The psychology of making huge career jumps
March 18th, 2010 - 54 Comments
Some observations on making huge career jumps, your friends, and your own psychology…
It’s easy to go through your career taking the same paths others did before you. But small, simple tweaks can make a huge difference in your lifetime.
One of my readers, Alexander, writes:
“I’m reviewing NIH grant proposals right now and seeing your tweets made me think of something that might interest you — doing the “expected” career progression instead of the one that makes sense. Typically, biologists who want to do research as a career go to grad school ($22K annual stipend; I did this part and learned a tremendous amount) for 5-6 years and then do a postdoctoral fellowship ($40K salary; ridiculously low wages for someone who is now a subject matter expert in their research area) for up to 6 more years before becoming assistant professors ($65-70K or so starting). I skipped that postdoc stage and I’m currently a 33-year-old “senior scientist” with my own research grants, etc (the normal age for that career point is about 42). Although there’s certainly the usual mix of luck and me maximizing my exposure to luck in my having leapfrogged that whole postdoc phase, the thing that I find really jarring is this:
When I talk to friends and acquaintances who are going through grad school now, they frequently don’t even want to entertain the possibility of making this kind of “jump” themselves. I’ve tried to pitch them on it, and been told, “It doesn’t work that way.” When I offer myself as proof, I’m told, “You’re a special case.”
I though that might interest you, given your appreciation for the psychology of success. I’ve personally found it a little tiring, although I have realized that the set of peers I chose to spend time with in grad school match my outlook, which makes sense — I picked positive, productive friends (who are now doing quite well in positions at consulting firms and major biotech companies). Still, I find it odd that people don’t like the idea of jumping ahead if it’s demonstrably possible.”
Few things I’ve noticed:
- I used to hear friends complain about money, and I would rush to tell them what to do. Even when I knew the objective “right” answer, they never, ever listened to me. Instead, their eyes glazed over and they ignored me. Eventually I started resenting them for not listening (which is a ridiculous reaction on my part). After 1.5 years of this, I decided to implement what I called the Honey Pot Strategy, where I let the right people come to me, via this blog. It has been a miraculous change. People are smart: Only the right people come, and the wrong people realize this site isn’t for them, and leave (that’s why I don’t mind when people say they’re unsubscribing from this site). Read more: Bob Bly, the noted copywriter, writes about why he never gives unsolicited advice.
- People feel comfortable putting others into buckets. “Oh, you study economics” or “Ah, you’re a product manager.” I do it. You do it. We all do. But when you start doing something “weird” like doing a side job, or earning $1,000 on the side, or even doing a free internship, people generally get uncomfortable. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the most important result is that it makes us question what we’re doing. Yet if you think about it, why would you care what people who are not doing what you want to do say? The reason, of course, is we are profoundly social, and our reference groups are broad. Even if I think your job sucks, you’re still my friend, and I’m still influenced by your judgment. In some of my advanced courses, I teach people how to deal with this.
- Doing offbeat, “weird” things early in our careers can produce huge rewards. Witness this blog, my comedy blog “Things I Hate,” or even the “You have died of Dysentery” t-shirt that I created. None were created to make money. Yet each one played a pivotal role in opening up doors. The challenging thing about doing offbeat, weird things is that there’s potentially huge upside, but you don’t know for sure. In general, people don’t like doing things that don’t have a clear ROI, especially as they get older. That’s why people consistently ask, “Can you guarantee I’ll make $1,000 in Earn1k? How do you KNOW that taking people out to lunch will work?” You don’t know. Otherwise everyone would do it.
See how Jeff Bezos thinks about doing weird, offbeat things in his regret minimization framework.
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