Why?

cat memecat meme

What a simple question, but I find it underutilized when it comes to exploring our career choices.

Why are you interested in this industry, function, or geography?

Why do you want to quit your current job?

Why do you want to change industries?

We often will give a superficial answer, but we won’t dig down deep enough. I’m starting this blog because questions about purpose, passion, and careers fascinate me, and I think we could all do a better job thinking deeper about this topic, whether it is to get a job that makes us happier, fulfill a satisfying purpose, or put our hard-earned skills to make the world a slightly better place. 

It all started several years ago in university when I served as a Peer Career Advisor. Most of the job involved editing the grammar , spelling, and formats of 21 year-olds’ resumes (“um…you misspelled our university’s name…”), but the part I enjoyed the most was helping fellow students learn a bit more about their interests and strengths.

This type of interaction gave prime opportunities to help people dig just a bit deeper.

Me: Why do you think you’re interested in investment banking?

21 Year-Old (let’s say” James”): Because all my friends are going into it.   OR

Because it pays really well.  OR

Because it looks good on my resume.  OR

Because I don’t know what else to do.

These are all answers, but they don’t tap into interests (maybe except for pay). Obviously, James would give Goldman Sachs a different answer to get the job, such as I’m fascinated by the intellectual challenge and / or movements in world markets and / or working with super smart people (beware of intense brown-nosing). However, this doesn’t allow James to really figure out what he wants to do.

As a result, if Goldman eats up this brown-nosing, then the 21-year old may become an over-worked and unhappy 30 year-old investment banker with little passion about his  job. However, now James has too little time to figure out what color his parachute should be. He also has gotten used to his income level and lifestyle. He probably hangs out with friends that make a similar amount and live a similar lifestyle. The switching cost to take the time to figure out what he wants to do and then do a career change is quite high at this point.

Of course, enter business school. However, usually the dilemma is worse after graduating from business school because now you not only have a lifestyle to keep up but you also have $200K in educational debt. Ouch! That’s probably why most business school graduates go into high paying and cookie cutter jobs in consulting and finance. Therefore, back into finance James goes for another XX years…

Perhaps this could all be minimized with a few more “Whys?” along the way?

(Qualifier: I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with jobs in consulting and finance. I actually think some people are meant to be consultants and bankers. However, in my experience, I think people could put more effort into reflecting on their interests and what they would like to get out of their jobs to minimize future unhappiness for themselves and their firms.)

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