Candid Career Tip: Your career is a marathon, not a sprint

If I were to list down the most common career mistakes people make, this one will perhaps take the top spot. And it is also one of the most fatal ones, so definitely deserves a post of its own.

A short story first

I met Aman recently. Like most engineers, he didn’t choose to be an engineer – it just was a safe default option for him. During campus placements, he took up a Sales job at Byju’s since the salary was better than most other companies. He did okay and now has a total of 4 years of experience and a decent salary, but he is no longer enjoying his job.

He says he likes marketing but he can’t find a job since he has no experience. I mentioned to him that many startups might actually give him a chance, although he may have to compromise on his market salary for sometime.

He liked the idea but eventually wrote it off:

“No, I can’t go back and start from scratch again. I will lose value of my 4 years of experience and salary growth.”

Two months later, he took another sales job that offered him a 30% salary hike.

Wait, let it sink in.

Here is someone who doesn’t like his job function but instead of correcting the course, he takes up another similar job to “save” the 4 years of experience.

4 years of experience. Assuming an average career length of 40+ years, this is like less than 10%. Think of it – if you invest 10% of your money in a wrong share, will you invest rest 90% also in the same?

And yet, so many people do just that when it comes to their careers. They spend 10 years planning to start a career but feel hesitant to change the course even if they realize they are on the wrong path.

The likely aftermaths of this decision

Unfortunately, Aman’s short-sighted decision is likely to cost him dear.

  • His salary and seniority will keep increasing, thus increasing his cost to switch careers.
  • He will likely get married and have a family soon, this making him more risk averse.
  • After 10 years (and with 25 years of his work life still to come) his lack of love for this job will reflect in his performance. He won’t be as good as his peers who happen to like their jobs. This will make him more nervous and unfortunately, more dispensable. At a time of hyper competitive and unpredictable business scenarios, this might lead to job loss etc.

In sum, to avoid 4 years of loss in the early stage of his career, Aman has put his 35 years of future professional life at stake. He will likely be forever unhappy at work which will affect his overall satisfaction. But what’s ironical – even financially, the salary compromise at the start of his career would have been a fraction of the potential loss of future salary.

Takeaways

  • Think of your career in long term. Not just next few jobs.
  • Don’t be afraid of cutting your losses. Tried something and it didn’t work? Learn from it and correct your course to something you want to achieve in the long term. In a career spanning 40 years, a few years won’t matter when you’d look back.
  • Use first 10 years of your work life to experiment freely and build your foundation. Why 10 years? It’s enough time to try 3-4 areas and also is the time when you have fewer family related responsibilities.

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Hi, I’m Nikunj, a Cofounder at CutShort. This post is a part of my Candid Career Tips series where I share my unfiltered tips on not only getting a job but on building a successful and fulfilling career. 

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