Dissatisfied Patience As the Key To Navigating Your Early Career

“I’m going to be the VP of Marketing.”

I could feel the tension in the room build before the words even finished leaving my lips. Sitting across the table from me was the guy who’d been hired to lead sales and marketing. He’d just asked a probing question about where I saw myself in the future.

I was 24 years old – and the low man on the totem pole of a company I’d been at less than 9 months. With one sentence, I’d thrown out the window all office social norms, niceties, and any reverence for ‘the way things are done.’

At the time I had no way of knowing how many challenges that single conversation would later create for me. I was young. Ambitious. Relentless. On occasion, reckless. But I was out to get mine. And no one could stand in my way.

Full of Piss and Vinegar

Like a young buck with a chip on his shoulder. That was me for the the better part of my early 20s. And admittedly, from time to time still is.

I walked with the air of a swagger I’d not yet earned. It was less of entitlement and more of conviction. An unshakeable belief in myself and my ability to win. Like a young fighter eager to touch gloves with the reigning champ.

But, like many a young fighter, I learned the hard way – it doesn’t matter how hard you punch in the first round of a 12-round match. A career, like a boxing match, is a game of endurance.

I made a lot of mistakes early in my career that can be attributed directly back to my youth. My eagerness. My ego. My impatience.

I wanted to be recognized for what I knew I could become. Before I’d proven it. And that’s a tough sales pitch no matter how good you are.

You Are Your Greatest Opponent

Ambition travels with a lot of baggage. Especially in the early days. Left unchecked, it breeds a weird kind of schizophrenic paranoia.

It breeds doubt. Anxiety. Pressure. And a laundry list of conspiracy theories:

  • Is somebody else doing better than me?
  • Should I be farther along than I am?
  • Could I be working harder than I am? Longer hours?
  • Do other people know how hard I’m working?
  • Is my contribution known and evident?
  • Am I getting credit for my efforts?
  • Should I be making more money?
  • Am I being taken advantage of?
  • Is my title impressive enough?
  • Do my coworkers respect me?
  • Am I a fraud?

Imposter syndrome is a function of pretending to be something you’ve not yet fully become. It’s natural in any transition period. But mostly it wastes precious energy. It redirects mental and physical resources toward perpetuating myths rather than converting those into value in reality.

I learned that the hard way.

A Better Coping Mechanism

Along the way I picked up several valuable lessons. Here’s one of them:

Opportunities come easier when you’re doing good work and paying close attention – than when you’re trying to convince people to create them for you.

At several points in time, my work became a cry for attention. I’d go above and beyond simply because I believed it to be my best way to get noticed. It was not about doing good for the sake of good work. It was a shell game.

I learned that working to get noticed is a passive approach to creating opportunities for yourself. It’s manipulative. Both to yourself and the person you hope to convince. It screams “I’ll do good work when I want something.” But there are only so many carrots you can dangle in front of someone before you run out of carrots.

Instead, I discovered a different approach. It’s offered me more satisfaction, more control, and more opportunities than I can count.

The secret lies in approaching life with a dissatisfied patience.

Ever since I discovered this mindset, I’ve been happier. More fulfilled. More content. More deliberate. And not surprisingly, more effective at creating opportunities.

How To Practice Dissatisfied Patience

Instead of worrying about opportunities outside my control, I try to focus on the present circumstances.

  • What opportunities do I have to improve things I already have domain over?
  • Is there a way to improve a process to free up more time?
  • Are there any ongoing problems I have the ability to solve – for myself or for others?
  • What activities do not require anyone else’s permission?
  • How could I take [X project] to the next level?

In other words, I try to shift the focus from future uncertainty to a local present. Instead of worrying about what I think I could become, I focus on what I can do to do my very best here and now.

When I stopped waving my hand around like a madman hoping to get called on, and instead just focused on doing good work, I discovered I got called on a lot more often.

This did not mean losing the fire in my belly to do more, to be more, or to achieve more. Instead it meant channeling it – so that if and when an opportunity does present itself, I’d not only be ready, but I’d be the obvious choice.

How To Increase the Likelihood of Your Desired Outcome

There’s no such thing as a sure deal. But you can almost always increase the likelihood of your desired outcome.

