“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
When I graduated college, I was on a path that was pretty much set for me. As an analyst in investment banking, I was going to climb up the food chain (described in the entertaining story, Monkey Busines by John Rolfe and Peter Troob), go to business school after completing my 2-3 years as an analyst, and either head back into investment banking or enter the world of private equity. Either way, it was laid out for me. But, things changed towards the end of my analyst career. I decided to start a company. Many people at the time thought that it was a crazy decision, and probably still do. However, for me, veering off the path has led to some incredible opportunities that I simply wouldn’t have been privy to should I have stayed on that path.
Here are some reasons why I encourage you to veer off the path:
1. It forces you to focus on yourself, rather than your career at hand
Careers change, people change, professional designations change, circumstances change, lots of things outside of your control can change. However, you can remove yourself from being subject to those changes if you focus on building a particular skill set that you are interested in and that can make you a more marketable individual. I’ve found that being an entrepreneur has forced me to hone in on gaining specific skills that I know make me better irrespective of my industry. As a result of taking yourself out of a particular career path, you’ll be much more open to a variety of opportunities (i.e. side projects, entrepreneurial ventures, non-profit, etc.). As you gain new skills through various positions, you’re much more flexible to apply these skills to anything you want later on.
2. You’re actually more valuable
I always found that the individuals who looked at their job as a way to gain or hone a particular skill set were able to maneuver their way into interesting positions that others only wish they could achieve. Why is that? It’s because they looked at their job very differently. Instead of working on a task to merely complete it and move on, they applied a much more rigorous thought process to it. They’re thinking outside of the box. They’re thinking of their own spin on it. They’re asking lots of questions. They realize that at the end of the day, there’s a bigger picture at play here, and that’s, ME. They want to make themselves better.
For those of you who are concerned about moving up the ladder, you may think that veering off the path and trying something new will hinder your chances. I beg to differ. I think that it’ll actually increase your chances of moving up that ladder because depending on your experiences, you will actually have much more to offer should you want to jump back on that ladder at some point.
The fact is, experiences create value. Veering off the path allows you to witness a more variety of experiences, which ultimately, make you more valuable.
3. More often than not, it will lead you to your passion
If you haven’t figured out your passion yet, veering off the path has a higher probability of leading you towards it. Separating yourself from a particular path can induce a state of self introspection where you can begin to figure out what it is that you really are passionate about. Sometimes, when you’re on a pre-determined path, there is seemingly less reason to figure out what you really want to do. And, bottom line — people who are passionate about what they do are simply more successful.
Many career opportunities offered to students right out of the gate have a paved path laid out in front of them. Many of which lead to a solid future considering one makes it the entire way. However, ask yourself, what if the path changes? What will you do? Can you adapt?
I think that paved paths are almost a definite way to a template lifestyle. I encourage you try new things. Do something different than your peers. Try something outside of the norm and let me know how it turns out.
I’m always intrigued about learning about the various paths people take to success. Please share if you have any.
Alexandre Guertin says
Great stuff and totally can relate to you. I almost went to IBanking and most of my friends did. One of them eventually went to PE, then decided to give up everything and go back to school to pursue his true passion, medicine (to help out others). I still have many friends in that business and although you learn tremendously, I wonder about how human it is to work 20+ hours per days with no time off…
Props to you for taking a chance and good luck in your ventures!
Andre Charoo says
Thanks Alexandre! My experience in i-banking was great. In fact, I think it helped prepare me for what I’m doing right now. And, there’s nothing human about working 20+ hours per day with no time off. It’s horrible, however, it teaches you to provide the same amount of effort and work ethic to something you’re really into. Most importantly, whatever we choose to do, we should choose things that are very challenging for us. The moment we get comfortable, I think we should change it up (esp. when you’re in your 20’s).
Financial Samurai says
If we can do both, that might be the best way. Build the foundation working for a big organization early, and then branch out on ones own after a certain amount of skills, maturity, and connections occur.
Andre Charoo says
I don’t know if there’s any wrong or right way for breaking the template, but I agree in working for a big organization early definitely provides some benefits in helping you to break out on your own. As you’ve mentioned, some reasons are:
– skills (addition: a wide range of skills)
– maturity (addition: sophistication)
– connections (addition: these can help later on when you want to do your own thing. Important that the big organization you’ve joined surrounds you with really smart people).
others, could include:
– work ethic
– industry knowledge
– practical learning
– organizational behavior
I think the biggest one you are missing is financial.
