The First Part of Your Career as a Tour of Duty

I read this quote the other day, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.

In a word, it’s one of the best summaries about the value of apprenticeship. Especially if you’re still unsure what you want to do.

Here it goes:

“Working for others is a reconnaissance expedition; a means and not an end unto itself. It is an apprenticeship and not a goal.

You should have no long-term, or even medium-term, requirements of the first two or three companies you work for. Promotion is always welcome and brings with it the opportunity to learn more, but you are there to be sure you take every opportunity to suck out the marrow of what you need to know, to understand it and place it within a greater context for a future purpose.”

– Felix Dennis, How to Get Rich

If you’re not sure what you want out of your career, then your first priority should be the discovery process itself.

Go out and explore. Try things. Test different types of jobs in different industries. Take notes about what you’re good at, what you enjoy, and what you can’t bear. 

But don’t get caught in the trap of a safe job.

You’re not on a mission to be employed. You’re on an expedition – to discover what makes you come alive.

That’s hard work. And it might require a few failed attempts along the way as you narrow down options.

But, as Felix suggested, think of it as a reconnaissance expedition, not just the daily grind. You’re in your present job to gather strategic information. For yourself.

It’s not a job. It’s a reconnaissance expedition.

Reframe your thinking about the early part of your career as an expedition to gain clarity and context, rather than as a series of jobs you can access now. This allows you to keep the broader goal in mind.

It’s not about climbing the ladder. Or getting a raise. Or landing a job at a company so well known it’ll make your friends and family blush.

The early part of your career is about equipping you with the foundational knowledge, skills, experience, and context so that once you do find your thing, you can go all in on it.

And that’s exactly what apprenticeships are all about – helping you make the strongest possible start while you undergo your discovery process.