I frequently get asked by college students what they should be doing in order to set themselves up for a career in social innovation, entrepreneurship, or simply doing something that they love. So this is the third post of a five-part series on how to make the most out of college if you want a meaningful career.
Fundamental career advantage comes from being able to make decisions about what you want—not from accomplishing things.
Accomplishments are important. It is great to break a sales record as a new rep, to organize a flawless conference as events coordinator, to double inbound qualified leads as a marketing associate, or to code an app that people actually want to use for it’s intended purpose as a developer.
But in a very real way, the accomplishments like these aren’t the hard part. These come as a matter of course if you apply yourself, invest time, get feedback, learn the skills you need, and work hard. In other words, you are bound to make accomplishments if you pursue them—maybe not the exact ones you intended, but accomplishments nonetheless. But all of this requires that beforehand on you made a choice—of which jobs to take, which skills set to learn, who to try to impress, who to hang out with, what to spend your time on, etc.
Fundamental career advantage comes from being able to make decisions about what you want—not from accomplishing things. Tweet This Quote
The hard part is knowing what is worth investing all that time and energy into. And there is no right answer to this, because your situation is unique to you. So only you can figure out what you care about enough to justify investing yourself in—no one else can tell you that.
Most people—especially talented people—don’t have the career problem of not having anything noteworthy on their resume. Increasingly, they have the problem of not knowing what to put on it next—and all of the issues that come along with that. For example, if you aren’t sure what you want to do next, it becomes more difficult to interview well and explain your story. Or if you can’t explain exactly why you left your last job, your recent work history is called into question.
If you think about it for long enough, you will realize that a fundamental ingredient of making choices is knowing yourself well enough to know what you want. That is more than half the battle, from an energy standpoint. The rest is essentially just a matter of endurance, trial and error, learning, and time. This is why people say, “you can do anything you set your mind to,” and really mean it—because it’s true. What they rarely go on to say is, “therefore it’s important to think hard and determine what things matter to you, and why.”
Knowing what you want brings confidence, resolve, determination, dedication, satisfaction, and endurance. Tweet This Quote
So then it follows that a main source of competitive advantage for you is to learn how to know yourself. The ability to choose what you want, to be decisive, to know what to say yes to and no to—these are the building blocks of career momentum. Without them, it is easy to become lost, stuck, discouraged, anxious, and any number of other unpleasant feelings. (Not that there is anything wrong with these feelings, but if you’re trying to avoid them, this is a lot of how to avoid them.)
Knowing what you want brings confidence, resolve, determination, dedication, satisfaction, and endurance. And—to bring it back full circle—these are the things that make larger and larger accomplishments possible.
How do you know what you want?
- Make a practice of figuring that out.
- Create space for yourself every month to reflect and think it through.
- Experiment a lot with trying new projects, topics, colleagues, industries, fields, roles—especially early on in your career, so that you have more data points to compare using firsthand experience. (Ideally, find a common thread to tie between the experiments, to help tell a great story as well.)
- Learn to be comfortable in uncertainty. Learn to operate as easily under uncertainty as most people operate under certainty (or, the illusion of certainty).
If you consistently do these things, you will have the bedrock of your career momentum established—and thus stability.