following a career path

Published on May 13, 2020

One of the tendencies I have been trying to resist over the last few weeks is to explore different career paths. I believe firmly that we should all explore different fields, because that is the only way we know what is out there. But now that I know what options exist, I need to double down on the one that is working for me right now.

There is this idea that, when you are young, you can do anything in your career.

You can try out hairdressing. If it doesn’t work, you can try out a job in tech. Because you have the youth advantage, you should be able to pursue any field you want -- subject to the constraints of entering that field, of course -- if you work hard.

Some of these paths may take longer to pursue than others, but the fact is that because you are young, you have more time to change course if you really want to.

The problem is that I think many people change course before they have been able to realize success in one particular field. They try out one thing, give it a go, and move onto the next thing, because “the world is your oyster” and exploring all your options is seen as the best path.

Optionality is always a double-edged sword. Having a choice between five different muffins to eat is great. If one isn’t tasty, you can try another muffin. But because you have a choice, it takes longer to actually start eating -- you need to think through each muffin, and evaluate which one you like best.

When you are starting a career, you should remember this fact. Optionality does not necessarily lead to success. In fact, making choices that limit your ability to pursue certain paths is often a good idea.

I want to work in the technology industry. At present, I am employed as a writer at a technology company, and every day I go to work knowing that I am doing the work that I want to do right now. But to get to where I am today, I had to say “no” to a lot of other career paths.

Technically, because I am young, I could switch gears and pursue another career path. I could try accountancy, I’m sure, if I put my mind to it. But would this necessarily lead to success in my career? I don’t believe so.

If you try to optimize for optionality, you end up struggling to go deep in any field. Exploration is important. I explored many different fields -- from coding to business to venture capital -- before finally deciding that I wanted to work at a tech company in a non-tech role. Yet, last year, I had to say to myself: this is the career path I am going to pursue.

There are opportunities to explore different fields in my line of work. In tech, it’s quite easy to shift between different roles because, as long as you have the skills, that’s all that usually matters. So, I can explore product work, as I am doing now. At the same time, I also want to stay laser-focused on my current career trajectory, for that is the one that has appeared to serve me best over the last year.

The bottom line is that, when you’re getting started in your career, it can be tempting to try out every option that you can think of. Instead, however, you should explore a few different options then commit to one that makes you feel good. What job are you really interested in right now? What career path are you excited to pursue?

There’s always more time to change your career path, but you should only do so when you are certain that you are on the wrong trajectory. Often, you are actually on the right path, but you just need a little bit more time to realize it.

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