Your goal should be to stay at the big organization with the bi-monthly paycheck because while you are formulating your new endeavor you continue to have some income. Keep the day job as long as absolutely possible while you do as much as you can at night and on the weekends preparing to break away. When it becomes absolutely impossible to keep the stable job/income then it is time to think about the move.
Additionally, having a nice sized war chest of money is going to be necessary in providing living expenses and start up funding for the new venture. Generally, you’ll need to self fund in the beginning to have the best chance of success. If you don’t have sufficient funding to begin with, more than likely failure will happen (even sooner) even if you have a great idea that could ultimately succeed.
This is the standard game plan for anyone going out on their own and it has always been.
Eran - The Quarterlife Quest says
Great post! I 100% agree with your 3rd point. When I graduated from university, I took jobs that I was trained for, but not particularly interested in. It wasn’t until I took a leap and quit my job, that I was actually able to focus on and discover the things I really loved. Before then, I had absolutely NO idea!
I think sometimes we get so caught up in what we “should” do and “should” be, that we forget what we, ourselves, actually want 🙂
Andre Charoo says
Well put –> “we get so caught up in what we “should” do and “should” be, that we forget what we, ourselves, actually want”
Ha, I’m another one working on a business major and not exactly happy with the classes. While there are some practical skills, I lament that most classes are taught in a way that prepares you for a corporate job and really nothing more.
On the other hand, the Personal MBA course has taught me an INSANE amount of stuff so far that I’m eager to use. That is preparing me with a set of skills that aren’t tailored for some pre-existing role. I’m hoping that by knowing these things already, even if I do the “template” job route for a few years, I’ll be ahead of the curve and more valuable than others because I see a bigger picture than just a paycheck for a company. (Working on my skills and getting feedback, which is to the firm’s benefit as well.)
I’m still working on linking marketable skills with my passion…. I guess I shouldn’t beat myself up too bad for not knowing exactly what I want to do/can do with my life at 21. 🙂
Andre Charoo says
I like your plan. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t know exactly what you want to do right now. Most people don’t, and that’s perfectly ok. That’s probably even more reason why one should veer off the path, to find out what is that they want to do. The best personal MBA course you could take is the course of throwing yourself out there in the world and trying something you’ve always wanted to do (tip: during college/university is sometimes the best time to do so). However, whatever you decide to do, make sure it’s extremely challenging. The moment you feel you’re getting comfortable, it might be a good time to change.
Indeed. 🙂 I’m a very lucky soul in that my husband has footed the bills to date. All I need is enough income to pay off my student loans, but I’m left to roam and explore avenues until I find the right fit.
And I definitely know that most people either don’t have this opportunity, or never take it when they do, so I don’t want to waste it when I’ve got it.
Kent Fenwick says
Another awesome post man. I love the picture too.
I think you are right when you say that you need to focus on you not just your career. If more people did this we would have way more entrepreneurs and a lot happier people. In the words of Joseph Campbell, Follow your bliss. Enough said.
Good article, Andre. The other side of the coin you describe exist those folks who end up in template lifestyles by default, grabbing the first job that comes along after college and squatting on it. I really like the third point – it can be difficult to identify your passion when 95% of your brain power is siphoned toward getting through the work day. I’m not successful yet, but I’m planning to shatter the mold later this year.
Keep up the good work guys and gals.
Andre Charoo says
Thanks Keith for your comment. Your point about students grabbing the first job that comes along is exactly what I was referring to. I hope this can inspire students to think a bit differently.
Edward - Entry Level Dilemma says
It seems like all business majors hate their classes/job after graduation.
A word about passion. While passion is great, your passion and innate skills don’t always align. I am passionate about education, but I simply don’t have what it takes to lead a classroom.
I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong about following a path, provided its YOUR path. You just have to be aware of all the little cross-roads and side trails along the way. Follow the path while it suits you, but if a side trail of a business venture presents itself, don’t be afraid to take it.
Andre Charoo says
Good advice Edward. Thanks for this addition. It’s very important. I mentioned in one of the above comments that it’s not always about being an entrepreneur, not everyone is, or starting a business, not everyone should. It is about finding YOUR path… and everyone’s is different.
Re: passion — I agree with you as well. Sometimes, our passion may not be practical to our skill set. It’s important for the two to connect — practical skills + passion. In your case, there might be other ways to combine education with your skills, other than in the classroom.
Srinivas Rao says
Having just gone through the whole business school experience, and not even from a top 40, I think you have made some great points. Thanks to 8 months of unemployment I’ve veered so far off that path it’s awesome. It’s interesting because most people would not think that veering off the path makes you more valuable. But I think it does for several reasons. When you veer off the path your imagination becomes much more powerful, a key ingredient for success. You build a number of leadership skills as well and you end up being much more creative.
