Career Decisions

As I was about to graduate, I had to make a decision. 

A career in venture capital, or a career in consulting. For years, consulting had been a dream career for me. I prepared during undergrad, and that continued when I went to business school. It seemed absolutely clear to me that I would be a consultant. 

Yet, when I was so close to taking a decision, I began thinking otherwise.

My friends said VC was an end of the road career. No “exit” options. On the other hand, consulting apparently had an incredible number of “exit” options. It seemed like a no-brainer to go for an established consulting firm, rather than a young venture firm.

In the end, I took the path which most of my friends thought was crazy. 

We’ve all been there: you’re at crossroads and you don’t know which path to take. Should you take the one that is safe, popular, and something you can’t go wrong with or do you take the path which is ill-favoured but can be highly rewarding in the long run? 

Career decisions are some of the biggest moves we’ll ever make

For some, it will be a life-long commitment. A career decision will impact your personal and social life. In the end, all you want is to be happy with the decision you made but there are no guarantees. So in that case, how do you move forward?

How do you make a life-long, apparently life-altering decision that will work in your favour?

Decisions are usually a process. It isn’t a one-day event or a moment when you suddenly decide that this is what you’re going to do for the rest of your life. While making a bad decision prepares you to make better decisions in the future, toying with decisions pertaining to career might not be wise – emotionally as well as financially.  

In the fast-paced world we live in, as we’re spoiled with choice, it becomes increasingly difficult to stick to our career decisions. Finding the job monotonous? Quit. Don’t like your job? Quit.  Want a better-paying job? Quit. 

However, these can be detrimental to your career in the long run.

Will Sachin Tendulkar be what he is if he switched his career every few years? Would A R Rahman be the best composer if he picked up marketing? Or what would have happened if Steve Jobs had decided to take another path?

Career is like good wine. 

You need to let it settle and age without disturbing it too much. It’s about a long-term commitment to your career decision. While it may be tempting to quit your job and try to make it big on the next social media platform just like your friend did, it’s probably not the best bet. It’s not easy to reinvent yourself every few years. 

It can be daunting, challenging, and oftentimes, soul-sucking endeavour. I talked about the power of compounding, which is very relevant to the decision you make for your career. 

Compounding is an act of repetition that over a period of time helps you achieve mastery. We need to feel connected to our work to strive. You can achieve Mastery by the relentless ability to focus deeply on a subject and a strong desire to learn. 

Robert Greene, in his book Mastery, highlights the following, “Whenever we learn a skill, we frequently reach a point of frustration—what we are learning seems beyond our capabilities. Giving in to these feelings, we unconsciously quit on ourselves before we actually give up.”

It is in our nature to give up when things get monotonous or seem difficult beyond a point. However, in doing so, we claim the path of apprentice throughout our life. 

Ultimately, the choice is when it comes to your career – do you want to be an apprentice or do you want to be a master? 

In the first few years of venture, I regularly went back to my decision. Regularly because I felt I had made the wrong one. Venture seemed like a struggle, while my friends in consulting seemed quite thrilled. 

I was unable to find my feet or a direction. 

But perhaps because of my relentlessness, or because I didn’t want to be “proved wrong”, I didn’t quit. I kept at it. A big reason for creating A Junior VC was the gap I felt in startup conversations, as a Junior VC.

The relentlessness began to pay off.

I realized that I inadvertently stumbled upon a key learning. To really give anything a shot, you need to give it time. Time for the tough times, time for the good times. For me, that timeframe is 5 years. 

If you try anything for 5 years, you are very likely to know if it works for you or it doesn’t. 

People who leave paths in a couple of years do not see the entire cycle. The learnings, relationships, compound over 5 years. The addition in year 1 is far lesser than year 5. 

Taking the decision should therefore always be with a long term lens, with the ability to stick through both ups and downs.

Deliberate before taking a decision. Spend a lot of time understanding what call you are taking. Weigh the pros and cons. 

But once you take a career call, stick to it.