How to Choose a Career You Will Love

I often get asked by high school and college kids for career advice. Over the years, I’ve distilled it down to two steps. This is what I tell them:

There are two steps to choosing a career. If you do the work on each, you will exponentially increase your chances of having a career you will love.

First, identify people who do what you think you want to do and follow them around. Don’t stalk them, volunteer to help them for a month or two. Give them free labor in return for learning about their work.

I know what you’re thinking, duh, of course. But this obvious first step is often skipped.

How may college graduates jump to law school, business school or other graduate school and invest countless hours and money into their studies only to realize two or three years later that they hate being a lawyer, teacher, accountant or financial advisor? But now they’re in big debt and have lost two to three years of earning capacity.

Make a serious effort to shatter your misconceptions. Bring a big hammer. Find out what the work is really like by shadowing someone who does it. You will [Read more...]

Are You Working Like It’s 1980?

The world is not what you were taught by your parents, teachers and employers. We are beginning to see what researchers have known for years, that what motivates us is not incentives and consequences, but self determination. Daniel Pink writes about this in his excellent book, Drive.

In addition, we may be structuring our work as if it was still the 1980s, because our industry still does it that way and our teachers and bosses still think that way. Professionals like lawyers are especially guilty of this. Most lawyers and law firms still organize their work and delivery of services to their clients like it was done 30 years ago, although maybe with more email.

A great quote from Eric Hoffer via a terrific blog post from Jennifer Alvey:

In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

Below Alvey expands on this. Although she is writing about lawyers, it applies to all professions and especially entrepreneurs:

This, to me, is what keeps attorneys stuck in miserable careers. We spend decades in school, learning lessons from people who are themselves are living in a prior decade or era. Those lessons sound like, “Never give up. Don’t be a quitter.” This notion certainly has its use, but is it really the kind of advice you should apply to a dysfunctional relationship? a dysfunctional profession and career?

Another one of my favorites is: Work comes first. You must work first before you can play. If we lived in a world where work had actual limits, and where it didn’t bleed into every nook and crevice of our lives, this would be OK advice. Because of course the rent or mortgage needs paid and we need groceries on the table.

But work, for lawyers and most Americans who aren’t hourly employees, has become this poisonous blob that takes over any empty space in our lives. That not only isn’t healthy, it’s killing us.

I was struck by an article in the Wall St. Journal last week that talked about how single people, including attorneys, are jumping off the fast track so they could have time to do things like grocery shop, do their laundry, work out more than once a week, and maybe pursue a hobby. Possibly even take a vacation. Of course, the WSJ doesn’t actually question the culture that produces such a ridiculous, soul- and body-killing work ethic. Its editors live in the past where hard work for 40 hours a week did produce success and career happiness, and ignore the fact that for most attorneys work hasn’t been 40 hours a week since, oh, the 1980’s or so.

The reward for years of nose to the grindstone work is often illusory. The promised incentives may not be there – no partnership offer or the business folds.  In 2012, with all the new easy ways to connect people and ideas, there is a simpler more efficient way to do work which can make work more fulfilling because you can get your life back.

If you run your own business, think about how you do your work. Is there a better way to create the product or service and a better way to deliver the product or service to your clients or customers? Don’t simply use technology to do things the same way a bit quicker, eg emails instead of letters.

But use technology as your tools to create a new way to do your work that will distinguish you from the competition and make your clients and customers happy.