Consider a simple example for starters: Your monthly bills amount to $1,000. You’d like to cover these costs because you enjoy the comforts of having a roof over your head and food on your table. You recognize an income would enable you achieve your desired outcome.

So you acquire a full-time job that pays $15 per hour ($600/week or $2,500/month). The job does not guarantee your outcome. You still must show up and successfully administer those responsibilities the job requires. Both earning the job opportunity and doing the job both increase the likelihood of achieving your desired outcome.

Begin with the End in Mind

The surest way to achieve what you want in life is to start by defining it. Unless or until you have a sure aim, you waste energy by moving without definite direction.

Start by identifying the outcome you desire. Then work backwards.

In the example above, identifying a desired outcome is easy. You have bills which will be due each month. And you know the exact amount you need to succeed: $1,000 per month.

By defining your specific desired outcome, you’ve set the boundaries.

Define the Range of Probable Inputs

Beginning with your desired outcome sets the parameters you must work within to achieve success. Coming upon $1,000 before your bills are due this month becomes your “floor.” Any set of activities which leads to at least $1,000 per month will satisfy your desired outcome. Any set of activities which leads to less than $1,000 is out of the question.

Setting the floor allows you to eliminate “null” inputs – activities which will not satisfy your desired outcome. For instance, a null outcome would be working only one part-time job that pays $8/hour. The activity will advance you toward your goal but by itself will not satisfy your goal. So you can eliminate it as a possibility.

Setting the floor also enables you to draw a boundary around “negative” inputs – activities which will reduce the likelihood of your desired outcome. For example, increasing your monthly expenses by $1,000 is a negative input. You can eliminate activities that work against your goal.

Reduce Uncontrollable Variables

Within the scope of activities that lead to $1,000 per month, you have a lot of options. Some jobs may even offer the possibility of far more.

But what you’re after is certainty. What set of activities is most likely to achieve your desired outcome. In considering all the different possibilities, you also want to identify those which offer the fewest unknown or uncontrollable variables.

For instance, you may discover a job opportunity which promises $25 per hour of pay. On the surface this seems like a great input to consider. But if after a closer look you learn the opportunity offers wildly unpredictable hours and no guaranteed minimum – you cannot be certain this activity will increase the likelihood of your success.

You’re not just looking for possible success. You want inputs which offer you a highly probable, repeatable outcome. So you can eliminate any set of activities that do not guarantee the opportunity of at least $1,000 per month.

Test, Observe, and Adjust

As the saying goes, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” There will almost always be more than one path in front of you which offers high probability of achieving your desired outcome.

Keep this in mind as you work toward your desired outcome. If you come across a set of activities that allows you to achieve your desired outcome more efficiently, or offers you more satisfaction in the process, take it.

The more you practice working backwards from your goal, the more effective you will become at filtering activities that increase the likelihood of your success from those which do not.

At any given point in time, you’ll likely have more than one desired outcome in mind – each with varying priority. When this happens, you can evaluate each desired outcome and activity sets in isolation – or, you could redefine the parameters: only consider activities which satisfy all your desired outcomes.

Just remember, it all starts with defining the outcome (or outcomes) you want. Then work backwards.

Don’t Let Somebody Pissing In Your Cornflakes Keep You From a Balanced Breakfast

I had a helluva week last week. A lot of shit outside my control almost derailed my week, my work, and my attitude. Except then I remembered an important truth and it turned everything around (well, almost everything). But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A Case of the Mondays

By the time I sat down at my desk and fired up my laptop last Monday morning, my inbox was already overflowing. I had a long to-do list. And I was fired up.

I love Mondays so spirits were high. It was going to be a great week. I could feel it.

Minutes after logging on, my laptop bit the dust. I don’t just need a laptop to work. My laptop is my work. My business runs almost entirely online. I spend 60% of my day banging on a keyboard. And the other 40% on video calls.

The nearest Apple store was 20 minutes away. So I jumped in the car fully prepared to go buy a new device. But holding out hope it might be an issue tech support could fix quickly.

I showed up to the store minutes after it opened. But a surprise was waiting for me. Just that morning, the store began operating on scheduled appointments only – even if you just needed to buy something.