Andre Charoo says
Yes! Having those personal traits such as a greater imagination, stronger leadership skills, and more creativity makes the world a much better place. Imagine if more people veered off the path? I believe more people will and the result will simply be a better world for us to live in 🙂
Kyle Crum says
If you look at most successful people, they all veered off of the path and did things a different way. Staying the course is a safe way, but by no means is it a way towards happiness or success!
Andre Charoo says
Seth Godin ha mentioned the same thing. I believe he said that we have a tendency to just try and “fit in”. That’s the same as staying on the path. I’ve haven’t checked out his new book yet “Linchpin” (http://www.amazon.com/Linchpin-Are-Indispensable-Seth-Godin/dp/1591843162/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1264784626&sr=8-1), but he says that people won’t be rewarded for just “fitting in” anymore. That system was based on the old economy, from the people who set the path for us in the first place. I absolutely agree!
Andre, you make some great points here. I was on a very similar path when I graduated college with a finance degree in 2003. I went on to a big financial firm, got my fancy licenses, and soon (thankfully) realized that the company, and the industry (bond market) wasn’t for me. Sure, I could have stayed and would have been making a ton of money right now, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed my work. I made the move a few years ago to a small business where I have input and influence, and the difference has been very rewarding. Although I’m not an entrepreneur (yet), I feel like I’ve taken a step toward investing in myself. The older and wiser we get, the more we realize that there aren’t really too many people who genuinely care about your career and coddle you. You have to become responsible for you. You have to invest in yourself.
Andre Charoo says
Absolutely! Key phrase “invest in yourself”. It’s not always about being an entrepreneur per se. It’s about putting yourself in challenging situations that we can thrive on. Often times, we head down the path that was paved for us and it leads us to being just too comfortable. I’m glad to hear that you’ve made a move to that small business. I bet your making a larger impact there than you were at your last company.
Andre the below is a post from Rolf Potts on his blog, Vagablogging.net from the other day. While this quote is specifically about time, the theme of “accepting uncritically what others counsel us” is key…
Time is our most precious commodity
“When we accept uncritically what others counsel us, the path they prescribe for us, we risk losing for naught the one thing we possess in inevitable yet mysterious finitude: time, the numbered days of our lives.”
–Jeffrey Tayler, “Insanity and the Traveling Life,” World Hum, Jan. 21, 2009
Andre Charoo says
Nicely put. Thanks for sharing.
Adventure-Some Matthew says
I was on a paved path… working towards my accounting degree, then on to work, then return for my MBA so I can move forward in work. While it wasn’t terribly hard for me, I had no interest in accounting (which I find odd, because I love reading about business, finance, entrepreneurship, etc, but can’t stand the classes). Since it became something I dreaded instead of enjoyable, I decided to get a Business Minor and pursue a life-long passion. Now I’m enjoying my art classes, the occasional business class is fairly enjoyable, and life is so much better.
Sure, it was a bit of a challenge to go from a degree that would start me out at $40k a year to one that might help me get a job flipping burgers*. However, I’m enjoying my classes and time at school, and look forward to the opportunities that the future holds.
*Actually, I’ve got a number of jobs I’m eyeing, and a couple of business ideas that I’m considering, so my options are still there. Also, I’ve already started in my career. Anyone want a portrait? 😛
Andre Charoo says
This is a great story Matthew. This is what it’s all about. I bet you’ll be doing something very interesting things with your background. Options are always there!
Wonderful that you’re enjoying your art classes and are willing to look forward to a life where you might get a job flipping burgers. When you get married, have kids, and look to put a roof over their heads and provide for them, I hope you’ll look back on your art classes with just as much enjoyment.
By the way, how much money is this art education setting you back? Living at home or at school? Taking loans that you’re going to have to struggle to make payments on when you get that burger flipping job upon graduation?
As I read more and more on this website, for the most part, I find this kind of post to be typical of what is being proposed in general – do hat you want, don’t worry about petty things like how you’re going to make money or survive. Maybe it’s possibly the result of these youngsters having seen what the last few years has resulted in with our economy? Maybe it is the notion that a slacker behavior becoming more acceptable or there’s nothing to be ashamed of?
I’ll tell you – more power to all of you. You keep slacking away, whether it’s an art major in college, flipping burgers and scraping by to make the rent payment, or whatever you think it is that is that you’re accomplishing – because that just makes more room for those who do have real/valuable experience and have to compete for jobs with people who really don’t have a passion for what they’re doing.
