There’s such a wide-open space of careers that you can pretty much do anything you want with your life.
But you won’t have the career you want if you make the same mistake I see people make over and over again.
And it doesn’t matter what you do. I’ve seen passionate people and people who made this major mistake in almost every field.
The mistake isn’t failing to reach some perfect magical fairytale career either.
You don’t need to find the ultimate passion to have a successful career. But, not only do most people fall short of this type of career, they fall into a pit that keeps them stuck for the rest of their lives.
So what’s the mistake?
Well, there are a few different variations of the same mistake. Let’s break each down one by one.
“Following your genuine intellectual curiosity is a better foundation for a career than following whatever is making money right now.” – Naval Ravikant
I tell people who want to write for a living all the time that, from an efficiency perspective, trying to make a living as a writer or a content creator is a poor career choice.
You have to create a lot of content and you have to develop persistence and discipline to keep going when you have no audience. Without genuine curiosity about creating content, you’ll fail.
I made no grand plans to become a six-figure writer with three published books and millions of readers. Never thought that far ahead. A friend asked me to write articles for his website and after I published the first one, I was fascinated with the process.
A bit before that, I’d been studying and implementing self-improvement in my own life. I’d developed an insatiable appetite for books. I created a career through the combination of things that fascinated me. Up until that point, I never worked all that hard on anything.
If you find something that compels you to work, you’ll work harder because it won’t feel like work. In the long run, you’ll get the best of both worlds — income and enjoyment.
If you let money drive you, you’ll end up chasing after careers with short term rewards and long-term negative consequences. You’ll develop ‘golden handcuffs’ like many people in society.
They make a lot of money doing a job they don’t enjoy. Then they can’t quit that job because they’ve built a material lifestyle that would be too painful to pivot from.
The good news? Curiosity and ‘sexiness’ aren’t the same things. There are curious accountants who are, for some reason, fascinated with numbers and spreadsheets. There are curious lawncare professionals who just love grass.
Follow your curiosity. Not mine. Not what looks cool on the surface. Yours.
“Work to learn, not for money.” – Robert Kiyosaki
Similar to the point above, but worth its own distinction. You’re taught to work for money instead of working to learn and gain the type of valuable skills that can make you more money in the long run anyway.
People spend most of their careers as an employee and have a hard time becoming entrepreneurs or switching to a new career that requires them to start over.
When you start at zero and have to learn new skills, you’re not going to get a great upfront ROI on your effort. Not at all. Most people don’t understand the value of their skills. You’ve seen stories about this where college students are demanding a living wage to do internships. They totally miss the point.
Gone are the days of true apprenticeship where your education is your payment. But if you take that apprentice attitude in your career, regardless of the job you have now, you can translate any job into useful knowledge for the future.
Again, the job is never to blame.
There are McDonald’s employees who make their $7.25 an hour just to pay their bills and there are McDonald’s employees who want to own a franchise one day, take advantage of the company’s college tuition program, rise up the ladder to management, and eventually get that franchise.
The two jobs I had before becoming a writer — video store manager and project manager/marketing director at a digital agency — taught me tons of skills I still use today from customer service to sales to pricing and about a dozen other worthwhile skills.
Once you have the skills, you have ownership over your career. Nobody can take your skills and knowledge away from you. Contrast this with people who work for money only and don’t have that curiosity.
Since they don’t spend time actively acquiring skills, they get lost in the shuffle and phased out when their industry dies. Either that or they just stay stuck doing what they’re doing. Neither is ideal.
Think of yourself as a skill collector who’s using every moment to level up. Again, on a long-enough time scale, you’ll win.
“Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up. Discharge your duties faithfully and well. Step by step you get ahead, but not necessarily in fast spurts. But you build discipline by preparing for fast spurts… Slug it out one inch at a time, day by day, at the end of the day – if you live long enough – most people get what they deserve. – Charlie Munger
People often trade short-term prestige for a meaningful career they enjoy because they don’t want to do the work required to build a meaningful career.
In a way, I don’t blame them. You get put through the wringer of the education system with all its pointless papers, homework, tests, etc. By the time you’re 22 years old you just want to be done with it all.
The idea of getting that entry-level job and letting the tide of the corporation raise you to the top someday is appealing. And too many people, young people especially, want all the success and prestige right away.
I’m 30 years old. I consider myself very young. Haven’t even scratched the surface of my capabilities. Why is everyone in a rush to get that status?
Because the alternative to quick status in a mediocre career and having the type of career you really want is to ‘slug it out inch by inch.’ Usually, you’ll have to go above and beyond the call after you’ve already done all that schooling.
Most people simply don’t want to do this. But you can.
Change the way you perceive time. You can reinvent your entire career in five years. Break that down into chunks by subtraction your age from the average lifespan.
If I keep myself healthy and don’t die, I have 45-60 years of runway left. One of my favorite authors, Thomas Sowell, just published a new book at age 90.
If I take the five-year equation into account, I have 9 to 12 new careers ahead of me. I’ll still write, but I’ll try many other ventures, too.
Slugging it out inch by inch isn’t all that hard when you have that curiosity and when you are working to learn. The education system and the corporate beuarocratic structure of society messed with your head and made you believe that work is a necessary evil.
When you work the right way, work is one of the most amazing and fun things you can engage in. I don’t have the magical answer to help you escape your job right now and start something new.
But I know from personal experience it can be done. So start now.