The Best Career Advice: Do Stuff

Yesterday, I read a really interesting article about career choices on Charlie Hoehn’s blog. A quick excerpt:

I haven’t really talked about this before, but I’ve failed more times than I can remember. I’ve tried starting up several businesses, tried patenting inventions, tried starting up online communities, tried building several websites, tried to win contests… and failed almost every single time. But I never chalked any of them up as failures in my head, because I learned so much in the process each time. So now, when I’ve finally reached a point where things seem to fall into place with far less effort, I can’t help but think about all those times where I didn’t succeed over the course of the last eight years. And I look back in fondness, because those lessons learned are the reason I’m here. None of this stuff happened over night — in a way, I’ve been working to reach this point since I was 15.

[…]

And therein lies the best career advice I could possibly dispense: just DO things. Chase after the things that interest you and make you happy. Stop acting like you have a set path, because you don’t. No one does. You shouldn’t be trying to check off the boxes of life; they aren’t real and they were created by other people, not you. There is no explicit path I’m following, and I’m not walking in anyone else’s footsteps. I’m making it up as I go.

I know exactly what he’s talking about.

In college, I worked for quite a long time in a plant pathology lab studying soybean diseases. I learned some things – including that the work wasn’t right for me. I eventually moved on to computer analysis of massive quantities of data. I learned quite a lot from that as well (including that I really loved the work, but I found it really stressful). From there, I did another complete 180 and became a writer. I did all of that before the age of 30. What does the next decade hold? I really, truly have no idea.

The key thing is this: I never stopped trying new things. I still don’t. In the last year, I’ve tried a podcast, video production (on an unrelated topic), and architecture of a community website in my spare time (what little I have of it). Each time, things work with varying degrees of success – sometimes it really clicks and other times it doesn’t at all. Either way, I learn something from it.

Many people are afraid to try new things like this. They look at their career as a set path. In five years, I’ll make partner. In ten years, I’ll be a GS-13. In fifteen years, I’ll be mayor.

Careers almost never work like that. Companies are downsized. The political landscape changes. Your interests evolve and change. You gain a spouse – or you lose one. You have kids. You have a health crisis. Something sweeps you off your feet and carries you along for the ride. An old friend calls out of the blue and offers you an awesome opportunity.

The only way to prepare yourself for such chaos is to constantly try new things in your spare time. Take a class. Try out a new hobby. Teach yourself a new skill. Meet a new group of people. Launch a project of some kind. Start a side business.

If it doesn’t work out, so what? You learned something. The learning is the most valuable thing of all. Because, when that right thing does come along, you’re more likely to succeed at it if you have a lot of life lessons under your belt. Life lessons generally come from failure, not from success.

What can you do today? That’s the real question, isn’t it? Try something new – something outside of the normal way you do things. Start a blog. Sign up for a class. Start a side business. Go to a group meeting that you’ve never been to before.

Where will you find the time? Log off the computer and turn off the television, for starters. For many people, those two things alone will free up a lot of time.

Good luck.

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