I read this blog post today about bouncing back. The writer talks about a group of young MBA students he was working with who were developing a presentation and working and working on it – basically they were going to iterate it to death. He discovered that they were afraid of failure. They wanted to make it perfect so they didn’t have to deal with any potential “bad stuff”. Even if it meant not delivering it.
And it struck me because my niece said a while back something about, what’s the point of getting a university education, you graduate with $50k in debt and no guarantee of the decent job you might need to pay the debt off.
And I get that, it’s a tough decision to make. I was the first person to get a degree in my family, there was absolutely no assumption that I was going to take that road, it was all my choice. And while it’s worked out ok for me, I know it’s not simple. I have kids and understand that there will be some tough decisions ahead, mostly theirs with plenty of my unwanted advice thrown in.
I’m reading The Outliers and although i’m only on Chapter 4, I can see that he chips away at our belief that successful people are just naturally good at stuff. He points out the importance of people’s birthdays and 10,00 hours of practice to get good at things. He looks at the timing of trends and the backgrounds people had and their good people skills or social intelligence. All things that help us down the road to success, or make us become janitors. But I think his point is that we do have innate abilities or interests.
That’s why the challenge is to know ourselves. Sure you can look at occupations and decide you want to be a tax auditor or a welder. But it’s kind of ass backwards.
It’s a better start to know things like whether we like a structured or loose environment. Whether we want to work with our hands or our heads. Whether we want to work with people or put our head down and git ‘er done. And if you want to work with people, is it as equals on a team or as an authority figure like a teacher?
We need to know if we are Type A or B. Do we prefer to work with Words or Numbers or Things? What are we motivated by – things like money or time off? We should know if our career is a means to an end (pay the bills, get a retirement plan), or an end in itself (you love it enough that the pay is almost secondary, almost).
Once you know that kind of stuff, then you can look at an occupation and understand the “fit”. Or talk to someone who does the job and at least ask the right questions.
Because a university education can go beyond giving you the potential qualifications for the job you think you want. For me, I took five years to do a degree. That’s because I took a semester off to work at the CBC, I also worked at the student paper and had a boyfriend and multiple part-time jobs. I was too busy to ever take a full course load. But the university experience gave me the time to grow up and learn some skills around organizations, people and getting the work done.
I also learned to write, the skill that got me my first real job. I was temping to make money before a trip to Europe. I was at a software company and the woman I worked with couldn’t write her way out of a paper bag (2 year certificate from college) and when my boss (Masters in Creative Writing) found out that I could, he made me an offer and I took the job.
But it was more than that. High tech companies tend to be a bit more free-wheeling, forward thinking and less conservative and that fits my personality. Often they’re meritocracies and that fits my “get it done” mentality and my single university degree. They also move fast and I like that, I never get bored, I surf on the changes with the best of them. So it was a “fit” in ways that I would never have known before I got into one.
It helps to see your path as more than just book learning. You have so many more options in life if you develop more savvy than just regurgitating stuff you’ve read. And when you can expand your view and see the process more creatively (ie, try stuff and see if it fits) it can help reduce the fear of failure that kept the MBAs from actually delivering their presentation. You can take the stance that “I’m just trying stuff”. And then your skills go beyond getting a good mark on a test. At least that’s what I’ll tell my kids when it comes time to make the hard, and expensive decision.