Career Guidance For Young People: A Retrospective

manifest. If my brother had not introduced me to Linux, I would have never have started participating in open source, and would have never been at the conference where I met the editors. This means I would have never have written the article about OpenAdvantage, and never led to meeting Paul Cooper and taking the role there.

When I shared this story to the kids at the career day, I summarized much of this hindsight as five key patterns that I wish I had known about at their age.

1. Do what you love

It may seem obvious, but our motivation is fueled by what we love. If we focus on building a career out of the things that interest and motivate us, we can chart an ultimately fulfilling and happy life.

For example, I have always loved working with people, writing, and speaking. I love technology and how it can enable people to work together. I am passionate about the power of communities and figuring out the blueprint for how we build and sustain them.

Now, figuring out what you love is easier said than done when you are 16. Take some time to really think about what you enjoy, what motivates you, and what you look forward to doing. While your career will never be a total bed of roses, if you can wire it up to focus on the things you love, you will be much more fulfilled in your work.

2. Always push yourself, and find room to grow and improve

I think one of the challenges so many young people face is that they assess their capabilities on a binary scale: either I am good or bad at that skill or activity. Life doesn’t really work that way: our capabilities are more a sliding scale, and when we learn, practice, and evolve, the scale slides in the right direction.

This happens with everything. Whether you are learning how to code, play the guitar, how to collaborate in teams, be a manager, manage your finances, get fit, or anything else. When we see every new activity as a sliding scale where we start near the bottom and gradually push ourselves further and further up the scale as we practice, it gives us a sense of confidence and accomplish. To do this we need to know that the journey starts at the beginning and progress as we invest more time and practice into it.

Fitness instructors like to get their students into a state of feeling “comfortably uncomfortable”. Being on the edge of what you can accomplish and what is new and different is where this growth tends to happen. Always be proud of your accomplishments while also seeing how much further you can go.

3. Don’t get beaten down by yourself or others

It is easy to dwell on our failures. We all get it wrong sometimes. What’s more, elements such as Imposter Syndrome (see my article about it and how to manage it) can further exacerbate our self-criticism.

Take it easy on yourself. We are all eternal students and it doesn’t matter whether you have been in your career for 50 minutes or 50 years, we are all learning. Similarly, you see all those CEOs, COOs, CTOs, VPs, Founders, Presidents, and Board Members? They are all still learning and self-conscious about their performance too.

See every day as an opportunity for learning and growth, and an opportunity for an objective view of your progress. Acknowledge your capabilities and flaws, and then explore ways to keep growing. Letting yourself or others get your down doesn’t help anyone.

4. Your life is dictated by your vision of the future

When you are younger there are a lot of questions about, “What do you want to be?”

Sometimes it can be difficult to see a vision of your future while also figuring out what is realistically possible. You can probably easily see a vision of a restaurant waiter, but what about an actor, a founder, a professional musician, or a writer? Those can often seem like much further away realities.

Here’s my take: go big or go home. If you shoot for the moon and don’t quite make it, you will (a) get further than you thought you would, and (b) you will stretch yourself and your potential further too. It sounds like a cliche, but dream big, and it will give you the excitement and potential to get there.

5. The world is full of mentors, if you look for them

I learned this too late in life. We are surrounded by people who have enormous expertise and experience and who are often quite happy to share it.

Just look at your friends, families, teachers, and parents. Just look at the huge array of books, YouTube videos, training courses, and articles online. Just look at online communities, forums, and message boards.

There is so much insight out there. If you don’t have the answers to something you can find it quicker and more easily than ever before. Similarly, if you don’t know how to get started or want a gut check on your thinking, there are so many people who can help.

Here’s the key: we need to open our minds to always learning, always striving to grow and evolve, and being comfortable asking questions. When I was younger I didn’t ask enough questions and I think it inhibited my progress. Asking questions isn’t a sign of weakness or incapabilities, it is a sign of growth, and that is awesome.

So, good look on your journey. When I met these young people at the school careers day, I was inspired by their enthusiasm, interest, and questions. It can be a scary time figuring out what your career is going to be, but the good news is that there is enormous opportunity out there.

What guidance would you give to a young person evaluating their career choices? Share your tips in the comments!

A version of this post was previously published on Jonobacon.com and is republished here with permission from the author.

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Photo credit: Jono Bacon

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