In order to get in, you needed an appointment, a clear temperature, and a mask. (Did I mentioned I forgot a mask?) The rep at the door told me the soonest available tech support appointment was 10 days away. But I could get in to buy a laptop if I was willing to wait 2 hours. The day is saved!

I jumped in the car. Drove 5 miles the other direction. Bought a mask. Drove back. Waited in the parking lot for an hour. Got in the store. Purchased a new device. And good fortune struck – they let me drop off my broken laptop.

By the time I got back home, it was 3:30 pm. I’d spent pretty much the whole day chasing my tail. I was frustrated. But I told myself to chill out.

“Take a breath, Mitch,” I advised myself. “You can’t win ’em all.”

Fail Friday

I planned to drive to Denver Friday. Part of the team was flying in. We planned to work together that afternoon, then do happy hour that evening. I looked forward to seeing everybody.

But fate had other plans.

I booked a rental car Thursday afternoon. It cost $60. What a steal, I thought. I pulled up to the airport at 6:30 am. Which is where I learned about my mistake. Apparently I’d booked the wrong date. No cars available. Time to make a hard sell.

“Ma’am, I’ve got to be in Denver today. I’m willing to get creative. What’s it going to take?”

Her fingers flew over the keyboard. She began negotiations over her walkie talkie.

“I can get you to Denver today as planned,” she said. “But it’s going to cost you.”

She swiped my card for three times the anticipated cost. Then directed me to the pickup station. I counted my blessings and skipped off happily into the sunshine. Well, kind of.

I jumped in the car and hit the road. Two stops before Denver. First, to grab a coffee. Then to swing by the house for a few personal effects. I love a good morning commute. I had an audiobook loaded up. This was going to be a great day.

Lol.

I pulled off at one of those fancy Super Targets with the Starbucks inside. Just happened to be on the route back home. I was feeling extra froggy too. Because I ordered a Big Boy Coffee. (Venti Blonde Roast with a Blonde Shot).

I marched back out to the car ready to go. And that’s when I discovered I was in for quite a ride. Just not the ride I expected.

I tried to unlock the car. No dice. All they’d given me was a key with a chain. No fob.

Once. Twice. Three times I tried. That lock was not budging. I circled the perimeter. No other keyholes. Four. Five. Six times I tried again.

I took a deep breath. This is just a cruel prank. I’m going to turn this around.

And that’s when I noticed a bright pink sticky note on the keychain.

“Won’t unlock when locked” the note read. Brilliant!

So I dialed the front desk. Who redirected me to a roadside emergency line. Sat on hold for half an hour. Called back into the desk. Explained the situation. Transferred my call. Then again. Then back again. Finally a voice that said help is on the way.

A half hour passed. Then another. I began pacing around the car. The Super Target Mom’s club was beginning to show up. Concerned stares directed my way. I kept pacing. Once. Twice. Three times I circled the car. Four. Five. Six times. I felt like Joshua and the Israelites circling Jericho.

Another half hour passed. Temptation started a conversation. I could be in and out of Target with a lawn chair, beach umbrella and a six pack in no time I thought to myself. Tailgating Target – all these shopping moms would love that, I bet.

I considered smashing the window. Insurance will cover it, right? I wasn’t in the mood to cause a bigger scene. So I waited. And I paced.

After two hours hanging out in the Target parking lot, a mechanic showed up and picked the lock. I decided to cancel my trip. Returned the car. Stopped by for a refund. And summoned a $30 Uber ride home.

“I’m still going to make the most of this day,” I told myself.

I was down but not out.

From Pissed Off to Pacified: A Tale of Two Parking Lots

I spent combined 4.5 hours sitting in parking lots last week. Just waiting.

Circumstances outside my control put me in those parking lots. But I had a choice to make. I could wait angry. Or I could let it be.

Both times I defaulted to frustration. But why? Frustration did not change the situation. Except to make waiting more painful.

I failed to shake it off Monday. I let a situation beyond my control ruin my day. And I marked an “L” in the win-loss column on the day.

But Friday I remembered an important truth. One that turned everything around. I could not change the situation. But I could change my attitude.

So instead of pacing angry. I decided to laugh.

I laughed at the statistical improbability of renting the one car that didn’t unlock with its key.

I laughed at the ridiculousness of being stuck in a Target parking lot for two hours on a Friday morning that was not Black Friday.

