What do you want to do next?

I was hesitant to attend my HBS five-year reunion, largely because I thought I’d see a lot of posturing about how happy and successful everyone felt.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find people humble–and still a bit confused.  It turns out that many of my classmates are still figuring out what they want to do with their lives. (As am I!) On that front, an HBS career counselor gave some advice that resonated with me. She suggested that we stop thinking about our careers in terms of where you want to be in 10 years. Instead, she suggested that we make career decisions by asking ourselves: “What do I want to learn next?”

The reason that I love this framework is that I think it emboldens people to take more risk. Here’s why: if you base career decisions on where you want to be in 10 years, you’ll have a tendency to be careful not to deviate from the path. But, alternatively, if you make career decisions based on what you want to learn now, you’ll be open to not moving in a straight line.  You may go from managing a team to being an individual contributor, or from sales to product management and then back again. I strongly believe that taking these non-obvious, winding routes often leads to faster success in the end. (As a student of the Sharpe Ratio, I believe that more risk leads to more potential return!)  Worst case, you’ll learn what you want–and what better way is there to define success than that?

What do you want to do next?

Getting off the hedonistic treadmill


In the past few months, I attended a few talks and read a bunch about how education is changing.  Kahn academy is personalizing it and bringing it online.  The NYTimes did a profile on Summit Schools.

All of this focus made me think about what the current education system provided me.  On the positive end, I think going to an all girls school helped me feel entitled to ask questions.  It gave me the confidence to think that I was smart and if I had a question, it was justified to ask it.  However, on the flip side, our current education system teaches us to be hoop jumpers, which both helps and hurts us in the future.

In school and college, we’re taught to get As, honors, proceed to the harder class.  That creates a reward system consistent with human psychology to be happy about an achievement and then quickly return to your baseline happiness (and seek the next achievement).  How can we teach children to be happy with their personal advances for longer than a second?  Obviously, children benefit from continuing to push themselves to learn, but our system creates, or perhaps just reinforces our natural tendency, to always look for the next best thing: the next promotion, the next stage in a relationship, the next accolade.  How can we not only inspire children to strive but also remain pleased with past achievements?  Once students finish jumping the hoops of the school system, they replace those hoops with promotions.  When do the hoops end?  Or, even better, how can we end them for ourselves?

Dr. Halvorson suggests gratitude and variety.  I am curious, what have you done to keep yourself excited for longer about your accomplishments?  Or, slowed down your speed on the hedonistic treadmill?

Getting off the hedonistic treadmill

For your next role: consider a big company

IMG_20190315_185922Over the past week, I helped several Googlers and others think through what to do next in their careers. When speaking with people who didn’t work at Google or a different large company, we discussed next roles and next companies. However, when speaking with people who work at Google, the conversations centered exclusively on what to do next within Google.

I don’t think large companies advertise internal mobility enough when selling a position. I think internal mobility is one of the best things large companies offer to their employees. Simply due to their size, smaller companies can’t compete on this front. With the possible exception of fast-growing start-up (and, the future of a start-up’s growth is hard to judge!),  small companies have fewer positions to fill overall, thus have less liquidity.

In my four years at Google before business school, I tried three different roles. Right out of college, I was a customer service agent in AdWords. Next, I sold AdWords to mid-market companies. Finally, I launched Google Fiber as an Associate Product Marketing Manager. These three roles don’t even include the 20% of my time that I spent experiencing how different teams worked (such as when I got to work with the Search Marketing team to launch Google’s 2009 Holiday WiFi campaign).

In other words: I was able to try working as a customer service agent, an ad sales rep and a marketer–all while keeping the same benefits, systems, and colleagues. Significantly, I also maintained resume consistency: I did not look like a “job-hopper” even though I absolutely hopped around to various jobs.

I’ve seen the small company side as well: after business school, I went to a start-up to lead marketing. I soon realized that acquisition marketing was not my passion, and I essentially needed to leave the company to switch disciplines.

When you are next looking to join a new company, you’ll of course focus on how excited you are about the job you’re thinking about taking. But, one other thing to think through when considering your next move is whether your new company will provide an environment where you can move around as you learn and grow in your career.

For your next role: consider a big company

Write down your ten big bets

At the beginning of the new year, sales organizations get their new quotas. For people who work in sales, something that always accompanies this moment is the frenzy to figure out how-in-the-world our organizations will make these new, seemingly huge numbers. One action that helps me to achieve my sales goals is to write down my plans.

Putting my plans into writing is helpful more broadly as well.

I know that I am easily distracted by new projects, new goals, or even an interesting newspaper article. When I have a written plan-to-achieve that I can reread regularly,  I am able to remind myself of how excited I felt about my original objectives. And remembering that excitement helps me to better avoid the daily distractions that inevitably arise.

