If you have been following the news, the death of Steve Jobs has been everywhere.
Steve Jobs had an unusually big impact of my life and my parents’ lives. You see my parents started one of the very first Apple dealers in my hometown of San Diego, California.
In 1977, Jobs co-invented the first mass market personal computer, called the Apple II. In 1978, my parents started a retail store to sell it. This was 33 years ago.
As a kid, I worked in almost every job in that business. I did sales. I answered phones. I unpacked boxes. I counted inventory. I fixed computers. I wired network cable through the ceiling (8-year-olds can climb more easily).
In 1984, when the Mac was first introduced, I had one of the first 500 Macs ever made sitting on my family’s dining room table. It had this new thing called a word processor with a graphical user interface and fonts. I wrote my first “ransom” note – where every word had a different font face or size.
My family has always followed Jobs from the very early days. So when he died, it really was an end of an era for my family.
In reflecting on Jobs’ various speeches and quotes, I came across one of my favorites. Its from a speech he gave at Stanford University Commencement a few years ago.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.
Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.
They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
This quote is profoundly wise and particularly appropriate for aspiring and new management consultants. One of the potential risks of working in consulting is: the industry (especially in the top firms) is quite dogmatic.
If we define dogma as living with the results of other’s people thinking, the prevailing dogma in consulting is: upward career advancement is a good thing.
In other words, if you are a new consultant at McKinsey, BCG or Bain, consulting dogma says you should want to be a partner at your firm.
It is one thing to be partner because you truly love it. It is another to do it because it’s the next most obvious prestigious step.
The same dogmatic rationale applies to aspiring management consultants.
When I was at Stanford, many of the most successful business-oriented students applied to either consulting firms or investment banks. We did so because it was “the thing” to do. The natural next step to a prestigious academic career.
In hindsight with much time to reflect, I’ve concluded that this dogmatic thinking was absolutely absurd.
The reason everyone applied to the investment banks and consulting firms was because these firms were extremely aggressive in marketing themselves on campus, and conveying the idea that it was the obvious next step.
But having worked in the global economy now for many years, I can assure you our economy consists of more than two industries — consulting and investment banking.
Yet aside from working in technology, the overwhelming majority of students obsessed over working in two very small industries that likely represent less than 0.01% of the entire global economy.
This is dogma at work — living with the results of other people’s thinking.
It is a very large world out there. The options are truly limitless. And while I will be the first to say working in consulting can be a wonderful step in one’s career, it is not the only option, and it is not a good fit for everyone.
For example, if you have enjoyed the case interview process, you will most likely enjoy the day-to-day work that a consultant does. Conversely, if you disliked the case interview process, you will probably dislike the day-to-day work as well.
Pick the path that is right for you — not the one the others (your friends, your parents, your in-laws) suggest. It is your decision, not anyone else’s.
Time in life is very short.
The same week that Steve Jobs died, one of my first small business consulting clients also passed away.
He was 71 years old, and he too died from complications from Pancreatic cancer. I was exchanging emails with him on a Friday discussing how his treatment was going (and it was going well), and by Monday, he was in and out of coma. Two weeks later, he died.
And in my final conversations with him before he died, do you know what we talked about?
We did not talk about jobs, promotions, career accomplishments.
We talked about two things:
1) the people who he was worried about (his wife, kids, and grandkids),
2) the things he always wanted to do in life… but was now running out of time to do.
To use his words: “I’m getting taken off the playing field before I’m done playing.”
The tragedy of the situation is he ended his life on earth with his “lifetime to-do list” incomplete. And most of those “to do” items left undone were things to benefit the people around him.
In the end, he simply ran out of time.
Don’t run out of time in your life. Decide what it is that you want to do with the time you’ve been given.
In the final days of each of our lives, the only standard we will use to evaluate our life is our own. Dogma pretty much goes out of the window when you only have a few days left. You have the benefit of much more time, don’t waste it living someone else’s life.
Live your own. Choose wisely.