General Career Advice
17 August 2012
I get a lot of email from readers. Aside from feedback or questions about my book, a lot of people ask for career advice.
Sometimes my correspondent is just getting started, and wants advice about where to look for jobs. Sometimes they’re contemplating a specific career move, and they’re not sure which option is most promising. Sometimes they want to start a business, but they’re having a tough time with the uncertainty of it all.
In all cases, I have the same response. Here it is:
As a matter of policy, I generally refrain from telling people what to do. Career choices are very personal decisions, and it’s your responsibility to choose the best course of action in your situation.
There are, however, a few questions that may help you make a good decision:
1. What are the benefits of each of your options? (Financial, emotional, experiential.)
2. What are the costs of each of your options? (Financial, emotional, experiential.)
3. What could you test without spending a lot of time, energy, or money?
4. Are there particular skills you can invest in improving?
5. All else being equal, which experience would you most like to have?
Hope this helps,
I can’t predict the future any better than anyone else, so specific advice without the benefit of a ton of context and personal observation would be useless at best and detrimental at worst. This is also one of the primary reasons I don’t offer unsolicited advice.
Over the years, I’ve found that guiding with questions (also known as the Socratic method) generally produces the best outcome. Asking a few good questions is almost always more useful than specific advice. The most valuable answers come from your own head.
Practice + Paying Attention to Real Results = Skill
With that in mind, I highly recommend reading Why Blacksmiths Are Better at Startups Than You by Amy Hoy. Here’s a short excerpt:
Business is a reality engine:
Don’t work on the basics every day? You’ll fail.
Don’t market constantly? You’ll fail.
Don’t solve your customer’s pains? You’ll fail.
Don’t ship? Ha!
There you go: business in four sentences.
Business is truly a mastercraft. Attack it rigorously, honestly, and openly — and commit to mastering your spoiled inner child — and oh! the places you’ll go. Reality will become your fondest friend. Your driving questions will evolve from “Does this make me sound smart?” to “Does this motivate a customer to buy?”" — from “Gee, what do I feel like doing today?” to “How will I make my customers’ lives better today?”
You’ll make things with your hands and your brain that will help people, people you get to meet, to talk to, to learn from. And you will feel rewarded.
If you’re not in it for the long haul, though, don’t bother. If you’re too special to practice the basics, don’t bother. If you’d rather feel validated than achieve a result, don’t bother. If you’d rather defend the status quo than grow, give up now.
That is the decision you’ll face every day: Do you just want to splash about in the kiddie pool and rebel at the first sign of seriousness, or do you want to craft a real business and a real life, with reality as your favorite ally? Do you want to surprise yourself with how much you can achieve?
Business is a skill and a craft. Always has been, always will be. The more you practice, the better you become. Simple as that.
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