I laughed at the idea of driving down a highway with a smashed out window. And I laughed at the image of returning the car and telling the story.

I laughed at the thought of a Target Mom calling the police to report somebody breaking into a rental car in the parking lot. And I laughed at the hilarity of a hypothetical front page local newspaper detailing the arrest and the silly circumstances that led to it.

And finally, I laughed at myself for getting mad over something I could not control.

Sometimes life throws curve balls. You can whine about it. Or you can learn to adjust. Things do not always go as planned. (Imagine how boring life would be if they did?)

But you always have a choice about how to respond.

Putting Yourself In the Way of Success

There’s a story about a guy named Edwin Barnes who desperately wanted to go into business with Thomas Edison (you know, the 10,000 ways how not to make a lightbulb guy).

Anyway, ol’ Barnes didn’t have a penny to his name and he’d never met Edison. But he focused so hard on his goal he convinced himself it was inevitable. All he needed was one shot to speak with the inventor.

So one day Barnes stowed away on a train and just showed up out front of Edison’s workshop declaring he’d come to go into business with him. Impressed and taken off guard, Edison offered Barnes a job – an hourly wage job doing “work unimportant to Edison.”

Haters might say he failed. But legend has it Barnes saw the job as the start of his business partnership with Edison. He put himself in the right place. All he needed was the right time.

Five years passed. Still no sign of opportunity beyond his hourly wage job. But Barnes did not flinch. And that’s precisely when his moment came. 

Edison released a new machine which his salespeople claimed to be unsellable. The invention fascinated Barnes. Who approached Edison with a proposal. 

“Tom, just give me a shot and I’ll sell this widget like ice-cold lemonade on a Mississippi summer day.” (okay, so I have no idea what he really said, but you get the picture)

And sell it he did. So successfully, in fact, that Edison entered into a business agreement with him to sell the machine all over the country. Which made him rich beyond imagination.

But this story isn’t about getting rich. It’s about the power of intention mixed with deliberate action.

Barnes did not wait around hoping and wishing that a great career opportunity might just happen to him.

He fixated on a specific outcome. Then he put himself in the way of opportunity.


Post inspired by Napoleon Hill’s Think & Grow Rich. Originally published via a weekly newsletter I write about how to live a more self-directed life.

Success vs. Fulfillment

I think it’s difficult to find real success unless you prioritize fulfillment.

Sure. You can get rich. Gain status. And win the praise of others. But if you’re unfulfilled, does it even matter?

When I think about my own life and how I’ve defined success over the years one thing seems constant – the goal posts always move.

Each achievement challenges further achievement. Incomes goals, career goals, status goal…you name it. Anytime I’ve been prioritized “success” over fulfillment, I’ve found it fleeting.

On the flip side, when I’ve prioritized fulfillment, I’ve found something altogether different to be true – an ability to be content without sacrificing future ambition.

A Personal Tale

When I graduated college I set a pretty ambitious goal for myself: double my income every year.

It was easy at first. Year one. Year two. Even year three. But as you can imagine it became more difficult in time. Through my first five years in the real world, I almost succeeded too. But then I discovered something I didn’t anticipate. More money did not make me happier.

As obvious as this might sound to you, it was actually difficult for me to understand. Because I had a wrong notion about success. I believed success was a function of keeping score.

That belief really led me astray for quite some time. It had me looking out into the world at what others were doing. Comparing myself. And then beating myself up over all that I had not yet accomplished by my age. Which honestly got pretty exhausting after awhile.

Two Steps Back, One Leap Forward

A few years back I left an awesome job at a company I loved. I’d been there awhile. I’d climbed the ranks. And I was making great money.

But something had gone missing. I’d lost the fire for my work.

For awhile I tried to rediscover it. I tried working harder. I tried working less. I tried journaling. I tried therapy. I tried changing up my schedule. I tried changing up what I was working on.

But the more I searched the less vigor I felt for my work.

After months of battling with this, I found a new outlet – an opportunity to go work on something entirely different. To leave behind one opportunity and pursue the next. A new challenge, if you will.

It scared me. But (thankfully) after some prodding from a friend, I made the leap.

