“So, What Should I Do Next?”

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This is a question we frequently receive from our students after graduation. Our impression is that students today are facing greater uncertainty about the “right” choice than students five years ago.

One obvious reason for this dilemma:

“You live in the age of opportunities”

to quote Ben Horowitz, co-founder of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.

The number and range of opportunities makes it much harder to identify the “right” opportunity. Greater uncertainty is an effect of the increased possibilities in the new economy.

“So, what would you recommend?”

Consider two more quotes. The first is from Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and the second is from Howard Schultz, the Chairman and CEO of Starbucks:

“I actually think every individual is now an entrepreneur, whether they recognize it or not. They’re entrepreneurs in terms of the business of themselves . . .”

“People want to be part of something larger than themselves. They want to be part of something they’re really proud of, that they’ll fight for, sacrifice for, that they trust.”

What Hoffman, Horowitz and Schultz are all pointing to is how the meaning of “work” and “career” is changing. Individuals are now constantly looking for new opportunities to express themselves in whatever way they believe best suits their own unique talents and life goals.

Making money and getting a quick promotion within a corporate hierarchy are no longer seen as the primary goals of work, but are rather thought of as “by-products” of having a meaningful experience that builds useful and transferable skills.

“So, what should I look for when considering a new opportunity?”

“Work” has become an important part of your life project, i.e., a vital means to accumulate experience, develop capacities and express their self-potential in an on-going quest to construct their own unique identity.

For some of you, this may involve becoming a lawyer or software engineer, for others, a designer, and for some, it involves setting up a business and becoming a serial entrepreneur.

There are an infinite number of possibilities. It doesn’t matter what you aspire to be. The contemporary economy affords a greater range of opportunities than ever before to engage in a meaningful life project through work.

We believe the best option is to focus on the working environment and to look for an environment that offers the following:

  1. a “best-idea-wins-culture”
  2. open communication
  3. freedom and responsibility
  4. authenticity
  5. opportunities to cooperate

A best-idea-wins-culture in which open communication/debate is encouraged maximizes your personal potential of building a lifestyle and a sense of identity that revolves around doing something that you care passionately about.

In such an environment, the seniority of a person making a proposal does not matter. Everything is geared towards finding the “best” solution and then implementing it.

Freedom and responsibility provide one of the most important sites for self-expression within modern societies. If a particular working environment is failing to deliver freedom and responsibility, then consider looking elsewhere for the fulfillment of these needs, rather than passively accepting the status quo.

Particularly important in this context is the role “work” plays in constructing a personalized experience and authenticity. Within the overarching narrative arc of a “career”, work becomes a means for contributing to a larger project of authentic personal development.

Finally, the project of building a personal identity through “work” is necessarily a collective endeavor. In a best case, it involves actively cooperating with others to create something larger and more meaningful than ever could be achieved alone.

As such, organizations, platforms and networks are a powerful means to accumulate experience, develop capacities and express your self-potential in an on-going quest to construct your own unique identity.

Of course, these can be difficult questions to answer. But they do provide a framework for asking the right kind of questions of any new opportunity. And, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that although all new opportunities are uncertain, no decision taken today is forever.

Uncertainty does bring some benefits. Increased possibilities also include the possibility of abruptly changing direction in your life at some point in the future and moving on to do something radically different.

It is this new freedom that should allow you to move forward with confidence.

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