The simplest way to make any career decision is to choose the career option that gives you the greatest progress toward your career and/or life goal.

This should be your primary decision-making criterion.

If there are multiple paths that provide equal progress toward your goal, then your secondary criterion should be some combination of (not listed in any particular order):

  • Highest income
  • Lowest risk
  • Highest wealth-creation opportunity (e.g., stock options)
  • Most fun/exciting/satisfying

However, many people get stuck on primary decision-making criteria when making the career choices that get them closer to their goals. In order to do this, you must have a goal in mind.

In a recent Inner Circle office hours Zoom meeting, several people asked me if they should take job offer A or B… work in industry A or B… pursue career path A or B… whether they should leave McKinsey now or later…

My answer is always the same.

What is your goal?

The goal dictates the decision.

Now, if you don’t have a goal, then it is impossible to make the optimal choice. This is actually okay and quite typical.

However, there is no point in trying to find the optimal choice when you don’t know what the hell you’re trying to optimize for.

Instead, focus your energy on exploring various options by reading books, networking, and meeting people who work in the career options you’re contemplating. This is not an overnight process, and it may take several months or years.

In some phases of life, you run hard toward your goal.

In other phases of life, you explore and discover what seems interesting to you.

This is normal.

There is a best way to explore… and that is to gain exposure to new job functions, industries, or professions and to pay attention to whether or not you like what you discover.

If you liked the experience, ask yourself why.

If you disliked the experience, also ask yourself why.

If you had lunch with a few data scientists and noticed you were super excited about their work, ask yourself why. What about their descriptions of the daily work seemed interesting, fun, or exciting to you?

If you networked with a bunch of investment bankers and noticed you couldn’t wait until the meeting ended, again, ask yourself why. Was it the nature of the work? Was it the industry culture? Was it the balance of computer work vs. interpersonal work? Was it the hours? Was it something else?

As you discover what you like and dislike, your next iteration of discovery should be directed toward more of those things you liked and away from those things you did not.

This allows you to iterate toward greater clarity around what you want… and then to find the shortest path to what you want.

[Incidentally, dating is much the same… but that’s an article for a different day. If you want to hear my thoughts on dating, just post a comment below and let me know.]

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