Happy May Day! As it’s workers day, a friend asked me for the most important career advice and I summarized most of the following for her, in rough priority order.
1. Likes. Figure out the set of things you like doing and get good at them. Reject “follow your passion” framing, it’s too limiting.
2. Income. Of that set, start with jobs that pay the highest income, without cornering yourself into things you do not like. The younger you build a higher base, the exponentially greater the payoffs and opportunities. This is especially important for idealists: before you save the world you have to save yourself. Become self-sufficient enough to not be a burden on your family, your friends, your loved ones in general.
3. People. Work with people you like and work well with. Avoid jobs that require working with dislikeable or ineffective people.
4. Make a difference. Work on stuff that matters. Stuff that will have a lasting positive impact on the world. Avoid jobs where you are only a cog in someone else’s machine, or merely optimizing transactions. Publish openly (on the web) at least some of the fruits of your intellectual labors so your efforts can both be recognized publicly, and more importantly, have additional indirect positive impacts without requiring your time or resources, freeing you to create more.
As I said, this is a rough priority order, and the weighting you apply to each of these will change over the course of your career. When you’re in school, grow #1 as broadly as you can, learn to evaluate #3 as quickly as you can, and while surrounded by all the idealism college brings, challenge yourself to dream #4 as big as you can.
Re-evaluate these (especially in the context of a current job) every year, and consider other possibilities accordingly, including, at some point, working as an independent, whether as a contractor, consultant, entrepreneur, or all three.