This was originally published as an answer on Quora to the question “I made a mistake in picking the wrong job after graduation. Did I ruin my career life?” Mitchell Earl is Director of Marketing @ Crash – the career launch platform. To learn more, visit Crash.
Remember the scene from Harry Potter where he walks up on stage and McGonagall puts the sorting hat on his head?
He’s sitting up there in front of everybody jawing about all he wants is “Not Slytherin, not Slytherin, please God, anything but Slytherin…”
The Sorting Hat spits out some line about how Slytherin could’ve helped him on his path to greatness – still, Harry becomes a Gryffindor.
WTF can Harry Potter teach me about my career?
Glad you asked.
J.K. Rowling probably could’ve written a helluva story about Harry no matter what house he joined. But she didn’t.
Instead, she revealed a simple but powerful truth through Harry’s sorting:
FOCUS ON WHAT YOU DON’T WANT.
Harry didn’t know enough about the Wizarding world to know what he wanted. All he knew is that he didn’t want to end up a Slytherin – so he intensely focused on what he didn’t want.
By eliminating undesirable options, he got closer to his ultimate destiny.
When you think you ruined your life (or career)
Cut yourself some slack.
You’re going to screw up. That’s kind of a big part of life.
Just imagine if you knew all the answers to everything right out of the gates? Imagine how f*****g boring that would be.
You would never need to learn anything. You’d always have complete and perfect information – you’d never make mistakes.
And, you’d live a really boring story.
Instead, liberate yourself by embracing that you’ll make mistakes.
Once you accept this, you can move on with your life. You can free yourself from the anxiety of wondering whether you made the right or wrong decision – and instead, you can focus on more important questions:
- Am I enjoying what I’m currently doing?
- Am I learning and growing personally and professionally?
- Does my work challenge me?
- Do I enjoy the people I work with?
You’ve gotta ask yourself what you want out of your career.
It’s your career. Not anyone else’s. So figure out what you want.
Maybe it’s not important to love your job if it’s giving you other things: like challenging you professionally, exposing you to facets of the business that may be valuable to you later in your career, or allowing you to interact with people that may be valuable to you later on in your career.
But, if you absolutely hate what you’re doing, it’s up to you – and you alone – to do something about it.
Here’s another fact: your career isn’t linear.
You don’t have to stay in one lane. If you don’t love what you’re doing, you can move laterally into a different field.
The days of the “Company Man” are long gone. Today, the average tenure has dropped significantly – roughly 4.2 years.
So, not only are you not trapped at a single company, but you’re free to explore your interests outside of one specific role.
You can migrate as your interests change.
And – likely, you’ll become even more valuable the more you know about different facets of a business.
So handcuff yourself to one thing. Maybe you’re meant for more.
You didn’t ruin your career. You’ve only just begun.
Think of taking the wrong job as self-discovery. You collected a new data point – that particular type of work is not for you. So avoid it in the future and go find something new.
Remember, you don’t have to know exactly what you don’t want. But it is helpful to know what you don’t want.
Just like Harry, approach your career with the mindset to deliberately avoid what you don’t want:
“Not Slytherin, not Slytherin, please God, anything but Slytherin…”