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Now to today's piece 🤝
A couple of weeks ago, I came across a really interesting career advice article from Derek Thompson (linked below). There are few writers who continue to produce banger after banger, and Derek is one of them. When he writes something, I read it.
Most career advice posts lie somewhere between cringe and cliché. This one isn't most career advice posts. Thompson gave five excellent pieces of career advice, but point three really stood out:
Don’t do the job you want to tell other people you do. Do the job you want to do.
A quote from his article:
The dichotomy of work: the job you want to tell other people you do vs. the job that you want to do.
Since we were kids, we've been told to do what we want to do. To follow our dreams. The thing is, no one really meant it when they told us to follow our dreams. These "dreams" were meant to serve as vague undefined targets, not precise, actionable goals.
We might be told to follow our dreams, but we are taught to pursue practicality. To do "what we're supposed to do." To win the game, and the game goes something like this:
Get good grades in high school to get into a good college to get a good job with a good salary to get promoted to a better job with a better salary. Maybe we go to graduate school or attend different training programs to make us more attractive employees.
The game continues as we climb the corporate ladder. More money. More prestige. More responsibility. This game doesn't have time for your "dreams". When you are playing the game, the logic behind every single decision we make is simple: Will this help me advance in this "game"?
This game makes for an easy measuring stick, because every single one of us is taught to play it. And the jobs that we want to tell other people that we do? The high paying jobs? The prestigious jobs? They are placed on a pedestal, and they are only accessible to those who are really good at this game.
These jobs provide the ultimate signaling mechanism, because they signify who is winning the game. Of course, the Venn diagram between the jobs that we want to tell other people that we do and the jobs that we actually want to do is often two separate circles. As Derek said, "Sometimes the most attractive titles are reserved for the most soul-destroying labor."
However, this game leaves us with no room to think about whether or not we actually like what we're doing, so we rarely stop to consider whether or not we want to be playing this game in the first place.
But every once-in-a-while, a thought materializes in the recesses of our minds: Is this really what I want to do for the next 40 years?
(A word of advice, if that thought has ever entered your mind, the answer is always "No.")
And that's when the identity crisis hits. So how do we reconcile our newfound lack of confidence in our career choices with the foundational beliefs that led us to make these choices in the first place?
"I'm just doing _______ for a couple of years until I figure out what I want to do."
"I want to do my own thing, but it's too risky right now."
Different ways of saying, "I'll follow my dreams after doing this other thing a little bit longer."
(Now don't get me wrong, this *can* work. Some people really do go into a difficult but high-paying job with the plan of grinding hard for a few years to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible so they can escape the grind financially secure later. But that's the exception, not the rule. The difference between executing a well-thought-out plan and simply appeasing our current situation is night and day.)
Rolf Potts's Vagabonding is one of the few books that I have reread multiple times, and one story from Chapter 2 is permanently etched in my memory:
The monks delaying their travels? They are every single one of us every time we use the idea of a vague, undefined, "better" future to pacify our current circumstances.
And we can play this game for years. We can always find a reason to tell ourselves "the time just isn't right!" And if we tell ourselves this story long enough, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We never get around to doing those things that we want to do.
Warren Buffett is full of sage advice, so it's no surprise that he has commented on this very topic.
"I need more money/experience/whatever before I can quit my job to pursue something that I actually like," you think. "A few more years will give me more freedom to pursue *that thing*, whatever *that thing* is."
That's the story we tell ourselves, but that story rarely aligns with reality. Here's the reality of waiting "a few more years."
You will get a promotion or accept a new job offer that leads to a higher income, and your spending habits will likely inflate with the additional cash.
You will take on more responsibilities at work as your career progresses, making it more difficult to walk away.
The odds of you getting married/buying a house/having kids/taking on larger personal responsibilities increases exponentially.
So yes, while objectively you will likely have more money in a few years, you will also most likely have a more expensive lifestyle, more career responsibilities, and more personal obligations. And no matter how much you like or dislike your job, it is now harder than ever to walk away.
The window for many opportunities is shorter than you think.
A controversial opinion of mine, but I believe that spending years doing something that you hate to eventually make enough money to do something that you like is just procrastination disguised as ambition.
The truth is, if you have a thing that you want to pursue, you need to pursue it. Doubly so if you are currently spending your days doing work that you actively loathe.
Pursuing something new might mean quitting your job entirely, or you could simply start by investing time into something new after work and on weekends. You certainly don't have to go full-send and resign on Day 1. But the idea that you can't start working on what you actually want to do until you have spent an arbitrary amount of time doing stuff that you don't want to is just categorically false.
Real life isn't school. There aren't any prerequisites you have to complete to chase the fun stuff. Don't use ambition as a veil for your procrastination. As Buffett said, you wouldn't wait til you were 80 to have sex, would you?
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