Dang 2020 was a bit of a s*&^-show. People were being laid off at rates that seem unfathomable. While some countries are getting their vaccine on, others are still trying to cope with COVID in most of their population. In the midst of the craziness, there are bills to pay, family that needs care, students graduating into a job market that simply doesn’t exist.
So, how does one build a career when it seems like everything is going to shit? A career that lasts. Something that pays the bills, and maybe even brings some freedom in the future?
It doesn’t have to be a pipe dream.
Head Start Society Got it Wrong
For those just getting out of school, or recently graduated, you look at your job prospects and wonder how on earth you’re going to build anything of value in your career. We’ve been constantly told by culture that early success is the best thing ever. Aim for those 30 under 30 lists, and if you don’t hit that you’ve got 40 under 40.
If you miss that, find a van down by the river because that’s all your good for.
The truth is that early success is a sham. It’s people wrapped up in talking about following their passion and money follows. As if there is someone out there that wants to pay you to learn under water basket weaving because it’s your passion.
Many of those people in a 30 under 30 list are in different careers by the time they qualify for that 40 under 40 list. In Range, David Epstein, explores match fit and finds that early specializers are less likely choose careers that match well with what they really are good at. Sure a lawyer may make money, but they only stuck with it because they had invested money in education. They eventually have had enough and leave the field for something else that fits them better.
This brings a drop in income that puts those late specializes back on top.
Building for the Long-Term Now
The truth is that you can build now for the long-term. In So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport, floats a novel idea. Passion doesn’t matter, you need to bring value to the table. He calls it career capital and posits that you need to build skills that are hard to acquire and use those skills to get the career autonomy you desire.
According to Newport the biggest predictor of people loving their work is the amount of time they’ve been doing the job. Passion doesn’t register as a factor in job satisfaction. People love their work once they have mastery over it.
That means you need to ask the question, what can you start to master now and how are you going to build a program to get that mastery?
Follow Interesting Paths That Have Economic Value
First building career capital starts by following the paths that interest you, and have some economic value. Yes I love to run in the mountains, but when I looked at programming versus guiding people in the mountains it was clear that I’d get more time to myself in the mountains if I invested in learning to program.
Thinking of me sitting at a computer programming doesn’t inspire you to get outside, but what about telling you that I generally only need to work 3 – 4 hours a day 3 – 4 days a week. The rest of my week is all my own to do with as I please. I can hang out with my kids or run, or read or nap. To earn the same amount guiding I’d have to work 60+ hours a week.
From there, I traced the problems that were interesting to me. Clients came to me wanting membership sites and nothing really existed unless you were a multi-million dollar company. So I built custom solutions for small companies.
I still build custom solutions for small and medium sized companies on the backs of the tools that exist now. In 10-years I’ve gained a reputation at solving hard problems with big data sets. That’s 10 years of hard work learning skills and applying them to problems that clients valued. While there have been times I haven’t loved my job, I can confidently say that the longer I’ve been in it the more I’ve found interesting problems to work on.
The one takeaway if you’re trying to build a career today is to follow the things that interest you, and have economic value. Pursue them, and get feedback on your work. Hire a coach and have them tell you when your work isn’t up to snuff.
Build Open Networks
The second thing you need to start doing now is building open networks. When David Epstein looked at compelling careers in Range he found that the science labs with great breakthroughs had far more diverse backgrounds represented in their members. They were not homogenous groups of people that had the same experiences. They were not all people that specialized early. A fair few members meandered their way into the career they were in and they brought these different experiences to problem solving.
Open networks are those that allow you to straddle many different realms. Maybe you interact with writers, and construction workers, and business developers, and IT people regularly. You can be there to bridge all the ideas together and bring insights from one field to another field.
This does mean that you have to force yourself to interact with people from all these backgrounds and bring all the disparate ideas together, which may not always be easy. You’re going to have to hear ideas you don’t like. You’re going to have to try new things and weigh which new things have value.
Right now many of us have more time at home. We have a unique opportunity to increase the views we access by being intentional with our consumption. You have space to branch out in your community and see who may need help, thus expanding your circle wider than it currently is and getting exposure to new ideas and people you may have never encountered before.
Yes it’s a scary time, but take it and use it well. Find one interesting path and follow it. Reach out to those in your community and see who needs help so that you can help, and expose yourself to people that you may not have met before.
Every interaction with someone new brings the chance of making a new connection that will bear fruit down the road as you work to build a career that matters.
Monday I talked about when you read Syntopically. Yes I cover what that is first, and then explain how/when I take the huge time investment to do it.
Today I talked about Love Lives Here by Amanda Jette Knox. Overall, interesting book about a family that works through the transition of two members.