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Risk Taking: The Key to Being a Grown-Up

Marc Andreessen has written a fascinating essay on career planning where he breaks down choices one should make if they’re interested in doing revolutionary work post-graduation.

He makes an interesting point about kids who live very busy – yet highly programmed – lives. They certainly accomplish a lot in high school both in an dout of the classroom, but do they learn the types of skills necessary to be highly successful in the real world? Andreessen has his doubts:

The Pmarca Guide to Career Planning, part 2: Skills and education

What do I mean? It’s possible you got all the way through those first 22 or more years and are now entering the workforce without ever really challenging yourself. This sounds silly because you’ve been working hard your whole life, but working hard is not what I’m talking about. You’ve been continuously surrounded by a state of the art parental and educational support structure — a safety net — and you have yet to make tough decisions, by yourself, in the absence of good information, and to live with the consequences of screwing up.

In my opinion, it’s now critically important to get into the real world and really challenge yourself — expose yourself to risk — put yourself in situations where you will succeed or fail by your own decisions and actions, and where that success or failure will be highly visible.

I think Andreessen’s right. I’ve seen a lot of people who are VERY good as taking tests, so do very well in an academic situation. However, one big difference in the real world is that the tests aren’t defined for you. You have to decide for yourself what’s a appropriate test, then figure out how you’re going to ace it.

Being productive and good at following orders is valuable and is enough to land a job that makes car payments. However, interesting work with great rewards (and not just financial rewards) comes from being able to determine what problems need to be solved, then solving them.

2 thoughts on “Risk Taking: The Key to Being a Grown-Up”

  1. Thanks for Sharing this Ed, great read.

    I’m a living breathing example of this. I’ve always been excellent at taking tests, I sailed through High School and went into college as a National Merit Commended student. But I failed out of college after two or three years do a depression brought on by lack of interest and ambition. All I wanted to do was play on my computer.

    It’s turned out to be a good thing as I now have a nice career as an interactive designer and am more successful and happy than most of my friends who did go to and finish college. But there was definitely a point for a year or two there where I was utterly lost and pretty low.

    I think it’s easy to get caught up in the motions when you are succeeding. But if you’re not doing something you truly love, you’ll eventually burn out.

  2. In other words, academia is boring. The real-world provides challenges that actually mean something.

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