explore a variety of different paths. If one path does not work out, you can easily pivot to another path because you will not have many obligations to worry about — paying rent, a mortgage, managing a family, et cetera. Taking big risks when you are young is the best time to take them, because you have very little to lose. If you start a business and it does not work out, you may have lost all of the time and energy you have invested. But perhaps you have been able to expand your network while building your business. And perhaps you found a few new friends with whom you regularly interact who were also starting businesses at the same time as you. The upside of starting a business is massive, whereas the downside is capped. Although many people say that you need to do X then Y in order to get a good job, most of that advice is meaningless. You don’t need permission to do something. Just go do it. The best time to start your next thing was yesterday; the next best time is today.
4. Compounding is the Key to Success
Compounding creates success in everything that you do. The earlier you internalize this point, the more you will be able to realize the benefits of compounding. One example of compounding is in knowledge acquisition. Let’s say you read a book this month, then don’t read again. You will have likely acquired some knowledge, sure, but the amount of knowledge you have acquired is limited. And because you have stopped reading, you will be more likely to forget some of the things you have read. But if you keep going, then you will be continuously acquiring new knowledge. Imagine how much progress you could make if you read 10 pages of a book each day. In one year, you will have read 3,650 pages — perhaps 20 books. All of that knowledge will compound, and with each passing day you will acquire more information which will help you become a better person, and a more effective worker.
Compounding applies not just within the context of acquiring knowledge, but also in relationships, and various other aspects of life. If you continue to work on building relationships, over time they will become stronger. Over time, you will learn more about that person, and they will be more willing to help you. Imagine how strong your friendship with a new person would be if you spoke with them once every day or two — you will have developed a good connection, and you will likely trust each other very quickly. Just as compounding is important in investing, it is also important in the context of career development.
5. Be Ambitious, but Set Low Expectations
I have always been very ambitious, and I firmly believe that everyone should be as ambitious as possible. If you are ambitious, then you are more likely to do great things in your life. You have a North Star to continuously look up to, which will guide you toward success. If your ambition is to change the way that we communicate (however that may be), you could accomplish great things. You would likely accomplish a lot more than the person who only aspires to work for a local business. Be as ambitious as possible, and don’t let anyone tell you that being ambitious is meaningless. Indeed, it is only those who are ambitious who can realize the true benefits of being ambitious. At the same time, though, set low expectations for yourself. If you set low expectations for a project, then failure will be less of a problem. If your expectations were close to failure, you will be able to better manage failure if and when your project fails. But if you aimed for your project to become very successful, failure can discourage you from trying again. If you don’t meet your expectations, set a lower bar, but always stay ambitious.
6. Learn to Sell
Learning to sell is a critical skill. Almost every job incorporates some level of sales, especially as you advance to higher positions. Learning to sell is not just about how to sell products, but also how to sell yourself. You need to know how to pitch yourself to other people, and how to showcase your skills. If you know how to sell, you will be able to better convince people of your abilities. If you don’t know how to sell, it can be difficult to get people to take a chance on you. One tip I have about selling yourself is that you should not just sell your past progress, but your rate of learning. If you don’t have a big portfolio, sell people on how quickly you can work, learn, and iterate. People are more interested in how quickly you can grow than about all of the past progress you have made. Learn how to showcase your unique skills to other people, and how to articulate your personality.
I am still building my career, and I have a lot to learn. I also have a lot more advice to share about careers, but the thoughts outlined in this essay comprise my main thoughts on building a good career. As a young person, I am still learning a lot about how to better advance my career, but I feel that has given me a unique perspective. The most important thing to remember is that building your career is an iterative process. You will fail in some things, and excel in others. Each day you should be asking yourself the question “What can I do to improve my career?”. After all, your career is a representation of all of the past decisions you have made in your life. Should you start a business? Will you regret doing it? Will you not regret doing it? Ensure that you are fully cognizant of the impact each decision will have on your life, and remember that each day presents a new opportunity for you to become successful.