Matthew, in case your parents didn’t tell you, or you happened not to be listening at the time, I’ll tell you – there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a passion for art or any other HOBBY. However, going in to something and knowing that you’re not going to be earning more money than flipping burgers initially, or ever quite possibly is not something logical for a college graduate to be postulating. It begs the question of what you’ve been doing with your time at college. If you are an aspiring artist, why in the world would you go to school, and pay for someone to teach you art? I would immediately question your artistic abilities if you have to study to be an artist. Did any of the great artists we know of go to art school? No – they were artists. Just because you get a degree in art doesn’t make you an artist.
Though you dislike accounting, it is a solid profession and can provide the stepping stones to many greater careers – both financially and self-satisfying, don’t think tht being a CPA is all you have to look forward to in life. It will provide for you and your future family. You take your job, do your 40 hours a week, take your paycheck, and then have the rest of the week to do whatever you like and explore your passions.
At the end of the day, no matter how much our government is trying to push the ideas of Socialism upon the US, at the end of the day we still have a Capitalist market/economy, and the financially strong prosper and the weak do not. Do you want to just get by in this life? Be “happy” doing what you want every minute of the day? Or would you rather strive to excel, be paid generously for your efforts and the fact that you are providing something valuable, and be able to live a better life, enjoy your passions, and provide for your family without having to wonder if you’ll be living on the streets in 10 years, 5 years, or even one year?
Adventure-Some Matthew says
I’m not even sure how to respond to this.
Taking care of my family:
I am currently married (my wife is also in college), and we have a nice apartment and that we pay for with our monthly earnings. We have chosen to own only a single vehicle for the time being, and we manage just fine without a second. The car’s paid for, by the way, and was purchased new.
Yes, we’ve taken out some loans for the education,but we do have a realistic plan to pay back our loans. If both my wife and I get full time minimum wage jobs $10 (even though we both have $10/hour jobs that we can return to in a worst-case-scenario) we can live off of one income and use the second one solely to pay back our loans. In this case, it would take, at maximum, 3 years to pay back our loans.
No matter what degree I earn, I will have to work hard to get a good job and earn a decent living. This honors student is not afraid of hard work, and is willing to put in the necessary effort to become successful.
Do not think that this was a flippant decision. It required much deliberation to make the switch from Accounting to Art.
Being an artist:
Art involves a high degree of technical ability (at least the type that I create), so I am in school to master those skills faster than I would on my own. Further, I am building my network (I don’t just hang out with art students), and am being exposed to new styles of art.
What does make one an “artist”? Am I an artist because I have my own works displayed on my walls? Am I an artist because I have worked created art for commissions? Maybe I’m an artist because I supported myself for a year solely from the sale of my artwork. Perhaps I am not an artist because I have not had a show of my own in a gallery, or because you have not heard of me.
Who would be considered a great artist? Perhaps Picasso, who learned from his father, the art teacher, before heading off to art school. Maybe Raphael and Leonardo, who did not go to school, but worked as apprentices for masters of their time.
Doing exactly what you say in your last paragraph:
Rest assured, I have no desire to “just get by.” Because I do want to do all you suggest, I am pursuing something that I am not only good at, but enjoy doing. Because of that love I will work harder than I ever would as an an accountant. I might not end up selling paintings in galleries for a living (which would be adding value), but starting a business that helps artists become more business minded (they are running businesses, after all), or running an art rental company for corporations, or any of countless options.
I don’t expect to be happy all the time. No matter what I choose to do, I will be working hard, and there will be parts that I don’t enjoy.
James, I hope you have a career that not only provides well for you and your family, but that also energizes you and makes your life better (and not just through a paycheck.)
Eran - The Quarterlife Quest says
Matthew – thank you for your well-thought out reply to James – it made my day! I am not an artist myself, but I have many friends who work in the visual arts, many of whom have gone to school to train, and many of whom are making 4-5 times what your average accountant will make. It’s all about how passionate you are, and how determined you are to be successful. Congrats to you for pursuing your dreams.
Matthew, unfortunately, in the world we live in, most things of value or having the ability to do is facilitated through the money you accumulate. Whether that be owning a nice home, being able to travel and see the world, or simply not having to stretch the budget when your car dies and needs to be replaced.
