There are easier things to do than stray from “The Path” – the track you’re on that’s tied to a well-vetted career and life that leads to a certain salary but makes no promises about happiness. I set out on my trajectory on The Path right after undergrad. Like many of my peers, I worked hard to break into finance and then spent a couple years (and many late nights) in a Wall Street investment bank. Afterward, I ambled along The Path to a private equity fund. A few years later, business school was the logical next stop.
Business school gave me a moment for self-reflection — something I hadn’t done in nearly a decade. After spending undergrad finding a way to get to Wall Street and four years on Wall Street, I finally paused and asked myself what I really wanted to get out of my career. I found that what I valued was the freedom to be myself, do what I enjoyed, and provide for those I cared for.
Having been raised in a family of small business owners, I had seen the freedom that entrepreneurship can provide. I didn’t understand how truly fulfilling it would be until I started my company, Harper Partners, an alternative lender providing growth capital to startups, right before business school. I quickly realized that trying to grow a legitimate business while I was in business school full time was near impossible for me. Others have done it, but I guarantee they sacrificed quality in both their startup and school experience. After consulting with friends, family and the administration (who were very understanding), I made the decision to leave school.
Besides the usual “Why the hell did you leave Wharton?” questions, I’ve been asked a surprising number of times for advice. It’s been eye-opening to see how many others are also tired of “The Path”. I recognize most people may not be in my situation – choosing to leave an Ivy League business school to start a company – but my decision-making process came down to three principles, which are applicable to anyone early in their career.
1. Careers are not linear anymore — be open minded.
The days of working at the same company for 40 years and retiring with a pension and a pat on the back are gone. The average Millennial will hold 4 different jobs in the 10 years after college, twice as many as Gen Xers.
It’s important not to fear reinvention. If you’re a marketing all-star, why can’t you become a finance whiz? Understandably, there are responsibilities and circumstances that keep us in roles longer than we’d like, but if the only thing holding you back from a great opportunity is fear of looking like a job-hopper or “selfish,” take the leap.
2. Identify your values and definition of success.
Many young professionals realize their first career path may not be the right one. However, by the time you realize it, you’ve made inroads in that career along with a decent salary, which are hard to walk away from. Do you throw that away to start over again, or continue on The Path?
A helpful tactic is to consider how you were raised. What values were instilled in you growing up? What do you find fulfilling? Is it lifestyle, family, money, security or something else entirely?
The trajectory I was on helped me reach a prestigious investment fund. However, I learned that running my own company was more fulfilling. In hindsight, I see that to my family, the American Dream was owning your own business, more so than working at a Wall Street fund.
3. Don’t follow the crowd, unless you have conviction.
It might be the sexy industry at the moment. But that doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Think carefully about what you’re good at, what you find fulfilling and where you want to end up. Don’t blindly follow the crowd into an industry that is popular simply because everyone is doing it. If you don’t have conviction when entering an industry, you will find yourself second-guessing your decision sooner rather than later.
Read more: There Are 3 Keys to Career Success—But Women Are Only Taught 2 of Them
Be strategic in your decision-making and also consider economic cycles. Popular industries now may be at the top of a cycle, over hiring based on rosy projections. The pendulum could quickly swing the other way, resulting in layoffs and a poor experience. Think finance in 2006 or possibly tech startups now.
Young professionals are frequently faced with difficult decisions that close some doors and open others, but using the right framework in your decision making process can help you make the best choice. Walking away from the familiar is unnerving. However, what’s terrifying is ending up at the wrong destination because you couldn’t bring yourself to step away. If it’s not taking you to where you want to go, step off The Path.
Min Fang is the cofounder of Harper Partners, which provides working capital funding to companies in digital media, advertising, technology and various other industries.
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