A few years ago during my Freshman year of college, just when I was starting to get the itch to drop out of school, I started thinking really seriously about what I wanted to do for my career.
Like most students, the answer wasn’t clear.
I had a ton of interests, but in school we aren’t really taught how to translate those interests into a meaningful, financially viable career.
Reading books like The Education of Millionaires, the 4-Hour Work Week, and The Fountainhead helped give me some direction, but reading can only take so you so far. By the end of it all I still didn’t know exactly where I wanted to get started.
On a whim one day, I decided to apply for a job at Pita Pit to make sandwiches. The pay was terrible but I figured it would be a cool opportunity to meet some people on campus and it would give me something outside of school to channel a some energy into.
I only worked there for about a month and a half, but during that time I learned more about my own career goals than I did in school or while sitting around racking my brain over what I wanted to do professionally.
Stop focusing on figuring out what you want and just get started
Nearly every young person I meet today asks me some form of the question “how can I get started when I don’t know what I want to do?” My answer is always the same.
Go wait tables. Go work in a stone quarry like Howard Roark. Get an internship or apply for Praxis to apprenticeship at a startup.
Just get some work experience.
At Pita Pit I got introduced to customer service, sales, “backorders” (via long lines), payroll management, and much, much more. I developed a level of interpersonal confidence that you can only get through interacting with customers.
When I finally dropped out of college at the end of my sophomore year, I took every work opportunity that came my way. I worked in the firearms industry, the craft beer and restaurant scene, commercial real estate, retail, video production and photography.
None of those things were things I was especially passionate about and they weren’t long term goals of mine, but each of them pushed me a bit further along the path to discovering the things I did want to do.
More importantly, they taught me host of valuable, transferable professional skills that I could take with me anywhere.
I learned marketing, sales, eCommerce, product development, social media advertising, and inventory management.
I also learned quickly through these experiences the things I liked doing and the things I didn’t. I learned what I was good at and what I wasn’t particularly good at. I learned what kind of worker I was and what kind of hours I wanted to work.
I realized I wasn’t always the most organized. That I was a bit of a “shoot from the hip” kind of guy. I learned that this could be difficult to work with and might make some of my coworkers upset. I learned I had a natural talent for sales though and that I could pretty easily walk into any department and create some kind of value really quickly.
A picture began to emerge slowly about what I wanted to focus on, and when a clear opportunity arose through Praxis, I had the skills and experiences to go out and pursue it.
My early career in retrospect
Looking back I realize that none of what I have in my work now would have been possible if I had sat around trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. It had to be learned through doing a lot of things I didn’t necessarily want long term.
And even if I had been able to figure it all out, would I have been able to pursue it? Probably not. Passion in the absence of experience won’t get you far in the job process, and I wouldn’t have had the skills or confidence to get my job at Praxis.
So if you’re a young person who has no clue what to do with his life, stop thinking about it and just go get a job. You’ll get there in time.