Everyone here, and in general will not dispute the fact that our time is the most valuable asset we have because you can’t get it back and at the end of your life, you’ve used it all up. Now, the key is how you value your time and what other people (or corporations) are willing to pay you for your time. There is absolutely nothing wrong with working for a corporation that pays you generously in exchange for your time. It is actually entirely irrelevant whether I’m truly energized or if the job itself makes my life better – entirely a non-issue. The point being, that the job I do is compensated with the paycheck and that paycheck provides the means for myself and my family not to just survive in this world, but have a very good, fulfilling, and enriching life. In fact, I’d say that my life is that much better as a result because I do my work, and then am able to spend all of my non-working time with my family. The job is just something we do because someone is willing to pay us for doing what they say in exchange for our time – at whatever price we mutually agree my time is worth. I think most people (especially the ones on this site) have really lost sight of that and seeing the continued statements of “just do what you feel like” or “I’m doing what I want” will generally end either in failure, or a lower standard of living. Long term, it generally does not make for a successful career financially. Again, the arts (musical, artistical, etc.) are wonderful hobbies. You could even do it as a side profession to earn some extra money or simply get the personal enjoyment from it. However, tossing aside the profession you’ve already been training for and paid to go to school for (both time and money) to pursue something that most likely will earn you less money and probably a lower standard of living doesn’t seem like a reasonable thing to do. I can point you to stories of people who did go to the best schools for the arts, came out with loans, couldn’t get/hold employment to pay their living expenses, and they ended out in bankruptcy. Mind you, these were not the people of the caliber who had music or art as their hobbies, but were truly professionals.
You might also take note of the fact that one of the top reasons for divorces these days come as a result of financial issues in the household. Is your wife fully in support of you being in school with an art major, not in line for earning the $40,000 starting salary, and just getting by? You’re looking at a long, difficult career and if your spouse isn’t entirely supportive of you, or has endeavors for more down the road, surely you’re going to have a different perspective on having persued your dream.
I wish you all the luck with your art endeavors. However, I think when you are done with your schooling and really are depending on it to provide an income, you’re going to ultimately be quite disappointed.
Edward - Entry Level Dilemma says
By your argument that time is your most precious commodity; you should go for the high paying job instead of the job you enjoy and do what you what you enjoy as a hobby. But by that reasoning, you should forgo the hobby all together and get a second high paying job – maximize that conversion of time into money.
One of my best friends went to school to major in art. After college, he has used that education to work in advertising, for the WWE, and as a freelancer in the entertainment industry. He has had galleries and exhibits; now, he teaches it in a high school. So there are a lot of things that can be done with an art education.
Also, by your arguments, nobody should ever become a teacher. Teaching will NEVER be as lucrative as accounting (and accounting will never be as lucrative as investment banking). Yet people go into teaching. In fact, I have two friends who left their careers in industry, one was an industrial chemist, the other a programmer, to go back to school to become teachers. They gave up jobs that paid over $70,000/yr to pay for more education to get a job that will probably only pay $25,000/yr to start.
My pastor left his job as the V.P. of a bank, sold his house, and had to support his family of 7 on his wife’s income as a postal worker so he could go to seminary. As a preacher, he will never make half as much as he did at the bank.
I have a friend who used to be into the big money lifestyle. He works on Wall Street and happens to enjoy it. But until things went really bad for him, he was hypnotized by money, everything had to be expensive and flashy. Now he lives in a studio apartment and drives a Volvo. And he’s much happier.
One of the first things we learned in macro-economics (I needed to fill an elective) was that businesses exist to make money. Frankly, I call that bullsh*t. If it were true, the only kind of business in the world would be investment banks. Businesses exist to provide a service (producing a product is a type of service). Making money is only the secondary objective.
In short, money isn’t the only thing. It isn’t even the most important thing.
Adventure-Some Matthew says
I agree that, unfortunately, most things do reply on money to be accessible. I also agree that there is nothing wrong with working for a corporation that pays one generously for their time. However, I also know that such a route would make me absolutely miserable, dreading my work day and fleeing at the end of it.
Therefore, I will be finding someone else (other corporations or people, as you mention) who will be willing to pay me what I feel is reasonable for my output (whether that is a piece of art, consulting, or something else).
I feel that you are not looking into the substance of the message delivered on this site, and others like it. The surface message may seem to be “do what you want” or “do what you feel like”, but it does not skirt around the fact that hard work is required, value must be offered, and that this is not an easy path.
I apologize if I did not communicate clearly in my last comment about my artwork. I have done those things. I am already of artist caliber, not simply a hobbyist. I have created art for commissions and I have supported myself solely from sales of my artwork, for over a year’s time.
I can also point you to stories of MBA’s who are bag boys, or working as cooks at restaurants. There are success and sob stories in all fields.
I do thank you for your concern over my (and other readers’) futures. If worst comes to worse, I can fall back to previous jobs I have held, on to my business minor, or even go on to earn my MBA. However, as I head into my future, what I will say is “Watch me!”