I had a somewhat non-traditional path in terms of my education and career start.
When it was time to finish high school and make decisions around what I did next, most of my friends were deciding whether they went to UK or Australia to study. It wasn’t a question around whether they would continue studying, instead the decision was where and what to study.
For me I had entrepreneurial ambitions and at the time did not see how going to university was going to help me. A bold point of view which I chalk down to youthful exuberance. My theory was I ought to direct the time and money I was going to use for my university education into building businesses. When I look back, it makes a lot of sense particularly when you consider such things like taking risks when you are younger with fewer commitments can be easier, failing fast is very topical and so on.
Thankfully I had a family that were very supportive of my entrepreneurial ambitions which led to me taking a different path than most of my friends. My entrepreneurial journey in my late teens is probably a topic of another post (or perhaps even a book!) as there is so much I learnt from that experience that has shaped who I am today and informs how I approach life in general. I do want to share one relevant piece which was around one of the businesses I started – a consultancy to help authors market themselves.
We came so close to securing a huge corporate sponsorship deal that would have set very strong foundations for a solid future. However we placed our trust in people that ended up taking advantage of the situation which ultimately ended up costing us the business – painful at the time but a good lesson for the future.
One of the things that I learnt throughout my time as a young entrepreneur was that I needed to sharpen my thinking and a university education would really help. I was constantly interacting with people far more experienced than I was who seemed to look at things very differently. This was great because I was growing and learning, however after a while I felt that I was struggling to keep up and the sophistication in my thinking was lacking. And so after two and a half years down the entrepreneur path I decided to go back to university to sharpen the axe.
I remember saying to myself at the time that I hope university provides me with the critical thinking skills that I needed and in the process, doesn’t suppress my intuition. Famous last words which I’ll come back to…
With the corporate sponsorship deal I mentioned earlier I had a gut instinct that the last minute changes to the structure of the entire deal one of our partners was proposing wasn’t quite right. I couldn’t quite articulate the rationale behind why I was feeling the way I did – it just didn’t feel right – and so we ended up putting forward the changes which as mentioned earlier did not end so well for the business.
And so when I made my decision to go back to university I ended up picking double degrees in law and commerce. For those who have studied law you will know exactly what I mean when I say law drills critical thinking into you. It trains your mind to look at an issue holistically which is a fantastic skill. I can’t say how many times this has enabled me to offer different perspectives to an issue than the non-lawyers around me. But remember how I said before I entered university my one wish was that my intuition wasn’t suppressed? – not only was it suppressed, my intuition was well and truly off in the distance replaced by the new sheriff in town – critical thinking.
Thankfully over the years I have developed a strong sense of self awareness which amongst many other things, has allowed me to reconnect with my intuition. I’d like to think that I now have a healthy mix of critical thinking and gut instinct which I draw on to inform how I live my life.
And so fast forward to present day – last week was rather interesting. In the space of a few hours I had two separate conversations which saw all of the above come together like when a rubix cube finally gets solved.
For context the two conversations were about finding and pursuing your passion. Both of the people I was speaking with were still relatively early in their career. We were talking about where they were at and how they might go about finding what they love to do.
In each of the conversations both of them said the same thing which really surprised me and just reinforced that critical thinking can cripple intuition.
They both felt that pursuing their passion was a ‘nice to have’ and were much more interested in launching into a career that would give them good skills and experience with little regard to what they love. They would rather join a big name organization because they felt they would be armed with the skills and experience so that they would have a decent career.
To summarise their mindset was around not losing ground in their career instead of giving themselves a chance to win.
They were very hesitant to even give themselves permission to ask the question “what do I love to do?” This bit surprised me the most. I can accept the rationale around joining a large organization and building your CV. What surprised me was they appeared reluctant to even explore what they love to do. What if it was something that was somewhat similar to what they already did for work and required just a bit of tweaking to their role which could be facilitated by a simple conversation with their manager? Would you not want to know and therefore act on this?
I had expected this mindset from people a bit older and definitely not so early in their career. After I overcame my surprise I started to reflect on the mindset of someone who goes to a decent school then a good university and enters the workforce.
What dawned on me was that the system appears to cultivate the mindset of “I don’t want to lose” versus “I want to win” in my career. What I mean by this is when you don’t want to lose you will make decisions that manages risk and downside. You will pick paths that to minimise the chance of failure. You will opt to join the large organization because you’ll get to build your CV and hope that along the way you find what you love.
The opposite mindset – “I want to win” – starts with you and what you want to do. And then you make decisions from there whilst considering your risk appetite. I’m not at all assuming for one second you swing for the fences with no regard to risk. You start with you and then factor risk in rather than the other way around. It’s a subtle yet significant mindset shift to start with what you love and then make your decisions accordingly.
I can’t stress the importance of this mindset enough, particularly when you are early in your career because it sets the foundation for future decision making. If you cultivate a habit of wanting to win you are more likely to make decisions and choices that not only lead to you pursuing what you love but ultimately happiness and success.
If you make decisions where you don’t want to lose, you might be a success on paper (wealthy, position of power, etc) however you may not be pursuing what you love which could lead to a whole raft of issues for example sense of emptiness, lack of happiness and so on.
So which mindset are you – “I want to win” or “I don’t want to lose”?