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In a Nutshell: Career Planning

By Christopher Schonberger

Mark Andreessen is the co-author of Mosaic, one of the original web browsers, and co-founder of Netscape. In this recent three-part series on his blog, Andreessen offers his advice on career-planning. It’s a little Silicon Valley-centric, but there are many useful pointers that I (of far less experience and success) tend to agree with. Here’s the CliffsNotes version (or PinkMonkey, if you get down like that):

The first rule of career planning: Do not plan your career.

Even though Andreessen makes career planning sound like Fight Club, his point is that over-planning can really mean oversimplifying and avoiding risk. The fact is, you are not the Oracle of Delphi, and you probably never will be. Instead of trying to map out a 40-year plan, spend time developing skills and pursuing opportunities. You are almost certainly not going to spend your entire career with the company you work for out of college, so don’t let it be the reason that you pass on a riskier (but potentially better) opportunity.

Treat your life like a portfolio

I think that’s what celebrities literally do. And while treating things in your life like stocks may sound a bit impersonal, Andreessen has a pretty simple point: weigh the potential risks and returns of each opportunity within the context of all the other risks you are taking. In other words, don’t get tunnel vision.

Recent grads should not be risk-averse

“When you are just out of school—and assuming that you are relatively free to move and have a low burn rate—is when you should optimize for the rate at which you can develop skills and acquire experiences that will serve you well later. You should specifically take income risk in order to do that. Always take the job that will best develop your skills and give you valuable experiences, regardless of its salary. This is not the time in your career to play it safe.” (Addendum: don’t worry about geography risk, either. You’ve got no house and presumably no family—don’t be tied down.)

If you can’t be the best at one thing, be in the top 25% at two (or more)

Scott Adams, the dude who created Dilbert, points out that he is neither the best comedian nor the best artist. The key to his success, he claims, is that he is better than most people at writing jokes and drawing. Being the best at something applies mostly to set-skill jobs, like being an NBA power forward. But most people who are successful in business (or writing, for that matter) have a range of strong skills. I’m neither the best blogger nor the best recent grad in America. But I reckon I might be in the top 25% for both…you be the judge!

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