I went from big fish in big pond to a small pond where status had no bearing. I took a +40% pay cut. I left a team where I’d been around longer than almost everybody to a team where I was very much the new guy. I went from a role where I knew exactly what it took to succeed to a role that I was larger learning everything on the fly.

And a surprising thing happened – I rediscovered my fire for my work.

Somehow my status and income had both declined but my happiness increased. Who knew, right?

How To Find Fulfilling Work

Roman Krznarick has an awesome book on this topic you should check out. It’s called How To Find Fulfilling Work.

In the book he highlights five dimensions of fulfilling work. Here they are:

  • Earning Money (Extrinsic)
  • Achieving Status (Extrinsic)
  • Making a Difference (Intrinsic)
  • Following Your Passions (Intrinsic)
  • Using Your Talents (Intrinsic)

Basically, we all have our own motives for doing what we do. Krznarick explains how some of those motives originate by watching people – see also mimetic desire. Krznarick called these extrinsic motives. These are the things we all usually think about when we define success – like money, titles, where we work, who we know, etc.

But in the stories Krznarick researched, in most cases, people who pursued extrinsic factors actually ended up less happy. They were missing something.

Krznarick argued that the motives that come from within – which he calls intrinsic factors – are actually the key to unlocking fulfillment in our work and lives.

He tells stories about people who left 6-figure consulting jobs to work in non-profits. Or left their high-status jobs to pursue their art. And a whole collection of other examples where people “traded down” (lower income and status) to become happier.

People became happier as the moved closer to roles that used their talents, made them feel like they were making a difference, and stuff they were passionate about. In most cases, they made less money and did less glamorous-sounding work (at least at first).

As surprising as it might sound, Krznarick’s theory suggests it’s actually not the money or status that makes us happy. Rather, it’s the stuff that makes us come alive that leads to real success – success from fulfillment.

Searching For Your Own Answers

It’s nothing new for people to be searching for answers. What’s the meaning of life? How can I be successful? How can I live a happy life?

Questions like this have challenged people centuries. Thankfully a lot of people have kept good notes. And there’s so much we can learn from exploring other people’s struggles on these same topics.

I’m very much still on my own journey of personal development. But I’ve found a lot of answers – and a ton more questions – by digging deep into how other people have approached questions like these in their own lives and careers.

Here are a few resources I’ve found useful throughout the years:

How to Find Fulfilling Work By Roman Krznarick

How Will You Measure Your Life? By Clayton Christensen

Outwitting the Devil By Napolean Hill

Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World By René Girard

Start with Why By Simon Sinek

Do What You Are By Paul & Kelly Tieger & Barbara Barron

The War of Art By Steven Pressfield

You Don’t Need a Job – You Need Guts By Ash Ambirge

There are countless other good resources out there for exploring questions about success, happiness, fulfillment and the like. It’s a personal journey. And these are tough questions to wrestle with. But it’s worth it.

28 Things I’m Thinking About at 28

*The following post was adapted from a fall 2019 private journal entry – which I’m sharing publicly here now for the first time.

28 Things I’m Thinking About at 28

Something about birthdays always gives me pause – almost as if it’s a biological reminder to reflect on my life – to give an annual accounting of how I’ve spent my time.

This year is no different – and in the spirit of the sensationalist, click-bait times we live in, I’ve aimed to present this year’s reflections in as thoughtful manner as possible.

So here goes nothing.


Journal Entry – 6:20 p.m. November 18, 2019

1. Alchemy

Transforming the errors of my youth into golden nuggets of wisdom and life lessons (so I don’t repeat the same mistakes).

2. Mining

Extracting more value out of life – both from my time & labor, as well as the little things.

3. Treasure

Both wealth-building (present & future) but also why – I believe I have more good to offer the world if I’m financially independent.

4. Mental Hygiene

Practicing to live better mentally – less stress, more good vibes.

5. Physical Health

We won’t live forever. Both physical and mental self-care are critical.

6. Gratitude

This is a daily battle. But I believe it’s important to remain aware of the gift life is – and for what I have.

7. Joyfulness

Happiness has been an afterthought to ambition most of my life. I want to enjoy my life in the present though. To live joyfully now – not just with hope toward the future.

8. Curiosity

I’m never as fully alive as when I’m in hot pursuit of something I must know or prove.

9. Integrity

I want to be known – I crave to – as someone who deals honestly & fairly with others.

