Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Career choice is one of the topics covered by just about every personal finance author. I am not really happy with anything I have read, but I continue to study the question. My mind is full of “what ifs” and “buts.” I am comfortable making mistakes, little mistakes, in my investments. I know that investing is driven by probability. If I don’t invest too much in any one thing or too much at any single time there is a high probability that I will achieve my goals over sufficiently long periods of time. In my experience ten years of focused effort is a sufficiently long period of time to achieve major financial goals. But I only have one life and I am not completely happy with some of the choices I have made in living that life. What advice can I give to others? I think as you make a major career decision remember the goal is happiness and fulfillment, not money. Each of us (and our spouse) needs a certain level of material wealth to achieve happiness. That is a given, but it is not the goal. This morning I heard once again, this time from an anonymous pamphlet from the office of career counseling at Wabash College, the advice to follow your energy. I am beginning to believe this is very important. It is slightly different than the advice to do what you love. When you are working in school or at a job, where does your energy naturally flow? What tasks energize you? When do you lose track of time? Those are pretty good indicators for happiness. What career choices are most likely to give you an opportunity to completely lose yourself for at least a few hours every workday? That is not a simple question. If you lose yourself on the basketball court you have to remember there are only 440 players in the NBA. If you are good enough to make that cut, go for it. If not, you might need a plan B. Solomon observed that in a multitude of counselors there is wisdom. If the wisest man who ever lived sought out the advice of others, maybe that is something you should consider. Sometimes we are not the best judge of who we are. Listen to your spouse. If your decision makes him or her happy, you are already halfway home. Look around at the people in your life. Are they good for you or are they bringing you down to their level? Over time build your own advisory board of people who have your best interests in their heart, people who have proven both their good intentions and their wisdom. If you can find a mentor in an organization who will help develop your career, great. Not everyone is so lucky. However, every single person on this planet has friends and family members who will be able to listen to your heart and help guide you on your path. Ultimately you are responsible for your own decisions, but seek out wise counsel. Cherish and nurture those relationships when you find them. Look at the people who work in a particular field or for a particular company. Is that what you want to be? When I was still in engineering school I interviewed with EDS, at the time one of the glamour jobs for people with computer skills. The recruiter was honest about what she wanted to find in a prospective employee and I knew enough about the company to know that I was a bad fit. H. Ross Perot famously combined the ethos of the United States Marine Corps with a fundamentalist worldview and the competitive values of a Wild West pistolero. As I said, not a good match. Matthew 7: 7-8 Ask and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened uto you: For everyone that asketh recieveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Jesus reminds us that we learn by moving. Most men enjoy watching a good fight. Back in the day when boxing was on free television, the big fight was always a topic of conversation at work. Today young men seem to enjoy watching mixed martial arts competitions. But how many of them would really enjoy that lifestyle? It hurts when really strong skilled guys hit you. Some people think that is fun, but not very many of us are cut out for a career as a full contact fighter. Before you commit to a career, try to find ways to experiment. Fail early; fail often; fail cheap is one of the bedrock commandments of a successful research and development program. Today most universities offer internships, at least in some majors. I think it is an absolutely wonderful idea. Take a semester to work as an intern at some job you think might be promising. If nothing else, you will learn something about yourself and have an opportunity to build your network. If you get lucky, your employer might just decide to keep you on once you graduate. Never stop learning. Even if you have found the perfect career, it is not a destination. They call it a career path for a reason. The terrain and the obstacles you face, particularly in a technical field, are constantly changing. With ships, submarines, and aircraft low speed control is a real problem. Until the control surfaces have enough water or air flowing over them to generate sufficient force to turn the vessel it is hard to steer your ship. This will be true in your career. You have to keep moving to modify or maintain your direction on the path we call our life. This may take the form of further education, or accepting new job assignments that are a little outside of your comfort zone, or even starting your own company. How does that last idea grab you? It scares me but some people could never find happiness working for anybody but themselves. Even if God places a direct calling on your life, you are ultimately responsible for your own choices. You evaluate your goals in the light of your values and your gifts. As you progress, examine the results of your efforts. Are you getting the results you want? How do you feel about what is happening around you? How do you feel about the people who surround you? How do you feel about the person you are becoming?