How often do we find ourselves in a career we hate? Too often. Why does this happen?
One reason is we don’t explore enough to find work that makes us come alive. All young professionals should begin their careers exploring, as there are many benefits.
The Explore-Exploit Framework
The exploration-exploitation trade-off is a biological concept referring to the choice between the known and the unknown. It is the difference between maximizing our current situation and venturing out in pursuit of better opportunities.
Think of our ancestors exploring unfamiliar territory. There lies the possibility of new food, shelter, and other resources. But there’s also the risk of new predators, environmental dangers, and hostile tribes.
We constantly choose between exploring and exploiting. For example,
- Should we try a new food or stick with what we enjoy?
- Should we learn a new skill or improve an existing one?
- Should we change careers or stay the course?
Exploring can be the difference between finding work we love and remaining stagnant. To find our calling, we must engage in a period of exploration.
A problem in today’s society is how unhappy people are at work. Would we enjoy another job?
A simple way to answer this question is to pursue different career interests early on. Start by exploring, find a great fit, and then exploit.
Why does this approach work?
The Idea of Something and Its Reality Are Often Different
Many people become fixated on the identity associated with a particular career.
Maybe they dreamed of being a lawyer as a child, since that’s what everyone told them to do. They want prestige, money, and respect from their peers and family. They’re in love with the idea of being a lawyer.
But they don’t think about the intense hours, the potential sacrifice, the schooling required, or whether they would enjoy the work. They never question their path, becoming disillusioned when they land the job.
Eventually, they come to hate it but refuse to switch because of their prior investment. And to be fair, it’s hard to know if we’ll like something before experiencing it.
Instead of paying sizeable sums of time and money for experience, we should emphasize low-cost methods. For our lawyer example, we could intern at a firm, shadow a lawyer, or interview one.
Try something before you commit.
Emphasize Hands-On Experience
Experience is king for finding our interests. To get an accurate portrayal of a job, we want to experience as close to the real deal as possible. This is a key pillar of education.
However, the current education system fails at this goal. It instead opts for instructional learning and neglects practical experience.
Create your own education and prioritize the practical over the classroom.
“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.” – Joseph Campbell.
Becoming hyper-fixated on a career is a sure-fire way to misery. Here are a few reasons.
One, most people don’t know their desired career at a young age. We’re too naïve and haven’t developed enough to know what we want. Some people appear to have it all figured out early. This is the exception, not the rule. It takes feedback and adjustments from real-world experience to find what we love.
Two, our interests change with us.
How many people enjoy the same activities at age ten versus age twenty. Few. As we grow, our personalities change. With that, so does the type of work that interests us.
Three, the world is transforming.
We are quickly automating old jobs while creating new, complex ones. Becoming hyper-fixated on one career ignores the potential for new, exciting careers. It also endangers us from our desired job becoming obsolete.
Rather than being dead set on a specific outcome, be open and listen to your feelings and intuition. Adjust your path as your inclinations become clearer.
We Can Develop Passion
We’re told from a young age to “find our passion.” While generally excellent advice, we often extrapolate this to “work is pointless if we’re not passionate.” Therefore, one might argue that it’s pointless to explore if we’re not passionate. The major problem with this position is that we can develop a passion.
When we learn a skill, we usually suck at the beginning. This makes sense, as few individuals are naturally amazing at something when starting. Most people dislike failing, and the same logic applies to being bad at jobs. This means we might dislike a new job, even if its content is interesting.
However, once we push past the initial learning stage, the job becomes more enjoyable. We gain positive feedback, motivating us to improve and eventually develop a passion.
So, it’s foolish to never begin something because we’re not passionate about it. Instead, do stuff that interests you. Stuff that develops valuable skills and will force us to grow. The passion part will work itself out as we gain competence.
Explore Until You Find What You Love
Our framework is to find an interesting job, work until we become competent, and move on if a more interesting alternative arises. When do we know when to exploit? This is largely an intuitive feeling, but there are a few indicators.
One, we should feel excited to work on most days. There will always be times where we don’t enjoy our work, but we should look forward to most days.
Two, there should be a level of obsession and intrinsic motivation for your work. A great way to find our motivation levels is to ask ourselves, would we do this for free or for much less money?
Three, could we imagine doing something else, or does anything interest us more? If not, we’re probably in a good place.