Seeking Clarity

My plan is to do a Masters Conversion degree in Psychology this September.
But the problem is – I’m not 100% sure about what to do after yet.
I know I’m fascinated by the subject, and I know I want to work with people, but there’s so many routes I could go down, that I’m pulling my hair out trying to pick one.
What if I choose the wrong thing?
And what if I spend years of my life, and thousands in education, only to realise at the end, that this isn’t actually what I want to do?
In the process of trying to figure this out, I’ve come across some ideas that have helped me get a bit clearer on my direction.
If you’re in the same boat, and trying to figure out what you want to do long term, they might be helpful for you, too.
This post covers two of the ideas I’ve found most useful.
Minimum Viable Work Experience
 

“The lesson of the MVP is that any additional work beyond what was required to start learning is waste, no matter how important it might have seemed at the time.” – Eric Reis

​It’s not uncommon to meet someone who spends 3-5 years in education, only to realise that when they get there, it isn’t actually what they wanted.
 
While travelling in South America when I was 21, I noticed I was meeting a lot of people who were transitioning out of an old career and into a new one. (A disproportionate amount of them were accountants.)
 
Our education system sets us up for failure this way.
 
At 18, we’re forced to pick a career path and make a decision that will affect the rest of our lives. At 27, I’m just starting to get to know myself – at 18, I had no chance.
 
So is there a way to avoid this?

Is there a way to test out all of the different things we think we might like to do, without investing huge amounts of time and money in education – only to realise at the end, that it wasn’t what we actually wanted?

In the startup world, there’s something called a minimum viable product (MVP for short).

In a nutshell, an MVP is the most basic version of your product that you can release to the public. The goal is to get feedback from real customers early to see if it’s something people actually want, before you spend years in planning and thousands in product development.

If people buy it, then you know you’re on to something. If it’s a complete flop, then you know you need to make some changes – or drop the idea completely.

This gives entrepreneurs a great opportunity to test their ideas – without investing huge amounts of time and money in the process.

So, what if you applied the MVP model to figuring out what you want to do?

What if you tried to get ‘Minimum Viable Work Experience’?

What if, for a few months, you actually went and volunteered in the industry you were thinking of dedicating your life to?

Then you could see what a day in your future life would actually be like.

If you’re thinking about starting your own business, you could volunteer for an entrepreneur you know. If you’re thinking about becoming a solicitor, you could go volunteer at a local solicitor’s office. If you want to become an architect, you could shadow an architect for a few days – offer to bring them coffee, do their admin work, etc.

This is my goal in the next few months.

Basically, I’m going to try and find volunteer work in all of the different roles I think I might like to do, so that when the time comes, I have some actual experience to base my decision on.

However, there are some industries you can’t just go volunteer in.

Thankfully, you can’t just ‘try out’ being a surgeon, judge or a dentist for one day.

So what can you do then?

Career Conversations
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​”What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.” – Bob Dylan

Between 2011 and 2012, the polling company Gallup conducted a survey to find out how people really felt about their work.

They surveyed millions of workers in 142 different countries, and found that:

  • 13% of people are ‘engaged’ – meaning they are enthusiastic about what they do for a living and feel they are making a positive contribution through their work
  • 63% of people are ‘not engaged’ – i.e. ‘sleepwalking through their workday, and putting time but not energy or passion into their work’
  • 24% of people are ‘actively disengaged’ – not only are they unhappy at work, they are actively undermining what their engaged coworkers accomplish, and basically out to damage their company.

In other words, 87% of people don’t like what they do for work every day.

Why would this be?

In his book; ‘Stumbling Upon Happiness‘, psychologist Daniel Gilbert makes it clear that as human beings, we’re terrible predictors of what will make us happy in the future.

When considering a career path, we dream up a picture of our future selves in the situation and imagine how it’ll make us feel.

The problem with this approach is that often our imagination is faulty, and we have no clue about what a typical day in the job actually involves.

If, like me, you’re terrified of ending up in the ‘87%’, Gilbert advocates a different approach.

Simply put, if you think you’d like to do something, the best way to figure out what it’s actually like, is to speak to someone who is currently already doing it.

Radical advice, I know – but it’s not common sense.

Since reading Gilbert’s book, I’ve been arranging phone conversations with people who work in all the different careers I think I might be interested in, and asking them questions like:

‘What does a typical working day look like for you?’

‘What about the job do you find most rewarding?’

‘What are the worst parts of it?’

‘If you were going back to before you started, is there anything you know now, that you wish you knew then?’

‘If you were starting from scratch, how would you approach your education?’

This might be slightly uncomfortable to do – but if you think about what it could save you in time, effort and money, it’s potentially one of the most worthwhile investments you could make.

It’s enabled me to construct a better picture of what a typical working day looks like in each of the careers I’m interested in, and helped me get a bit clearer on the route I want to go down.

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“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

As Gallup’s study demonstrated, the vast majority of us (around 87%) will end up doing work every day we don’t enjoy.

If we’re lucky, we’ve each only got about eighty laps of the sun, and chances are, we’ll spend a sizeable chunk of those laps working.

Therefore, one of the most important things you could ever do, is to figure out a working situation that you find interesting and enjoyable – one that you wake up in the morning and look forward to.

‘Minimum viable work experience’, and ‘career conversations’ are two simple (and low cost) ways to do that.