ON CAREER CHOICES – Mr Victor Cheng, former Management Consultant at McKinsey & Co. (the global consultancy firm), offers his views
You can research all you want about what it is like to work for a particular company, but you often do not know what the actual experience will be like until you actually show up for work.
In my experience, most 20-year-olds do not know themselves very well. Twenty-somethings coming out of the Ivies are incredibly smart, but rarely wise.
Wisdom comes from being tested in the real world, falling flat on your face repeatedly and learning who you are in the process. In my opinion, the extremely sheltered environment of a university campus develops intelligence to its greatest potential, but not so much for wisdom. It’s too structured, too protected, too predictable… a massive over simplification of how the rest of the world lives.
So what commonly happens is the 20-something college graduate pursues her career “plan” and once the real world is confronted, realizes that many assumptions he/she made in her original plan were not true in reality.
Working at XYZ organization wasn’t exactly as he/she thought. He/She thought doing XYZ professionally would be a lot more enjoyable than the reality.
This happens when the rising star pre-med student enters medical school only to discover he/she hates seeing patients and doesn’t like research.
It’s the pre-law student who goes to law school in hopes of being a fearsome courtroom litigator (that’s often glamorized on TV), only to discover that being a young lawyer is spending 100 hours a week reading paper documents and creating new paper documents for other people to read.
This is not at all to pass judgment on these people. It’s just a reflection of the reality that many things are not knowable at the outset of creating a career plan. Some things just aren’t knowable until after you actually try it.
When assumed expectations don’t match reality, that’s when there’s an opportunity to shift from pursuing planned career opportunities to emergent career opportunities.
In many cases, people find it troubling when they discover the career path they’re on is not the right fit for them but an opportunity with a better fit is not yet obvious.
In these situations, people take one of two paths. They either stay on the current KNOWN wrong career path until something better comes along (it rarely does or the wait is excruciatingly long). Or they exit the known WRONG opportunity to deliberately seek out the RIGHT opportunity.
It’s my belief that the former is what leads to the “mid-life crisis” — doing what you hate for 10 or 20 years and ending up successful and miserable… or as I like to call it, “successfully miserable.”
The latter has a lot of UNCERTAINTY. The key distinction is that the uncertainty is often temporary.
If you pursue emergent opportunities as a “market test” then you discover more information about the market and yourself much more quickly.
Sometimes to find out what is definitely right for you, you have to attempt pursuing things that seem potentially right for you (often repeatedly) until the definitely right opportunity becomes clear.
What makes this journey especially disconcerting, especially for those successful in school, is the final destination is often not known (and not knowable) until AFTER you’ve departed for the trip.
(Just remember that clarity increases and uncertainty decreases once the journey is underway.)
The alternative is to follow a career path that you KNOW is wrong, and passively wait for something better to come along. This is the path to being successful (if you force yourself to do what you hate) and miserable, or successfully miserable.