One of the concerns that we hear from a lot of young people coming out of college is that they don’t know what to do after graduating because they have so many interests. This can also worry the parent of the recent grad who sometimes just want their smart and curious kid to get focused, find a good job, and get on with it. This can feel like a very real problem for these curious kids (and those parents), but we find that those graduates who stutter step as they consider their options usually end up doing well in the long run. Even more important, their active mind and broad interests usually end up having been a good thing.
I often share with these stressed kids that a lot of CEO’s and senior executives remember their early career the same way. Corporate leaders often describe these same difficult crossroads, where they wished they were able to take their career in more than one direction at the same time. These big wigs often felt that their interests and passion pulled them in different directions simultaneously, and they worried that they would take one path only to find that the path not taken would have been the better of the two (or three or four). Of course, they had to choose and they did and now they’re in charge of things; so, for these leaders, it turned out well.
One of the CEO’s I work with graduated with a CPA, which he thought was a good safe bet, career-wise, but he always wanted to be an attorney so he went to law school. After law school, he joined a firm and as a practicing attorney had the opportunity to work exclusively in one industry. As a lawyer his finance background was helpful, and when one of his clients needed a business savvy Chief Financial Officer his combination of skills paid off as he moved from being a lawyer to a CFO. Some years later, at a different company the board wanted to see if he might be a good person to be the next CEO, and so they moved him into a job running their biggest business. After a couple of successful years as he was promoted to CEO.
This is just one example of what we think of as the benefit of an active mind. Curiosity is what propels us to learn more and find new ways of doing things. These are some of the most important for leaders today. What feels like a challenge when you are young and may make you feel indecisive for a year or two, often turns into an advantage later.
Curiosity can be a real differentiator as we grow professionally, especially when it comes to learning. Being curious prepares the brain for learning and makes learning more rewarding (or fun). Curious people who eventually find their passion may become better learners and dig deeper for new answers. The fact that they dig for new answers often helps them create stronger connections with others. These are some of the other key ingredients in a recipe for professional advancement.
Of course, there are some for whom that lack of focus becomes the story, rather than turning it into some greater value later in their career. These are the people who get lost in figuring out of what they want to do. There seem to be a couple of common themes that are different in these workers’ career histories, when compared to those who do great.
First, there are some folks who make a choice to go one direction, but they never fully commit to it and so they always do just an adequate job and people can tell their heart is not fully in it. When I’ve spoken with folks who fall into this category, they constantly wonder who is doing better than they are, career-wise. Success is a central part of creating our future career opportunities. Looking over their shoulder gets in the way of their ability to shine and succeed, and so they end up with fewer rather than more opportunities.
Then there are some people who are interested in a lot of jobs, but really they’re interested in the idea of different jobs rather than the jobs themselves. These workers don’t dig in and become an expert and never differentiate themselves and so they get stuck in the middle, thinking about the things they could be doing, but not really getting them done especially well.
When I work with those with the active mind, I help them pick something into which they will really throw their heart and mind and energy. Some of these folks still can’t imagine how they might choose and when that’s the case I work with them to do their best to determine what will give them skills and knowledge that will make them more employable in the future. What keeps their best options open to be able to move in a new direction and learn something new? This often helps those to whom so many options seem cool. Helping these folks understand that they are not forever closing the door on other options can help them get going and be ok with making a decision for now.
So, don’t worry that you don’t know what to do because so many things seem cool. Worry about those for whom nothing seems cool. They’re the ones who have to drag themselves to work every day and try to care about something that doesn’t really matter to them.
Be smart about the choice of your first job, but don’t over think it. This is not going to be your only job. And if the decision is still too hard, give us a call.