10. Compassion

I’m at constant odds with my desire to reason & my capacity for being human – without the latter in tact, I’ve lost something of grave importance for living a full life, and for achieving my potential. Remember to be human.

11. Identity

I’ve spent most of my life figuring out who I am not – and who I do not want to be. I feel more aware and comfortable with who I am each time I make one more step of progress toward that.

12. Hopefulness

I wouldn’t know what to do with my life if I didn’t carry an unshakeable belief that there is better out there – even if I can’t fully comprehend it.

13. Confidence

There’s no sense in standing for anything except what I believe to be right – the world will try to screw us one way or the other 😉. So might as well be comfortable living with myself.

14. Balance

I have a default “all or nothing” setting. It’s tough to be at odds with that – but it’s also necessary to find and practice balance. Which includes being at harmony with myself and my emotions.

15. Friendship & 16. Family

What’s the point of any of this if we can’t share it with anyone?

17. Fellowship

We live in a time where being present is constantly at war with everything else happening in the world. I want to get better at prioritizing and cherishing the limited, precious times and opportunities I do have with those who are important to me – not just idle time together – but time well spent.

18. Courage

The world can be scary. The odds are not in favor of the good guy. And that makes it all the more critical to fight to protect our individualism.

19. Encouraging

We’ve all got shit going on in our lives – that does not excuse me from building others up. I wouldn’t be where I am had others not encouraged me. Remember to pay it forward.

20. Patient

Damn. It’s exhausting to feel like I’m always being a reactionary… I want to protect my sanity and joy by getting better at letting things outside my control play out before flying off the handle. Remember to breath.

21. Thoughtfulness

It’s easy to take others for granted. I want to get better at acknowledging, recognizing, and communicating my appreciation.

22. Originality & Creativity

I have something unique and valuable to offer the world. Sometimes it’s hard, scary, vulnerable-feeling to put it out there. But it’s worth protecting that by persevering through.

23. Perseverance

Some days are tough. But nobody’s going to carry the water for me – and even if they offered, I won’t let them.

24. Personal Agency

I alone am responsible for my life, my actions, my choices, my words…and the consequences of those. No one else can carry my blame.

25. Industriousness

It’s not enough to work hard when the time we have is scarce. I must also invent my own way to prosperity.

26. Masculinity

Everything about being a man is part of the fabric of who I am – the good, the bad, the ugly. Masculinity is something to be embraced not renounced. Bridges and skyscrapers weren’t built by manicured hands.

27. Faith

My beliefs have been challenged more in the past decade than I ever imagined. I’m still working through the gaps – maybe I always will be . But I believe my life has a purpose higher than me. I can’t perfectly describe or articulate it. But I crave understanding of that purpose – and to be lost, wholly, in pursuit of it.

28. Love

My capacity and patience for the mysteries of my heart have forever been tethered to my faith. In periods of spiritual stagnation, love has felt like something within my control – cold, distinct, in-form, and calculated. In periods of deep spiritual longing – it has felt totally overwhelming, fierce, and both entirely incomprehensible and far beyond my control and mental faculties. Yet, in spite of the ebbs and flows – love has revealed its steadfast qualities to me. Through its unwavering – and at times undeserved – loyalties from others. And thought it’s consistent, sometimes soft but never-absent calling.

How Will You Measure Your Life?

A decade ago, legendary thinker Clayton Christensen delivered a powerful commencement to Harvard Business School grads. His speech came only months after overcoming the same type of cancer that had taken his father’s life — which gave extra pause for reflection.

Sadly, Christensen lost his battle with cancer earlier this year.

But he left behind a rich legacy of insight through writings like The Innovator’s Dilemma, The Prosperity Paradox, and many other best-sellers. Christensen spent the better part of his career asking important questions about how we can build better businesses and more fulfilling lives.

The past months, our team at Praxis has written about big changes impacting the future of education and careers — like ballooning student debt, degree inflationchanges in job requirements, the rise of online learningno-code tools, and more.

Today, I want to share why we believe changes like these matter for young people thinking about their futures. And how the ideas Clayton Christensen left behind offer a roadmap for approaching our lives and careers in light of many major shifts happening in the world.

In his book, How Will You Measure Your Life?, Christensen describes two types of strategies people use in planning: deliberate and emergent.

