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?

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