“Should I start a corporate career?”

A reader asked a question that I’d like to answer publicly.

This summer, she’ll do a corporate internship, and not too long after that she’ll graduate. She asks (shared with permission):

[Starting a career at this specific company] could be a long term career option if I enjoy this summer. But I’m not certain about my life choices overall in the big picture (family, career, etc.). I’m thinking about taking up journaling this summer so I can get a better sense of what I really want. Do you have any other strategies to think about this?

— Reader A.

First off: great question and thank you for asking!

There are two things that I would advise someone in your position to do.

First, experiment. You can think all you want, but it’s hard to know what something is like without experiencing it.

The flip side is that when you do experience something, you will effortlessly know what you like and don’t like about it. For example, it will be obvious whether you like having defined work hours, or whether you’d rather plan your own days.

That said, your overall judgment might come down somewhere in between “like” and “dislike”. If that happens, that’s okay. It’s just a different problem to solve. (If you end up feeling indifferent to working at this particular company, I suggest applying the Law of Fuck Yes or No.)

Your internship will serve as your experiment. It will give you a good idea of what starting a career at this corporation would be like. So you’re set on the experimentation part.

The second thing to do is to think about alignment.

How to find work you’ll love is a complex question that I won’t attempt to answer here. But I can tell you that a great way to find work that you hate is to take a job that does not align with your values.

If you want to enjoy your work, it has to align with your values.

For example, some of my top values include autonomy, personal growth, and competence. I like to be in charge of my own life, I like to continually challenge and develop myself, and it makes me feel proud to do things well.

This makes me a bad fit for many corporate jobs, because corporate jobs often come with bosses, fixed work hours, and few opportunities to develop certain skills (compared with being an entrepreneur). And many corporate jobs do not reward you proportionally to how well you do your work.

Which brings me back to reader A.’s question.

A., what are your values? And would starting a career at this particular company align with your values?

If honesty is very important to you, ask whether you’d be able to express yourself freely at this company. If you really value humor: can you laugh with the people who work there?

You mention that family is important to you. Can you get more specific on that? And how does this value align with a 9–5 job at this particular company in this particular location?

Now, you might not know what your values are. In that case, start there.

Journaling might help you identify what you care about the most. But I also recommend a more direct approach: look at a list of common values and rank their importance to you. Or play the “values game”.

Finally, accept that you might make the “wrong” choice. If that happens, admit it to yourself as soon as possible and try different work instead.

I hope that helps. Good luck! 💪🏻

Yours,

— Peter

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