Over the past month, I’ve spent a ton of time with MBA students, recent grads considering their next job and folks a little bit into their career trying to find their path. What’s consistent across the board is that the happiest people are on their road towards their goal and those struggling are worried about what to do next that might one day help them reach that goal. So, which are you?
Are you doing what you want to do, or are you doing some prerequisites to eventually do what you want to do? It’s a question you should ask yourself – is what you are doing today the best and fastest way to get started becoming the best at something; taking you towards your goal?
Prerequisites to Your Real Goal
A dozen years ago or so, I decided I should go to law school. Even now, my logic seems modestly sound – turns out more CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are JDs than MBAs. Since my goal (at the time) was to be a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, I made pretty decent logic to go get my JD.
BUT, I vividly recall a conversation with one of my mentors (Nick Malden) who told me… “Wait, so if you want to be a CEO, why don’t you just join a company with a CEO or executive you admire and start climbing the ranks now? Learn how to be a great CEO, but learning from someone who is a great CEO (or could be.)”
I heard that and thought to myself: ‘Ah, law school will help me get there faster or it’ll help me avoid the crappy part of the journey or maybe it’ll get them to hire me directly out of law school as the CEO of GE.’
Collective wisdom is that it takes 10,000 hours to become an ‘expert’ at something. That means if you work a 40 hour a week job, doing exactly what you want to be an expert in, you’d need 5 years. Then it’ll be another 10,000+ hours until you can become really an expert or really great at something. (Think LeBron James just stopped at 10,000?)
So ask yourself, are you currently on the clock actually building that 10,000 hours of expertise or are you simply putting in time waiting or preparing to start your 10,000 hours?
It’s funny what we do to ourselves. We convince ourselves we aren’t qualified or aren’t good enough or need these 5 things to be checked off before we can ever do what we REALLY want to do.
For me, I really enjoyed law school and even really liked being a startup lawyer. I worked my butt off to be a great lawyer even. But from my first few months on the job, I knew I was “checking a box” for what was next. And I was actually pretty darn good at the whole lawyering and business developing thing – but those 10,000+ hours (my five years plus as a lawyer and the time in law school) aren’t helping me to be an expert in building a company that can change the world. Sure, it’s helpful, but those cycles of company-building Eric are gone.
I knew the whole time I wasn’t passionate about being a lawyer – it wasn’t my calling in life. But I’d done what thousands of twenty-somethings do… we create a set of prerequisites we think are required to do what we really want to do. Some prerequisites are really required – listen, if you really want to be a doctor, then it’s required you go to medical school. I get that. But if you really want to work with kids, why start your medical career as a surgeon hoping someday to switch to pediatrics? If you really want to be an entrepreneur, why are you getting your MBA or taking a job at a large corporation? If you really want to be a chef, an artist, a pilot, etc., why are you selling insurance? Are those activities really helping you start the clock on your 10,000 hours?
It’s all about cycles post 10,000 hours
Why does all of this matter? Maybe you spend 5 years doing prerequisites, finding your calling or just getting the confidence to do what’s next. Or maybe you need to for other reasons (family, fear, loans, etc.)
Again, I’m totally fine with that approach.
But know that’s what you are doing, admit it and be honest about it.
If your goal is to run for political office someday, then why aren’t you in the game now? If your goal is to start a company someday, then why aren’t you working for a startup now? If your goal is to teach kids, then why aren’t you doing something with kids now?
Once you’ve gotten your 10,000 hours under your belt, the world gets so much more interesting as you can then figure out how to maximize your impact – but it’s really difficult to do that until you’ve got those 10,000 hours down. I certainly don’t regret my law career (I don’t believe in regrets). Lawyer life served me well working with tons of startups and entrepreneurs, and I did get to be a part-time entrepreneur during that journey. But maybe I missed a startup cycle of my own in that time. Who knows?
Are you currently building your 10,000 hours… or waiting for some thing to say now is the time to start?