  • A deliberate strategy, Christensen described as the process of planning for anticipated opportunities. In other words, a deliberate strategy involves planning for a specific outcome. (Like going to college to pursue a particular occupation.)
  • An emergent strategy, on the other hand, continuously evolves as new, unanticipated problems and opportunities arise — more of a “work hard and play it by ear” approach.

Ultimately, Christensen suggested the best way to approach our careers is by following an emergent strategy — continuously experimenting with new opportunities — until we discover a path that both fulfills us and meets our needs.

Christensen’s advice aligns well with our philosophy at Praxis.

As we think about the future, we continue to aim to design an experience that enables young people to approach their futures emergently. By rapidly experimenting with new types of work, gaining context for their skills, and increasing their exposure to different opportunities, Praxis participants expedite their discovery process.

Our world is being reshaped rapidly. Computing power continues to expand exponentially. The growth of data continues to climb. Starting a business is becoming ever more affordable. Technological shifts are creating, eliminating, and changing our jobs (and how we do them) at an unprecedented rate.

These changes have dramatically increased the opportunity cost of waiting to gain experience in the real world (especially if waiting also involves accumulating debt). And in many cases, delaying experience means gaining theoretical knowledge or skills that may no longer be relevant once you enter the real world.

At Praxis, we recognize the pressure many young people feel to have their entire lives planned out before they get started. And we want to change the narrative.

We believe the most effective way to discover the kind of work that makes you come alive is by running experiments in the real world — until things click. But until then, don’t stress about having it all figured out.

Christensen said, “What’s important is to get out there and try stuff until you learn where your talents, interests, and priorities begin to pay off. When you find out what really works for you, then it’s time to flip from an emergent strategy to a deliberate one.”

If you’re still in school or early in your career and feel the pressure to have it all figured out, take a breath. Everything will be just fine. And if you want help coming up with a strategy — don’t hesitate to reach out.

Onward.

Mitchell


This post was originally published in our Praxis weekly newsletter, and has also appeared on the Medium publication: On Breaking The Mold.

Cherish the Imperfections

Can you imagine how stale life would be if everything were perfect?

The first pancake off the skillet always cooks completely through and every kernel of popcorn in the bag all pops perfectly.

But what if all those subtle imperfections in the world around us disappeared?

Today I’m grateful for all the things in life that aren’t perfect.

For the squeaky wheels. The kid screaming in the movie theatre. The gridlock traffic.

All these things form the beautiful tapestry that is the background of our lives. They grant us opportunities to improve both ourselves and the world around us. Opportunities to become a better version of ourselves – by achieving greatness or by learning humility.

Imperfections shape us, and in some way may always serves as a sentimental reminder of how far we’ve come, and how much further yet we have to go.

 

Exploring as Catharsis

Do you ever get the urge to explore something new? I do – often.

Something about venturing out into the unknown acts as a release. Even in the small detours – like a new route home from work, or a new path on an afternoon walk.

I think exposure to new environments expands our minds, even subtle changes. Disparities from routine offer fresh perspectives.

The explorations don’t have to be geographic, either. Consider a few modest changes with significant benefits:

  • Rearranging furniture
  • Swapping light bulbs with different hues
  • Working remotely or from a coffee shop, instead of the office
  • Using noise-cancelling headphones versus the usual ear buds (cough *Airpods* cough)
  • Changing up your playlist
  • Alternating to standing from sitting

All of these small steps give me a major release – not just in reduction of stress, but in a more significant way. New experiments yield new glimpses of joy. It’s almost like each new experience unlocks one more small secret to the universe.

Maybe it seems silly. But it works for me.

Against Monotony

We live in a great big world. How much of it have you experienced? I try to ask myself that from time to time. Especially when I find myself stuck in a routine that’s begun to produce diminishing returns.

A quick change of pace can go a long way. Major alterations go even further.

The real secret is not in changing for change’s sake – there is value to be had from routine – but in changing to expand your point of view.

If you’re like me, doing the same thing over and over again eventually leads to a wall that impedes progress. Mixing things up combats against that.

Experience the Orange

A decade or so ago at a leadership training seminar, the speaker gave everybody an orange. He set the clock for two minutes. The only instructions he gave were “to experience the orange.” For two minutes, everybody observantly peeled back the layers of the orange – intently cataloging every nuance.

