Five Lessons About Career Decisions That Can Change Your Life
They changed mine
What’s the right job for you? What’s the right career?
I’ve been wrestling with these questions while wrapping up the Stanford MBA program.
The process revealed lessons about how to make decisions that might change your life.
Lesson 1: Reflecting on your goals and options is a prerequisite for good decisions
We can’t conclude which job is right without first defining our goals and ideating our options.
What are your ultimate goals?
In other words: What do you most value in a job? Autonomy, a sense of challenge and mastery, a sense of purpose, financial freedom, great colleagues, or something else?
And what’s your full range of options? For me, they included:
return to my job from before school
taking a Chief Marketing Role role at a tech startup
becoming a journalist
founding a climate tech company
starting a newsletter about Norwegian climate politics
Lesson 2: Assess your options in a structured way
1) Draw a table
2) List out what matters to you in the columns
3) List out your options in the rows
4) Score each option from 1-3 on each of the factors that matter to you
A simplified version of my table.
The results of such an exercise might surprise you; they certainly surprised me (I now want to start a newsletter about Norwegian climate politics 😲).
You can copy-paste the same technique to make business decisions. Define which criteria matters and score each approach on those criteria.
Lesson 3: If you’re ambitious, pay extra attention to risk-reward ratios
Huge successes rely on chance (and hard work).
This is true whether you’re climbing the corporate ladder, are starting your own thing or are making an investment. If there was no uncertainty involved, then we’d see many more unicorn startups.
Here’s the trick: Give yourself lots of chances to be extremely lucky. Look for bets that are high reward, low risk.
Lesson 4: The more reversible the decision is, the faster you should make it…
…Just make sure you back out if the decision turned out to be the wrong one.
Sometimes we agonize over a decision when it’d be easier just to decide one way or another and then see what happens.
For example, starting a newsletter about Norwegian climate politics is highly reversible (I can always shut it down), so it makes sense to simply try it out.
The flip-side is also true: By finding ways to make tough decisions more reversible, you reduce the downside of a bad decision.
Lesson 5: Explore what happens if you remove fear
Imagine that a genie told you: “If you work hard for ten years and bring all your intensity, passion, and energy, then you won’t fail. What big goal do you want to pursue?”
Graham Weaver, a Stanford lecturer and an extraordinarily successful founder of a private equity firm, uses this genie framework when coaching students on their career choices.
The exercise reveals what we want if we remove fear of failure. It gave me the courage to explore writing and politics upon graduating — neither of which I have prior work experience with.