Sunday, October 16, 2016

Risk & Uncertainty

As a freshman in college, I had lots of ideas for what I wanted my career to look like, but no solid idea or plan of what I actually wanted to do.  I thought of many things but nothing seemed exactly right to me.  I came in as an Engineering student, but switched to the division of general studies shortly after.  I have explored a different major pretty much every semester, including English + Secondary Education, Pre-dental, Psychology, Architecture, and finally Economics.  I have joined clubs and organizations in many different realms -  I even became a CA (similar to a TA) for an introductory computer science class and was a member of the pre-law honors society.    After all of this, I have discovered more of what I like and do not like, and learned even more about myself. However, I still don’t fully know what I want my career to look like, or “what I want to be when I ‘grow up.’”
One thing I do know is that I want to do something that makes me happy.  To me, this means working in a field that is interesting to me and that pays decently well while leaving room for me to pursue other things (hobbies, fitness, family, etc.)  As a college freshman I thought so much about how to make that tangible - I tried to find the “right answers” and figure out all the specifics of what my career, job, and salary would look like so I would never have to be uncertain.
    Unfortunately, the certainty that I strove for is impossible to find.  Instead of searching for perfect, simple answers to complex and ephemeral problems, I have learned (and am still learning) to be content with uncertainty.  One way I do this is by focusing on the things that I already know and by keeping an open mind to explore the things I am passionate about.
After reading the book Choose Yourself! by James Altucher (as well as other similar books), I have been more comfortable with the idea that doing the things I want most now will lead to happiness and success later on.  The book emphasizes doing only the things you feel excited about and to make time for only the people and places and events that you really want to.  As a dedicated student who has always strived to exceed the expectations given to me by my parents, teachers, and society, I found this idea liberating.  Before, I was so wrapped up in achieving goals that were set for me and looking for the answers. At the end of the day, I didn’t know what to major in or focus on career-wise; I just thought “I don’t really know what I want to do, but it’s definitely a good idea to get good grades and build a resume that recruiters want to see so I’ll just do that.”  I spent so much time on these things that I never really got to explore my own passions and interests until I read this book.  Since then, I have shadowed teachers, dentists, endodontists, and lawyers; participated in job shadows for large corporations, small companies, and start-ups; and completed a month-long Architecture boot camp.
Exploring as much as I did helped me manage the “risk” of taking classes without knowing what I want to do after graduation and helped me figure out where and how to direct my future.  There is still plenty of uncertainty ahead of me, so for now I am just trying to make the most of my college experience by doing valuable things that I love.  I am pursuing a minor in Art and Design, working as a Resident Advisor, and planning to study abroad in the fall.
I chose these things mostly just because I am drawn to them; the practical value is just an added bonus.  I can definitely say that I love each of these things (my minor, my job, and the chance to study abroad), but there were other things I did or considered doing before coming to this point.  Now, I weigh each option individually when deciding whether to pursue it, but I don’t even weigh things that I would not enjoy doing - those get tossed out right at the beginning.  
Overall, the techniques I have used in college to manage risks associated with an uncertain future include exploring many fields and pursuing the ones I find myself most passionate about.  I am not as concerned about financial uncertainty for now because I am focused on increasing my human capital wealth.  Exploring the things I love and succeeding in my classes now will pay dividends for the rest of my life.  Most importantly, these things will help me find a job that will support me financially and help me grow intellectually so that I won’t have to worry too much about the future.


  1. I couldn’t agree with your more on dealing with uncertainty! I tend to worry a lot if I do not have a clear picture or clear plan with something… But same with you, I found that certainty on everything is impossible, and I should learn to cope with uncertainty and the complexity of life. My supervisors from my previous two internships both told me that if you are interested in a certain area, don’t worry too much, go for it, try it out, opportunities will come to you. Make short term plans, but don’t try too hard to do 10 year plans, because you’ll never know what will happen. If you can do well with the things in hand now, you will be able to deal with any future change/uncertainty. Which comes to your idea of focusing on increasing your human capital wealth, that helps you to develop the ability to deal with any future difficulties.

  2. I liked this post. It is my belief that college is for the most part a way for students to learn about themselves. It sounds like you've been doing your fair share of that, and you still have more of it to come. That said, there are a few specific things you might have done better in this post.

    One is describing the book, Choose Yourself. I hadn't heard of it before, so could have you used more background on it. Also, what drew you to it and why did you trust the message in it? The self-help industry is huge and there are actually quite a few charlatans. How did you come to believe the message in this book was authentic?

    Another issue, which some of your classmates wrote about, is whether you've had pressure, from parents or former teachers or somebody else important and what is the nature of that pressure. How college gets paid for matters here and you were silent on that. What sort of relationship you have with your parents also matters here. And perhaps it matters whether you have older siblings who have been through this already. That stuff might have been fleshed out more.

    Finally, you might have tried to parse out why it is that you like something. What are the attributed in it that bring about attraction to the subject. I'm not saying this is an easy question to answer. But it seems like an important question to grapple with. If you have some tentative conclusions on that, it would be be very good to bring those to the fore.

    There is then the matter of whether, having solved what interests you, if you can make a living do that and if not what sort of compromises you are willing to make. In a lot of places you read about the 80-20 rule. What that means precisely varies from one example to the next. But mainly it conveys the idea that most of the time you do what the employer wants, which is why you get paid reasonably, but once in a while, on average 20% of the time, you do what you want and your employer is okay with that. I wonder whether you've previously heard of the 80-20 rule and, if so, whether it makes sense to you.

    1. Professor Arvan,

      I first came across James Altucher's writing on LinkedIn Pulse. I usually read a few articles a week on LinkedIn Pulse, so I read Altucher's posts a few times before I started looking into his books. I appreciated his candid and concise writing style and thought that his ideas were insightful. Since I trust LinkedIn as a pretty credible source, I wasn't too skeptical about his self help book after reading his work previously on the blog.

      To speak on the issue of pressure - my parents say that they will support me in pretty much anything I want to study. My dream job is to be a movie director, and I have already created a few short films starting from the time I was 12. My parents just want me to get a college degree in any subject I want before I pursue movie direction so that I can support myself financially, which I agree with. My plan is to start a career in something unrelated to film and just continue making videos in my free time as a hobby, potentially pursuing it more later in my life. My parents are helping me pay for some of my college expenses as well. Apart from my parents, I did feel some pressure from teachers about which University to attend (they actually encouraged me to attend a different University, which I was all set up to attend but never did, but that's a different story.) I also felt some pressure within myself to make my favorite teachers proud by becoming a teacher myself - I always wanted to be a teacher, and I wished I could be just like a few of my favorite English teachers in high school...I later decided that teaching was not for me but I was a bit disappointed, as I felt almost like I was leaving my old teachers behind by not becoming one. That was just more of a personal feeling.

      Finally, I tend to be attracted to subjects which are heavily theoretical/intellectual or artistic. I have always loved literature and philosophy, so I enjoy anything that involves reading or analyzing material (especially social phenomena/humanities type material). I don't think I could live my life without some sort of artistic outlet which is why I am also drawn to Architecture and Art + Design.

      As I mentioned earlier, I plan to graduate with a somewhat practical degree before potentially pursuing a more risky, creative career path. I chose Economics because I think of it as business with an added social side. I also enjoy statistics, and Economics gives me an avenue to enter the business/analytics world while still pursuing a liberal arts degree. I've heard of the 80-20 rule briefly but never given it much serious thought in relation to my major.