When I graduated, the majority of my classmates took one of two jobs: consulting or investment banking. The pay was top-notch, the competition, fierce, and the learning and “networking” opportunities, seemingly abundant. What’s not to like for a type A personality?
A year later and most of my friends who took these jobs are miserable, bored, exhausted, and wondering whether $400 bottle service is really a worthwhile price for entry to mediocre clubs. Quite simply, their approach to maximizing their life - an idea most of us have had hammered in from the womb - was a complete failure. Why? I believe it’s due to the local maxima, or “hill climbing” problem.
A good way to understand the local maxima problem is to imagine being blindfolded in the middle of nowhere, and told to find the highest point around you. It may take a while, but you could do it: simply feel the ground around you and move in the direction of elevation. You reach the top of that hill, however, only to remove your blindfold and see that out in front of you is a valley and a huge mountain.
Recruiting sessions, expensive dinners, and pressuring parents led my classmates - and me, for a time - to believe that a higher starting salary meant a better outcome for the future. Unfortunately, this is entirely false. If you think about it, the point of graduation is for most people the time in their lives when they have the least responsibility and expectations. It is therefore the best time to take risks that could potentially lead to great gains for the rest of their lives. So why not take a risk and head for the valley first? The common response is that one needs to learn a skill-set out of college, and that such a job is just a stepping stone. Complete bull. Some of the greatest entrepreneurs, world leaders, and people who just generally enjoy their lives, have relied on less than a high-school diploma. Learning from doing is exponentially more useful - because you learn from failure and are forced to survive. And failure is much easier to stomach when there’s nothing to lose.
So to those with the luxury of youth: take a risk, and do something you’re passionate about. Preferably something that creates much more value for people other than yourself.
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Juventas Fugit is designed and written by Justin Wohlstadter, who, when not writing in the third person, can be found in a coffee shop talking about startups, thinking about the future of education, and generally procrastinating something important.
- Passions: startups that positively affect the world, education innovation, good design, learning, and meeting those with an equally insatiable curiosity.
- Play: working on something really neat....
- Previously: was director of product design at Enterproid. Before that I built the early-stage venture arm of Penny Black and co-founded BOLDstart Ventures, where I was lucky enough to invest in some awesome startups including Rapportive (sold to Linkedin), Blaze (sold to Akamai), GoInstant (sold to Salesforce), Klout, Indiegogo, Enterproid, ShowMe, LocalResponse, and many more. And before all of this I was involved in a bunch of other crazy, less successful startup ventures involving fire extinguishers, measuring philanthropic impact, and creative spaces.
- Pedantry: most of the important stuff I taught myself or learned from friends, but I’m fortunate to have also (barely received) degrees from Harvard and Oxford. At Oxford I wrote my dissertation on how internet innovation will disrupt access to higher education.
- Procrastination: can be found on Twitter, Linkedin, AngelList and other web spaces, and be reached via email at my first name at this domain.