When I was in high school, I was somewhat obsessed with the question: what is my ideal career? This question came in many different forms -- commonly, “what do you want to do with your life?” -- but the overall sentiment was the same. I consistently contemplated what my ideal -- or even perfect -- career was, or could be.
As I have discussed before, I feel as though my time entertaining these questions was largely wasted, because: (i) you can’t expect a sixteen-year-old to know what they want to do for the rest of their life and; (ii) sixteen-year-olds are usually not aware of all the options out there, and even if they were, they lack the experience necessary to decide which one is truly best for them.
I have another reason to add to this list of why you should not worry about what your ideal career is: the ideal career for everyone evolves over time.
When I first broke into tech, my ideal career looked like a career in research. I wanted to spend my days conducting detailed research into topics such as Income Share Agreements, because such work was innately interesting to me. Synthesizing two facts in a way nobody else had done before was exciting; knowing that my work could help advance the world’s understanding of a new idea was liberating.
Today, though, I realize that my idea of an ideal career has changed. I am no longer doing as much research, and instead I am spending more time doing long-form writing and product work. I have even tried out technical writing, and this year alone I have written dozens of detailed technical tutorials on various programming concepts.
Right now, my ideal career is one where I am able to: (i) do meaningful work; and (ii) have a real impact.
Meaningful work means that I should be able to wake up in the morning and say to myself “what I am doing is relevant to me.” The work I do should also have a tangible impact, so I should be able to point and say “my work helped X happen” or “my work facilitated Y”.
My idea of an ideal career is no longer anchored toward a specific position, because my position has changed so much over time, alongside my interests.
In traditional jobs, many people work solely within their job description, and do not enjoy taking on tasks for which they are not contractually obligated. But I enjoy extra assignments. They allow me to dip my toe into new waters, and explore topics that I may not yet have explored in any depth.
The extra assignments I have taken on over the last few months have helped me develop a firmer sense of what my ideal career looks like. I enjoy writing, but I also enjoy product work. Hence, my role right now consists of a fine balance between both of these tasks -- they are two things I enjoy doing, and comprise my ideal career.
I do recognize, however, that my thoughts and interests may change over time. I have even thought about what a career outside of technology would look like for me, because I like to think about all the options available to me. That’s why I don’t want to develop a clear sense of my “perfect career” then work hard toward it. My perfect career will evolve over time, and will likely comprise many tasks that I don’t even know exist today.
The best way to make progress in your career is to go with the flow. When new opportunities arise, you should consider them and, if they make sense for you, then you should pursue them.
If I had said “okay, I want to be a researcher, and this is the career path I want to have,” I would not be where I am today. I would not have wanted to take on technical writing tasks, or product work. But, I decided to try out new things, and such investments have paid off over the last few weeks and months.
Don’t let yourself get caught up in the idea of having an “ideal career.” Build the career you want to build, and recognize that all great careers change over time. That’s what makes them great: there’s always a new challenge for you to take on.