Suddenly I held more than some orange table fruit.

Again, it seems silly. But I still remember it.

Sometimes approaching things in a new light, gives you an entire new perspective. If you’re down and out or feel like inspiration is lacking, maybe it’s time for your to experience the orange.

Go explore something new. Or go explore something familiar in a new light. There may be some new secret waiting for you to uncover it.

 

 

Decisions By Proxy

I got a new pair of roller blades for my 8th birthday.

Immediately, I begged dad to take me to the park. The street no longer presented a challenge.

Marching directly to the playground, I climbed up the steps to the tallest slide, slipped on my blades and stared toward the bottom.

“Should I do it?” I asked my dad.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea, Mitch,” he replied.

That’s all the encouragement I needed. I jumped to my feet and lurched forward.

The moment ended as quickly as it began. I ate it – hard. But at least I tried.

The experiment earned me several scrapes and an important lesson: bad outcomes hurt less when they result from your own decisions.

My dad and I laugh about that incident to this day. Still, I can’t help feeling a little pride. Yes – I made a reckless decision. But I made the decision.

Outsourcing Your Decision-Making

Contrast my example above with another story.

Several years ago, I worked in an office next to a warehouse. We shared street parking. Signs clearly marked the tow away zones. But we rarely saw them enforced.

On one occasion, a few new employees asked others if they ran a risk parking in the tow away zones. Some tenured employee told them they’d never seen a car towed – so the new folks parked there.

That afternoon the city towed their cars. The new employees acted outraged. What an injustice!

One requested reimbursement from the company for the incident. This confused me at first, but the longer I thought about it, the more it sank in.

This individual wasn’t mad just because of the car towing – he was also mad because he’d relied on someone else’s judgment to inform his decision. He saw the tow-away signs. But he made a calculated risk based on the information from what seemed like a credible source.

In short – he allowed someone else to make his decision for him. On that day, his proxy turned out wrong.

The individual felt justified in his outrage because he had a scapegoat upon whom he could blame-shift. Had he never asked anyone and chosen to park in the tow away zone, he would’ve bore full culpability.

Instead, by outsourcing his decision, he relived himself of responsibility for his poor decision.

Stuck Holding the Bag

We all rely on proxies to inform our decisions from time to time.

Consider product reviews as a small case and point. Or referrals from friends about the best dentist or auto-shop.

Still, we ultimately bear the cost if we act on the information and the choice turns out poorly.

What about the bigger decisions?

Like who to marry, whether or not to go to college, which company to work for, or which city to live in.

We all know people who’ve made decisions like this by proxy. Sometimes it works out. But when things go poorly, the person who provided information is rarely stuck holding the bag.

No – we have to live with the choices we make, even if we relied on information from someone else.

Skin in the Game

For big life decisions, I try to avoid advice from people without skin in the game. Sure, I’ll ask for movie referrals. But for the big stuff, I do my best to own my decisions.

If the choices blow up in my face, I have no on else to blame but myself.

Still, occasionally it’s useful to seek out third-party opinions – if even just to shock-test your ideas.

I’ve found over time that people who have no skin in the game as to the outcome tend to give advice based solely off their own experience. They don’t account for the arbitrage of their experience adjusted to yours.

People who have an actual investment in your outcomes, on the contrary, bear some of the risk if shit goes awry. I think something about that risk makes them simultaneously more affected, and more level-headed. They have to live with the weight of their opinion.

No – this does not mean you should fully outsource your decisions to them. But it does increase the odds that their advice is better suited for an outcome that’s good for you (not just them).

Proxies Don’t Pay

Whether you heed others’ advice or not rests on your own shoulders. When you request advice, you still get to choose what to do with it.

You’re never obligated to make decisions you don’t agree with. Don’t forget, you own the final say.

But, if and when you make a poor decision, if you relied on someone else’s faculties, remember: it’s you who has to bear the full cost.

Though they may “feel” guilty – you have to live the decision, not them.

So don’t be flippant. Proxies provide additional points of view. But they don’t have the power to make the call – you do.

Own your decisions. Even when you make bad ones. Don’t cede responsibility to anyone else.