I was talking to my daughter about a few college graduates that seem to me as if they fall into the category of “failure to launch”. Well, maybe they have launched but they have not reached escape velocity to reach an orbit of independence (and I don’t just mean financially) and growth.
My daughter tried to find some supportive words for them by saying,
“Maybe your 20s is when you take the time to find yourself.”
That was not what I wanted to hear as that is one of my pet peeves:Trying to find yourself. That’s what middle age is for!Click To Tweet
So this week’s blog post will be a little bit of a rant against the notion of finding yourself right after college. And the reality is that people who don’t go to college or those who do but do not come from means don’t really have the luxury of finding themselves. They have to get right into the game of life which is the attitude I think most people should have after they are done with college. I don’t have much of an issue with taking one year to explore and see the world or try new things but that’s about it in my opinion.
Just Get In The Game: Here’s Why
I recently read an article on the Harvard Business Review website about why most people are pretty bad at choosing the right job. At the end of the article, the author quotes the Greek physician Hippocrates who said (in Latin) “Ars longa, vita brevis.” This is loosely translated as “art is long, life is short.” Said differently, it takes a long time to acquire and perfect one’s expertise and one has but a short time in which to do it. There is a more complete phrase that I will touch on shortly but I will focus on this one first.Hippocrates who said (in Latin) 'Ars longa, vita brevis.' This is loosely translated as “art is long, life is short.” Said differently, it takes a long time to acquire and perfect one's expertise and one has but a short time in which to do it.Click To Tweet
It takes a long time to develop skills and an expertise and life is short so the sooner you know what you enjoy doing in such a way that it also enables you to stick with it during the tough times, the greater you will be able to compound your skills. One can never underestimate the importance of perseverance as lacking that will take you out of the game and you can only grow and prosper by staying in the game. And because compounding is highly impacted by the amount of time you’re invested, getting in the game early can be hugely beneficial. For example, if someone invests one dollar and earns 6% per year compounded on that dollar for 40 years, he or she will have $10.28 after 40 years. After 45 years that dollar would be worth $13.76 and after 50 years $18.42. Five extra years results in 38% more wealth while 10 extra years generates 84% more wealth. The differentials are far larger if you add money each year to the pot of capital to compound.
The point is that getting an early start can result in far better outcomes than one who is floundering trying to find himself At some point the need to enter the “real world” will arise and one’s post-college choices may have a detrimental impact on one’s employability because prospective employers will want to know what you’ve been doing since you graduated college and how being out of the workforce or bouncing around jobs has helped you build up a set of skills or experiences that should allow them to take a chance on you or convince them that you can hit the ground running and be reliable. The more you can focus on developing a set of skills that can make you indispensable, the greater the chances that you can grow, find life more interesting and challenging, and, if this is important to you, leave a legacy that will live on.
I know it’s in vogue to find yourself before entering the workforce, but that’s not how it works. Self-discovery is a process that unfolds over time and reveals much more when you challenge yourself, take risks, you are required to persevere, and you are faced with criticism and responsibility.
Life is continually providing opportunities to learn more about yourself. And the more you learn and grow the more capacity you have to learn and grow as these experiences snowball into a set of value-adding capabilities. If early on you can ascertain what keeps you interested and how you are directing your time and keeps you engaged even when it gets difficult, then that should be a clue as to where you should direct your employment energies. Building a skill/craft is long. Life is short.
So what was the more complete phrase? It is
“Ars longa, vita brevis, occasio praeceps, experimentum pericuulosum, iudicium difficile.”
This can be interpreted as
“art (craft/skill) is long, life is short, opportunity fleeting, experiment treacherous, judgment difficult.”
Boy if this doesn’t sum up the challenges of progressing through life, then I don’t know what does.
When we see an opportunity we have to jump on it because it’s fleeting but we are not always well equipped to know what an opportunity is until we have built up our skills and judgment to be able to recognize one. And because we have to operate in a world of imperfect information and we are overly influenced by our own emotions and hindered by our blind spots, and subject to being influenced by others, developing good judgment is a challenging feat but necessary if we’re going to move the ball forward down the field. We have to be on the field, assess the situation, recognize when an opportunity arises, and jump on it when it manifests itself or one is created. In addition, we don’t want to bet the farm on any one investment. It’s better to experiment and make little bets first to take some of the risk out of it before moving on to something bigger.
The more time we can put ourselves in situations to use our judgment, assess the risk and reward of many different situations, tap into the knowledge of others, mobilize resources and assume leadership, set up experiments to test our hypotheses, the more we improve the odds that we can grow ourselves in ways that make us more valuable and indispensable to our employers, ourselves, our families, or our companies if we are the owners.
So when in doubt get in the game. It takes a long time to build up a skill and life is short so the earlier you start the more you improve your odds of leaving the world a little better than you found it.