In order to follow my advice to write down your plans, you need to be willing to write down (1) things you know you can accomplish and (2) a longer list (i.e. a “funnel”) of goals that you are not certain you can achieve. The key to the second item is that you need to be comfortable commemorating ideas that may fall through. Over time, you’ll then whittle down the funnel. My rule of thumb is that if I want to get two big deals, I write down ten ideas. Then, over time, I do good research on those ten (read 10Ks, job site research, news articles, etc.). I aim to spend about twenty minutes thinking through each deal. After a bit of qualification, I focus on three to five. With some luck, at the end of the half, I’ll arrive at two active deals.

I encourage you try this and let me know how it goes.


Write down your ten big bets

“There’s a point at which”

I had conversations with more than one person this week where he or she told me something along the lines of “there’s a point at which I need to just switch roles”, “there’s a point at which I just need to give my manager XYZ feedback even though he / she won’t want to hear it” or even “there’s a point at which I need to leave this company because I can’t take the work life balance”.

When I am asked to get coffee or chat with someone not happy in their current situation, I almost always hear “there’s a point at which”. One piece of advice I try to give people is to actually communicate (delicately) what’s in his or her “there’s a point at which” statement sooner rather than later. No one can help you address something they don’t know.

For example, if a manager does something you don’t like consistently, I actually think you owe it to your manager to communicate what’s bothering you. Otherwise, people get so upset, yet don’t ask for a way to fix the problem, that they just end up leaving. They leave before actually trying to fix the situation. They often don’t even get to “the point at which”.

So, when you find yourself saying “I can’t take how my manager talks to me”, “I can’t take these hours” or anything like that, try communicating the issue earlier than you think you should or want to.

What’s the risk here? People worry that in communicating frustration they may make the situation worse. And, that’s not impossible. However, without communication it is very unlikely to get better. So, you need to force yourself to constantly reassess the risk versus the potential reward. Don’t wait to address it at the point you already have another job lined up. That’s when you’re past “the point at which”.

“There’s a point at which”

A “jobs” progress report


In one of my meetings earlier today, a colleague mentioned that she writes down her personal and professional goals at the beginning of each week because it helps her stay accountable to them. I want to use this blog to hold me accountable to my desire to contribute to a meaningful project or field.

So, like the government puts out a “jobs” report, here’s mine (based on one of my areas of focus for 2019).

This past month, I spent most of my exploration time looking at what options are out there for people to learn how to both find jobs and also be good at them.

Here are some of the best resources I found:

However, where I have seen and experienced the most potential for career growth is my personal alumni or work networks. Utilizing the Cornell alumni network helped me get my first exposure to a VP when I joined Google. David Fischer and I set up a 1:1 when I joined Google, which I probably only had the guts to do so because I knew we went to the same school. He helped me think through my career at Google and become more passionate about the company. Another Cornell alum helped me think through my decision to go to business school. A Googler from my time launching Google Fiber introduced me to Brad Burnham who hired me at Union Square Ventures. The list goes on and on.

The point, unsurprisingly, is that I only got to where I am due to the network I had (what I wrote one of my admissions essays about). And, I don’t think it needed to be a Cornell or Harvard network that got me there, but I do believe that, at the moment, prestigious schools and workplaces tend to leverage their networks more.

This is a problem I think we can solve. How can we get more students in all types of universities and colleges to leverage their alumni networks more and get more help from others?

There are two elements to this problem (as there are in many problems that I think we can solve with the internet). (1) Literacy in the subject. We need to help people understand why and how to use their networks. Show them evidence of what it can do and why it’s important. (2) Build easier ways for alumni or current members of a network to identify him or herself as willing to help and make it extremely easy for current students or alumni to leverage these connections.

LinkedIn did a great job partially solving (2); however, as we learn in diversity trainings, for better or worse, people are more likely to help people they see as similar to them. So, you may get better quality help / responses from those people you share something in common with.

Harvard Business School makes it quite easy to see which alumni want to help others and, in my experience, with a well thought out email, most alumni will reply to a request for help. However, in my preliminary research many other schools have not yet built this out as robustly which, I believe, is a mistake. Something so simple could really improve outcomes for a university population.

This post is getting long. So, what’s my next step? I want to spend some time talking to universities about their current efforts and goals to better understand if there’s a simple database and front end that could assist them in this effort. And, understand what education they do for students around the importance of networking. I’ll provide a second “jobs” report on that soon.

A “jobs” progress report

What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?


The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

The new year, of course, has me reflecting on what I want to do with my life.  That reflection made me remember this poem we read in business school asking what we plan to do with our lives (HBS runs the Portrait Project each year where you can read more formal reflections than mine).

This year, I want to contribute to a meaningful project, initiative, or product. Below are some areas I am currently interested in. I will review these at the end of 2019 and see if I’ve made any progress on anything. My goal is to make meaningful progress on one or more but definitely not all.

  • Find a way to make career coaching more accessible (Humu seems like a good idea)
  • Find a way to make mental health care more accessible
  • Help people eat or exercise better
  • Make searching for a job easier
  • Make it easier for people to understand how to save their money well
  • Help veterans find meaningful work that leverages their skills
  • Educate voters (and make it easier to understand the positions politicians take)
  • Increase access to the Internet
What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?