The most effective people make career choices for fundamental reasons, not instrumental reasons.
That’s one of the key take-aways from Dan Pink’s excellent book The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need.
Dan Pink’s book is excellent on two counts. First, it presents the material in a creative and engaging way: the book is actually the first American business book in manga. I was slightly familiar with this approach because the resource team at DG worked with some people a few years ago to adapt some of John Piper’s content to a graphic novel format. Dan Pink has done the same thing here, except to teach career principles.
Second, the content is helpful — and counterintuitive. Here are the six lessons of the book:
- There is no plan.
- Think strengths, not weaknesses.
- It’s not about you.
- Persistence trumps talent.
- Make excellent mistakes.
- Leave an imprint.
If I can, maybe I’ll do a series that briefly covers each of these points.
For now, here’s some advice for those who aren’t sure what to do next: make your next choice for fundamental reasons, not instrumental reasons.
Here’s how Pink explains it (via one of the characters in the book):
You can do something for instrumental reasons — because you think it’s going to lead to something else, regardless of whether you enjoy it or it’s worthwhile.
Or you can do something for fundamental reasons — because you think it’s inherently valuable, regardless of what it may or may not lead to.
And the dirty little secret is that instrumental reasons usually don’t work. Things are too complicated, too unpredictable. You never know what’s going to happen [and note that this is biblical! Proverbs 20:24; 16:9; James 4; etc.]. So you end up stuck. The most successful people — not all of the time, but most of the time — make decisions for fundamental reasons.
They take a job or join a company because it will let them do interesting work in a cool place — even if they don’t know exactly where it will lead.
There’s the key idea. If you don’t know what you want to do next, do what you think is inherently valuable. You don’t need to know where it will lead. And, almost certainly, it will lead to someplace interesting, because, first, you already are doing something interesting (that was the point of your choice!) and, second, we are more effective when we are doing what we love to do.
And even if you do have a clear goal for where you want to end up (which is a good thing), don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you will best get there by making a bunch of instrumental choices to do things you don’t really want to do, but which will “keep your options open” and eventually let you get closer to your interests. This approach usually backfires. Instead, have your large goal, but stay open to seizing unplanned opportunities to help get you there, and along the way seek to follow the path of doing what you find inherently valuable.