Don’t Force It: Square Block Doesn’t Go In The Triangle Slot!

Remember when you were a kid, and they gave you that cube that had four holes on the top; a star, circle, square and triangle, and the object was to get the shaped blocks into their corresponding holes? It was relatively easy, unless you tried to ram the circle through the star hole…

I think the feeling I am going to describe effects a lot more people than one would think. There is a lot of stigma attached to jobs, professions, titles and industries. Quite often, people pursue a path because they think they want it, but in reality, it is everything but an internal desire that is driving them down that path. Perhaps it is their parents, peers, siblings or any other source, but something or someone else is pushing them down that path.

Case in point: I got a chance to speak at my high school for a university panel, and the topic of jobs came up. It became clear that everyone wanted to be an investment banker. I put the question out to the crowd (of around 45 students): can anyone could give me a succinct description of what investment bankers DO? I would think if you want to pursue the job of banker, then you would have some idea. Nothing – no one had a clue.

I think there are two things at work here: public perception, and unfiltered/uniformed advice.

Public Perception

Wayne Gretzy was great, not because he was where the puck was, but because he was where it was going. That’s a great quote, and it highlights what you should be thinking about (partly) while choosing a career. For example, a lot of people want to pile into finance because the money is great – well unfortunately, having been in the business, that train is coming to a screeching halt – banks just don’t make as much money any more. What you have to think about is not ‘where is the opportunity now?’, but ‘where will the opportunity be in 10-30 years when I am at the peak of my career or working up to the peak?’

Don’t look at the here and now – that’s foolish. Look to the horizon, what is growing and expanding? Where is the opportunity in that?

The second reason public perception hurts is because it labels jobs as inadequate. Some careers are seen as ‘glamorous’, and some aren’t – that causes people to avoid the later for the earlier, even if they would be much happier with the latter. The only thing you should be concerned about is what makes you happy. If you are good at what you, are insightful and creative, and can add real value, then you will do well in virtually any career. Gary Vaynerchuk loved wine tasting, and he turned it into an astoundingly successful career, because it was a PASSION – what if he listened to his parents and became a lawyer or doctor?

Unfiltered and Uninformed Advice

When you get advice, it is very hard to not let it affect your mindset. A lot of parents and relatives (especially grandparents who lived through the depression era and new immigrants) push their children into ‘safe’ industries. Accounting, law, medicine, and engineering – arguably professions people will always need. I get that – we will always need those groups of people – but is it really something you want to do for the rest of your life? You should make the decision based on that, not the fact that I will always need a dentist.

Nothing is further from the truth then the ‘get the designation and get out’ dogma. I hear it all the time: ‘I am just going to get my designation and then do something totally unrelated, but I will have it as a pay booster/fallback – I don’t like the work, I just want the security.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. Once you get that designation, the only time you will experience the pay boost/security is if you are doing work relevant to that designation! Plus moving forward you will be type cast according to the designations you hold. Sure, people shouldn’t judge you on that, but let me tell you: they do.

Personally, I worked at an accounting firm during my first year summer. It was a great job and a great firm (the people were fantastic), but the work just wasn’t for me – I didn’t enjoy it. I remember the faculty advisor, parents, and friends encouraging me to go back. I heard it all “at least you have something, take it!”, “get your CA and get out”, “do it next summer, then do something else later”, “you might enjoy it after a while”, it was all the same. I made a personal decision not to because I wasn’t passionate about it.

Here’s the rule about passion: if you aren’t passionate and don’t enjoy your job, you will NEVER be the best at it – there will ALWAYS be someone out there who is, loves their job, and will out work you. No one becomes the best in their field by `getting through the day`.

A Short Summary

Here’s the gist of my rambling – don’t force something that you shouldn’t. If you don’t like you current career now, chances are you won’t in 2, 5, or 20 years. Also, don’t follow a career path for someone else’s reasons – find your own reasons. When you find the right field, you will know – and also, don’t listen to what other people say (that includes me!) – take a route less travelled; you never know what you will find! Finally, wherever possible, follow your gut instincts. Find something you are passionate about, and industry you care about, or an idea you can get behind. Find something that gets you out of bed in the morning, and keeps you up late. Find something that gets you excited!

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