Some people seem to know what they want to spend their life doing before they finish breast feeding, while other people are so good at something (or everything) that they can do anything they want whether it’s investment banking, starting a business, being a doctor, you name it. People like Bill Gates, Richard Greene, and Manny Vellon come to mind.
Then, there’s the rest of us.
My vague recollection of career counseling is that it was pretty useless. There was a three ring binder filled with job openings from companies I had never heard of, doing jobs I didn’t really understand. That was about it.
Now that I am on the downslope to 50, in a world of work where people change jobs more frequently than ever before, some things have become pretty clear that would have been really, really helpful to know 20 or 30 years ago.
Ask a lot of people in their 20s what they want to do, and many of them will just tell you that they want to make millions of dollars. If we ever want to have any kind of retirement and have kids and a family, yes, your household has to make millions, but there’s a gigantic difference between making $50,000 a year for 45 years ($2.25 million) and making $200,000 a year in that same time ($9 million) just to pick two random average household incomes.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Another thing you might ask 20-somethings is what kinds of careers they know they don’t want. And that’s where some real land mines of bad decisions emerge:
1) Police/Fire/Military. Many people dismiss the being a police officer/fire fighter or military as an option without any thought, and while I don’t regret not going down that path, I sometimes look at my high school friend Chip with envy. Now, he went to West Point, which pretty much assures a graduate that they will rise to the top quickly, and it’s really, really hard to get into West Point, but nonetheless, he put in his 20 years of service and he has been retired for nine years with a full pension. I have no idea what his pension is, but I see him doing some pretty cool stuff on Facebook and some days wish I were doing some of those things as well. Moreover, if I could be retired with a pension at 42, I could start a company and that pension is a pretty awesome safety net.
2) Big boring companies. The key point on this one is that someone has to get promoted at big boring companies, and executives at big boring companies make a ton of money. So as long as you are smart enough, and get a good mentor and do what you are told and stay out of trouble – be patient and you should be able to have a pretty nice life. Big boring companies can be pretty sexy in the long run.
3) Work/life balance. Work/life balance sounds almost abstract to someone in their 20s. They have no obligations, no debt, usually no kids, very low overhead, and if they can get free food at work, they don’t mind spending 20 hours a day there. Who cares about work/life balance, right? Well as you get older, it becomes super important to a lot of people, and some careers are great for work/life balance, while others are bad. Not everyone can become a surgeon, but if ever there was a job where you can’t take your work home with you, that’s it. Especially with the proliferation of mobile devices, many people continue to do e-mail and work during their commute and while at home and on vacation. Some jobs are impossible to take home with you, and that’s also something to think about.
4) Real estate. I never thought about real estate (commercial or residential), but some days looking back, I do wonder. Real estate agent is an interesting one in that you don’t have to go into an office every day (which for some people is awesome), most people are really mediocre at it – so you if you are a little better than average you can make plenty of money, but you have to be able to answer the phone 7/24. That’s the big drag. The big one that I didn’t think much about is that unlike a career in technology or innovation (my world), there isn’t much you have to stay current on – and you can keep doing it until you are 90.
5) Travel. Careers with a lot of travel are also an interesting thing. I spent roughly ten years in jobs travelling constantly, and while I got some incredible experiences and met some great people, including a six and half foot Malaysian named Pook, it ended up removing me from friends and community and that took a lot of time to repair.
I am not going to suggest that this is an exhaustive list – but I was talking with my son about this the other day (Summer jobs was the actual subject), but I do wish things like this had been presented to me so that I could really understand the long term implications of seemingly trivial career decisions.
This is a little different from my usual blog topic, style, so send me your feedback and questions on this.