I think of careers as a set of 3 phases of 12-15 years each. From 21 to 36 you are in the rapid learning phase, from 36 to 51 you are directing and from 51 to 66 you are guiding. These are broad brushstrokes. I am going to focus on the first “trimester” of your career in this post.
Why 12-15 years? Generally speaking, it takes most people 2 years to get a handle on anything meaningful (build a network, understand how things work), then two years to master it, and a year to start being in “the zone”. Boredom hits usually at the end of the “zone” when the juices just dont flow doing the same thing for 5 years. I am going to call this 5 year period as “doing a (one) job”.
Then most people tweak their role or go for a dramatic change in their “job” after 5 years. During the younger years most people I know are eager to learn, discover and grow their knowledge. So, they go through 3 sets of 5 year periods or “jobs”.
For most people the age of 35 (or in other cases 40) typically becomes a “mid-life crisis” point. 15 years of working can do this to anyone. That’s when a “career” change is explored.
I get about 5-7 emails and requests for calls / discussions with mid-career executives each week who want to brainstorm and get my thoughts on their career.
After the obligatory, landscape review, many realize there are few options for those who have achieved a lot by 35 – they are VP’s, Directors, Managing directors and suddenly they realize it is going to be one long haul after this.
Most folks fall into 3 buckets at this point.
1. Some decide they like “mentoring” younger people and continue to find a challenge to help others within their company grow and thrive. These folks have made enough money but not enough to leave the luxuries that their position offers.
2. Others decide they need a hobby (or want to follow their “true passion”) that will keep them occupied because work tends to be on cruise control. Many take up teaching as a side profession since they believe they have learned enough to share.
3. Still others want to venture out on their own. Having heard about entrepreneurship and always having a “bug” to startup, they usually come to seek my help on the choices and get some advice on their idea.
This is when the fun part starts.
When I present the stark reality of entrepreneurship (it is very hard, they will likely fail, though they will enjoy the ride and to build something awesome will take them over 5 years), there are 2 reactions.
The first person had not thought about it in this context and ends up understanding that they are not ready to take the risk and goes back to one of the two previous options before. They will usually say “I always wanted to start, but I kept pushing it out, since I was getting promotions, got married, had kids, school, mortgage, etc. Now it looks like it is too late”.
The second person realizes this, and understands that it is “now or never”. The overwhelming dissatisfaction with their job pushes them to leave their high-paying, easy job to the unpredictable world of entrepreneurship. They end up taking a LOT more risk later in their career, which they can ill afford it, than when they are younger.
If you are an Indian or have many Indian friends, you will know a term that parents use (typically after they graduate) – “Settle down”.
I absolutely loathe that term.
What does that even mean? Actually I know what that means, but I guess I detest it so much, that when folks mention it, I get upset and “forget” the meaning.
Settling down is for ground coffee. You ask hyperactive kids, who have had a candy binge to, “settle down”.
Settle down to a 21-30 year old strikes me as the worst advice you can give.
[Side note: To my american friends, settle down means, get a steady job, buy a house, get married, have kids immediately, buy a car and go for Art of Living classes – all within the span of 10 years].
Why would anyone wish that on their children?
Here is what I think will happen in the next few decades.
Thanks to rapid “softwareization of work”, most people wont get a simple “middle class job” which pays well enough to “get married, buy a house and a car and have kids” all within 10 years.
Instead I think parents will have to start telling their college grads to take risks early. Jump into entrepreneurship right after college.
Simple. Most roles at large companies will start to resemble small entrepreneurial team roles. We are already starting to see that in larger software companies and I think the pioneer of that model is -
That’s the future of careers and hiring. Check out their buying binge since Ms, Mayer has been the CEO.
I am positive that the impact Marissa Mayer will have is more on careers, hiring and the future of entrepreneurship than on advertising technology which is Yahoo’s business,
To all the CEO’s sitting on piles of cash and need to hire awesome teams – here is the playbook.
[Ed. That they have not produced any meaningful new products at Yahoo is not lost on me. Give them time. Innovation is never linear.]
So what does this have to do with careers?
Most parents for the next 10 years are better off telling their kids to start a company, be an entrepreneur and get acquired by someone like Yahoo. Here’s why:
Option 1: Be awesome at school, take on a $30K -$50K student loan when you graduate, then get a job – at Yahoo! – to get paid $60K / year as a starting salary.
Option 2: Start a company. If you succeed, sell it to a Yahoo-like company for $ Millions. If you fail, get acqui-hired by someone like Yahoo for $hundreds of thousands. If you fail miserably, get hired for at least 25% more than your peers who took option 1 straight out of school. Voila! You are ahead anyway.
Either way, option 2 is worth the risk.
Tell your kids to be an entrepreneur.
Settling down is for old geezers. By that time – the risk is clearly not worth it.