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Weekly 3: Tips for picking a career

Summary: Pay attention to what's fun for you. Come out of hiding. Think inside the box. (~5 min read)

Idea Journal Weekly 3

October 7 · Issue #55 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Pay attention to what’s fun for you. Come out of hiding. Think inside the box. (~5 min read)
Note: If you find these ideas about picking a career useful, you might also like the previous issue we published on how to fulfill your potential.

#1. What's easy for you but hard for others?
Entrepreneur and investor Paul Graham writes in his essay What Doesn’t Seem Like Work that when you’re deciding on a career, you should pay attention to those things that seem like work to other people but are enjoyable to you.
And the stranger your tastes seem to others, “the stronger evidence they probably are of what you should do.“
Figuring out which career is best for you can be a long and difficult process. To make it easier, Graham recommends asking yourself: What seems like work to other people that doesn’t seem like work to you?
Graham tells the story of his father, who was interested in math from a young age and eventually pursued a career modeling nuclear reactors.
For many people going through school, the problems at the end of the chapter of a math textbook represent work. But for Graham’s father they were the reward, and the text of the chapter “was just some advice about solving them.”
#2. You're more valuable than your tools.
Author and cartoonist Hugh MacLeod writes in a manifesto called How to be Creative that there is “no correlation between creativity and equipment ownership.”
For MacLeod, a fancy tool just gives the second-rate person one more “pillar” to hide behind.
This is why there are so many bad writers with state-of-the-art laptops, and so many failing businesses with luxurious offices.
Pillars don’t help — they hinder.
The more mighty and sophisticated the pillar is, the more you end up relying on it psychologically, and the more it stunts your progress.
Successful people are good at recognizing pillars and doing without them. Abraham Lincoln wrote The Gettysburg Address on an ordinary piece of stationary that he borrowed from a friend. Van Gogh rarely painted with more than 6 colors on his palette.
But nobody is perfect, and living a pillar-free life probably isn’t realistic.
The key is good pillar management: “one of the most valuable talents you can have on the planet.”
As we go about our work, MacLeod recommends that we look at every aspect of our business or craft and ask: Is this a pillar?
#3. Are you working in the right context?
Author and management consultant Richard Koch writes in his book The 80/20 Principle that when you’re considering a career, the context of your work can be just as important as what you work on.
Koch advises that in order to find a career that will make you happy, you need to ask yourself 2 questions:
  1. Do you have a high drive for achievement and career success?
  2. Would you be happiest working for an organization, being a self-employed individual, or employing other people?
The box above illustrates the range of choices – which box best describes you?
As Koch points out, many people are frustrated with their careers because they’re operating in the wrong box.
He offers additional details on each of the box profiles below:
Box 1 people are highly ambitious, but they prefer working in a context organized and provided by others. Although large organizations may not be able to give their employees as much security as they could in the past, they can still provide structure and status.
Box 2 people often want the recognition that comes with being the best in their field, but they want to be independent and don’t fit well in organizations. They should avoid being professionally dependent on others, and should resist the temptation to employ other people – even if doing so might bring significant financial rewards.
Box 3 people are those who want to work with other people but not for them. They are entrepreneurial and unconventional, and want to create a web or structure around themselves.
Box 4 people aren’t particularly ambitious, but they do enjoy working with others and should invest their time accordingly – either through a conventional job or volunteer opportunities.
Box 5 people don’t have a high drive for career achievement, but they desire autonomy in their work. Rather than set up their own business, they should be freelancers and work on projects that suit their convenience and interests.
Box 6 people may not have a strong need for their own career achievement, but they enjoy the process of organizing and developing others. As Koch puts it, for them “the journey is everything; there is no need to arrive.”
Quote of the Week
“All the things about your personality that you might think are disadvantages, know that they are the key to your biggest advantage. True success happens when you stop hiding who you are and stop trying to be someone else every day.”
- Author and entrepreneur Marianne Cantwell in an interview on the Foundr podcast
Idea Journal
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