I've been writing lately about how people in their twenties should think about different career paths (whether to go to law school, whether to work in tech, whether you have the makeup to be an entrepreneur, the role of elite colleges in misshaping their graduates). Since the feedback to date indicates that people find this topic useful, I wanted to touch upon another aspect: learning to walk first.
The other day, I received an email from a guy in his mid-twenties asking for career advice (we'd corresponded a few times already). He likes tech, he likes government and politics, he likes media, and because he just graduated from Harvard Business School, he was lucky to have interviews at a variety of interesting places: the Boston mayor's office, Google, The Atlantic and others.
He asked me for advice on which path to take to capture his different interests. "If you want to shape policy, work in the Mayor's office. If you want to shape opinion, work in the media. If you want to shape new products and technology, work for a startup. But pick what you want to learn and focus on that - don't try to combine everything into one job."
A lot of people like me write platitudes in columns like these saying things like "follow your passion." And I strongly believe that if you like your work, you'll live a much happier life. But that doesn't mean you should expect to land your ideal job right out of the gate. Here's a platitude that actually makes some sense: learn to walk before you run.
Through my company - Tusk Holdings - we're lucky to work across multiple fields: government and politics, technology and finance, philanthropy, media. But this is the product of decades of hard work and lots of brutal learning experiences.
Yes, we're now able to exert influence over elections and policy. But I spent two years getting press for Chuck Schumer, the most media hungry politician in American history, in order to learn the role of media in shaping politics and policy. I worked for a literally insane person in Rod Blagojevich to learn how to (and not to) run a state (in fairness, working for Mike Bloomberg was a pleasure).
Yes, we get to work with a lot of interesting startups. But I worked with Uber for four and a half years before launching my venture capital fund (I also toiled at Lehman Brothers for two years to better learn finance).
Yes, our family foundation is tackling hunger in some interesting ways. But I worked with, volunteered for and served on the boards of a variety of non-profits before that.
I spent five years building my consulting firm before expanding to other businesses like our digital archives and casino management companies. And I spent years writing op-eds for my bosses and clients before launching this column.
In other words, I spent a long time learning to walk before I began to run. And yes, passion, creativity, a high risk tolerance and working harder than everyone else are all essential to success. But first, you have to know what you're talking about.
And that doesn't come by going to a top school. It comes by doing, working, learning every way you can. And once you do that, you'll run faster than you ever thought possible.