A Painting not a Ladder

When you look at a painting from a distance, you see a larger, cohesive picture. But as you approach the canvas, you see that there are, in fact, hundreds of separate strokes that make up that picture. Think about your career as a work of art — expansive, independent movements that incrementally reveal a whole.

When we visualize a career ladder, we start putting ourselves in a box. Step back and see the painting — every experience adds a brushstroke to a bigger picture. 

Zainab Ghadiyali quoted in a FirstRound article 

Career Success is Not Enough

Success spares you from the shame you might experience if you feel yourself a failure, but career success alone does not provide positive peace or fulfillment. If you build your life around it, your ambitions will always race out in front of what you’ve achieved, leaving you anxious and dissatisfied.

David Brooks writing in The New York Times

Work & the Project of Living

Americans have forgotten an old-fashioned goal of working: It’s about buying free time. The vast majority of workers are happier when they spend more hours with family, friends, and partners, according to research conducted by Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School. In one study, she concluded that the happiest young workers were those who said around the time of their college graduation that they preferred careers that gave them time away from the office to focus on their relationships and their hobbies.

How quaint that sounds. But it’s the same perspective that inspired the economist John Maynard Keynes to predict in 1930 that Americans would eventually have five-day weekends, rather than five-day weeks. It is the belief—the faith, even—that work is not life’s product, but its currency. What we choose to buy with it is the ultimate project of living.

Derek Thompson writing in The Atlantic 

Straight A’s won’t matter in real life

When I was in college, I obsessed over getting straight A’s, said Adam Grant. Now that I’m a professor, “I watch in dismay” when I see students joining the same “cult of perfectionism.” They think straight A’s will provide entrée to elite graduate schools and prestigious careers. The evidence, however, says otherwise. Research across industries shows that while there’s a modest correlation between grades and job performance the first year out of college, after a few years, the difference is “trivial.” Why? “Getting straight A’s requires conformity. Having an influential career demands originality.” While straight-A students are locked in their dorm rooms or library pursuing “meaningless perfection,” their peers are developing skills that aren’t captured by grades: “creativity, leadership, and teamwork skills and social, emotional, and political intelligence.” Real career success doesn’t come from “finding the right solution to a problem—it’s more about finding the right problem to solve.” In high school Steve Jobs pulled a 2.65 GPA, J.K. Rowling had a C average at Exeter, and Martin Luther King Jr. managed only one A in four years at Morehouse College. This tells us that “underachieving in school can prepare you to overachieve in life.”

Adam Grant writing in The New York Times (as quoted in The Week Magazine

Kids and Careers

The thing about kids is that they get in the way of your career. Your child stands firmly between you and a pathway in which validation comes from fleeting victories earned during the work grind. Adjusting is uncomfortable, sometimes painful. But if you are malleable, you can ultimately move toward better places. These places are better--not just because of the places themselves--but because the you is different on arrival.

Stephen Goforth

Meet the entrepreneur in the mirror

All humans are entrepreneurs not because they should start companies but because the will to create is encoded in human DNA, and creation is the essence of entrepreneurship. 

Whether you’re a lawyer or doctor or teacher or engineer or even a business owner, today you need to also think of yourself as an entrepreneur at the helm of at least one living, growing start-up venture: your career.

Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha, The Startup of You


Adapting your dreams to change

The primary message of (many career) books and countless others is to listen to your heart and follow your passion. Find your true north by filling out worksheets or engaging in deep, thoughtful introspection. Once you’ve got a mission in mind, these books urge, you’re supposed to develop a long-term plan for fulfilling it. You’re supposed to craft detailed, specific goals. You’re urged to figure out who you are and where you want to be in ten years, and then work backward to develop a roadmap for getting there.  

This philosophy has some serious strengths. It’s important to have worthy aspirations. If you are passionate about something, you’ll have fun, stay committed, and achieve more. It’s also right to invest for the long term: to find out whether you’re good at something and whether you like it, you need to stick with it for a meaningful amount of time.  

But it presumes a static world. You will change. The environment around you will change. Your allies and competitors will change. It’s unwise, no matter your stage of life, to try to pinpoint a single dream around which your existence revolves.  

Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha from The Startup of You