“Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.” Paul Graham, Founder of Y Combinator
Think about this for a minute. Let it really sink in. If you start from the premise that your life’s work should be about doing jobs that please others? Where does that leave you? You will be crafting a whole life based on a false you, and that will create all kinds of problems in your life.
So, start early. Have conversations. Use the classic 5 Ws that are taught in basic journalism and investigation/research classes. I have adapted them here for the young job seeker.
- Who? Do you want to work with (ok that should be Whom?!) (people your age? people smarter than you are? in a big group? by yourself?)
- What? Do you want to be doing most of the day. (talk to people, manage others, sell, make spreadsheets, proofread, handle lots of details, work with money or animals or children or the elderly?)
- Where? Do you want to be when you are doing this work (inside? outside? in a team? solitary? in a city? in the wilderness?)
- When? Do you want a regular schedule, do you want to travel which might involve nights and weekends, do you prefer evenings or mornings? And then the big one…
- Why? What makes you think these things are true about yourself (get really honest about this to yourself)? What are supporting data? Have you really looked at how you act now and how you think you will want to act in the future? Have you ever been able to change a behavior you don’t like? Or, are there things that are just part of what makes you “you,” and you will need to accommodate those traits in order to succeed in your career (NOTE: this is a key factor in being successful, workarounds are crucial as we cannot be good at everything)?
Going back to Paul Graham’s quote above, what is driving you to say all these things? Is it really your opinion, or are you trying to appease or please friends, family, professors, coaches, or society-at-large? And if you are, then please re-do your 5 Ws until they truly reflect you, without the influence of wanting to please others.
It is not to say that you can not make a lifetime of work into a success by massaging what is truly your preferred path so that your career pays well. Maybe you know you really want to live in an affluent community and will need a certain income. But, you would be surprised how finding satisfying work will often take you to communities where you are very happy — often you are then surrounded by like-minded people. You can then augment your desire for life’s nice things outside of your job, rather than design a whole career just to get those nice things. Most of us spend more time at work than doing any other activity. Remember that when you decide on a job solely to provide you with a certain upscale lifestyle. You may not have time to enjoy the lifestyle you can now afford.
Bottom-line, your career needs to contain kernels of the real you, based on your answers to the 5 Ws. Knowing this early will save you a great deal of frustration, altercations with peers and bosses, failure in the work place and in your life, and the heartache and huge waste of time that all these issues brings a person.
If you truly have no idea where to start, then talk with close adult family friends, teachers, and family. Ask them about your best traits. Then ask them what kind of careers would utilize those traits. This is the beginning of networking and an essential step as you hone your path and seek jobs that let you flourish. Certainly you could read any one of hundreds of career books like, What Color Is Your Parachute?, the classic by Richard Nelson Bolles. But you don’t have to. Merely working through the 5 Ws and separating out what is a good match for you vs. what you think will look prestigious will get you very far, in a much shorter time.