Please learn from our mistakes

No-bullshit lessons in business and careers. One mail every day. 15k+ readers love it. Join in?

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
30 Jan

7 career truths you will realize too late

1. Everyone is self-interested, but not everyone is selfish.

It's a fact of life and also the first axiom of economics that everyone is essentially a self-interested player who will always act in their own best interest. There are no altruistic people; altruism is also a disguised form of self-interest undertaken to satisfy some personal need higher up in Maslow's Hierarchy.

Being self-interested is good. It's being honest.

But the difference between self-interest and selfishness is that the selfish person ends up acting against their own long-term interests by taking shortsighted decisions that end up feeling good in the short term but make things worse in the long term.

A self-interested person cooperates, even if it means not getting the maximum return today, because she understands that society is a multiplayer game, where you don't play once, you play repeatedly over time. So, it is in her best interest to be a good actor so that people keep inviting her to play more games.  

A selfish player, on the other hand, thinks they're only going to play the game once. So they resort to breaking trust, cheating, and acting in ways that gratify themselves and milk the maximum return in the short term, at the expense of the future.

Trust is a form of capital. By being selfish today and burning those trust coins, you are only borrowing from your future self.

2. Brutal and honest feedback doesn't feel kind, but is kind.

It may hurt now, but in hindsight, you will only thank the person who was courageous enough and cared enough to ditch politeness and decorum and show you the mirror before it was too late.

Most will adhere to niceties. They're selfish players after all. But one who plans on playing long-term games with you will care enough to not lie, and help you get better instead. It is in their best interest to do so.

3. You don't prepare for world cups by playing world cups.

You prepare for them by playing through all the remaining years that didn't see a world cup.

World Cups aren't where teams learn. With most matches being knockout matches, luck leans heavier in a world cup than skill. Also, one world cup every four or five years is too low of a frequency for any learning to stick.

But better preparation in the off-season just makes getting lucky a lot likelier when the opportunity comes.

This doesn't apply only to world cups.

4. Education isn't just about getting you a good job, but helping you find the clarity and courage you need to leave a bad one.

Contrary to popular belief, finding a better job isn't as difficult as quitting your well-paying existing one, however insipid and meaningless it might be.

A monthly paycheck can make you complacent.

At this junction, a timely education that gets your hands dirty and exposes you to newer worlds can play a huge role in helping you be clear about what isn't for you, versus what is.

When you know what clearly isn't for you, you can pursue all that might be.

Via Negativa. Eliminate the clearly wrong options versus chasing some "right" option. You don't know what right looks like for you, yet.

5. Your real career starts when you stop pretending. 

While editing, a good editor will remove everything from the start right till the paragraph where the author starts sounding like herself.

Try looking at your career in the same way.

Too many careers start with pretense: the idea of being someone who has a certain label and status in life — just like people start an essay in a particular way because school told them that essays were supposed to start like that, read like that.

Being clueless, we are quick to adopt what looks flashy and cool. But if you ever talk to people who ran after flashy and cool, you will find that they often end up miserable. Because most of their energy is spent in putting up a performance, working with people they have to play pretend with, all their working hours. Some of them never manage to get out of it.

Early in your career, you may try many things and drop them after finding out they aren't for you. But the aim of exploration is to arrive at something you love doing and would do even if you weren't being paid for it. It is not to call yourself a "generalist" and prematurely gloat about nothing.

At the same time, don't be too romantic about notions of a job allowing you to "be yourself." There's hardly a job like that.

Arriving at a place where you can truly be yourself is the work of a lifetime. Work you love doing for 7 days out of 10 is just a start.

6. The only valuable participation trophy is coming out with better self-knowledge and a better understanding of how the world and its systems work.

It's not a certificate. Or a degree. Or a literal participation trophy.

The Anna Karenina Principle for Careers:

All successful people achieve success in more or less the same way, with the same few common ingredients. But everyone fails in their own way.

Your job is to find out the latter: how and why you fail.

7. There are no free lunches.

A student starts slogging for JEE right since 8th grade, if not earlier. They manage to get into a top IIT and consequently have an easier time finding a well-paying job after graduating.

Another student who doesn't manage to get into an IIT tries to get into an IIM-A/B/C, or starts preparing for IAS after graduation — just to get to the same place. They might even try to become a Chartered Accountant or clear CFA levels.

Yet another student isn't inclined much towards classroom education and stops studying after undergrad, or sometimes, high school. They then try to get a high-paying job just based on the work they do and the quality of experience they build over the first few years.

And finally, there are always a few who will drop out to start their own business, get their hands dirty, and learn things the hard way. They will amass their fair share of failures before making it big and getting to that same good place (in rare cases, an even better place.) 

But the point is: you have to pay the price sooner or later. One who doesn't pay it sooner has to pay it later, in some form. 

There is no magic pill. There is no free lunch. Costly signals will remain costly signals and you will have to earn them, either through formal education or via work.

If you didn't slog for entrance exams when you were in school, you will have to put in the work later. No one will magically hand over money to you. For that, you need to show your hard-earned scars.

Rare things are for the rare. And what's worth achieving will always demand its pound of flesh, or ten.

Feeling Lucky?
Subscribe to get new posts emailed to you, daily. No spam.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
15k+ business professionals act on our advice every day. You should too.
Subscribe to get new posts emailed to you, daily. No spam.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
15k+ business professionals act on our advice every day. You should too.