Alt Career Advice: Go Make Mistakes

When I was young I occaisonally received advice from friends and family, often academics with colorful and distinguished careers, to drop out of the normal paths offered to me and instead find myself before I took a job.

One particular sunny summer afternoon at Kansas State a tall lanky Anthropology professor named Harald, with wild gray hair who had a tendency to get over-excited while speaking, looked me over and asked “now that you’ve graduated what will you do with yourself”?

I forget how I answered. I am not sure I even had a chance to speak before his bright blue eyes grew wide, he sucked in a deep breath, wagged a finger and bellowed in a thick Dutch accent “you should go west to the ocean, jump on a ship as a deck-hand headed for New Zealand or Australia, and get a job working with sheep! Just be careful and make friends because if someone dislikes you they’ll throw you overboard and…”

The first thing that flashed in my mind was the irony of being told to chase my own dreams and then being given a dream to chase. I since have learned this is a clever management trick: “Bob, you’re in charge of this project. Now listen to me as I tell you how to run it.”

What Harald really meant, it soon occurred to me, was that I should use the time of my youth to explore, to discover, to make controlled mistakes, to recover and learn from them (recover being the operative word — don’t get thrown overboard). This seemed like age-old common advice and that is what I did. I would recommend the same to everyone.

This story came to mind when I read Moxie’s latest blog post. Although I found myself nodding my head a few times, he also said a few things about risk and judgement that I tend to disagree with.

More to come later…

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