I spoke with a college student the other day over lunch about her career goals.
She told me she’s studying journalism. She plans to be a political journalist.
“What have you written?” I asked? “Do you have a personal website?”
“Umm,” she said nervously, “well I have this one essay I wrote in my English literature class.”
In other words, she didn’t have much.
The conversation went on and it became increasingly clear to me that she was letting her status as a student stop her from writing.
She’s not alone.
I talk regularly with college students all over the world about their goals in life and it seems that most of them are in something we at Praxis call “the preparation mindset.”
The Preparation Mindset is the false belief many young people have that they need to jump through a bunch of hoops before they can start creating things. It’s a mixture of fear and laziness that is stamped into us from years of schooling and social incentives. It takes our goals and opportunities to the grave.
If there was a reason why college students today are more depressed, more indebted, and have a harder time finding employment than ever before, it’s this mindset.
The solution I proposed to this girl and which I propose to anyone who is currently suffering from this is simple: kill it.
Don’t allow yourself the easy way out by telling yourself “I’m still a student” or “I haven’t taken this one course yet.” Start doing things now and correct course along the way.
The counterintuitive truth is that the best preparation happens during the act of creation.
To illustrate the importance of this, let’s take it back to journalism.
Imagine that we have two college students who wants to be journalists. One of them spends their college aged years in preparation made. They write little and spend most of their time focusing on homework and passing their tests.
The other one spends her time writing for the student paper and blogging on her own site. She’s active on Twitter and submits dozens of articles to third party sites, one or two of which are published. Most of her stuff isn’t that great but there are a few stand out pieces.
Who do you think is better prepared for a career in journalism at the end of those four years?
The answer is obvious, and education is just one side of the coin.
Let’s take it a step further: who do you think is more employable at the end of those four years? The one who has a portfolio of writing or the one who has an essay or two she wrote for her class finals?
You guessed it.
The girl who just grinds away and puts a bunch of writing out into the world, even if it’s not her best, is far more likely to get the job than the one who sits in class and tells herself “I’m preparing to be a journalist.”
So this week I’d like to challenge you to switch the way in which you go about acquiring new skills, entering a new profession, or learning something new.
Tie every act of learning to an act of creation.
That means if you’re “preparing to be a coder” you should start a GitHub profile and create apps, websites, and tutorials.
It means if you’re “preparing to be an academic” you should set up a personal site and start publishing original work. Offer to guest lecture. Ask to be interviewed on a podcast.
It means if you want to become an entrepreneur, you should consider working at a company rather than simply studying business.
Whatever it is you think you’re preparing for, stop preparing. Start doing and correct course along the way.