Mash's Musings

Career advice from an upward stumbler

Published Jul. 29, 2021

These days I find myself receiving more frequent requests for career advice. A part of me is excited to share the wisdom that I wish I knew at a younger age. But a part of me also feels like I'm not in a position to give advice, that I have somehow ended up where I am through a series of Indiana Jones temple escapes, juuust making it to the next step by the skin of my teeth or as a friend eloquently put it: stumbling upwards. On the cusp of another career move, I think it's time to reckon with this in a series of posts on my journey and advice I would give.

After wracking my brain for advice that would apply to everyone, I realized that this would inevitably please no one. Career decisions are inherently personal and for career advice to resonate, there needs to be a personal connection. So what follows will be a very personal recollection of my journey and the specific advice I would give to people interested in going down a generally similar path. It's up to you to decide how much is meaningful to you.

My career journey

It is really easy to rewrite history and make your career path sound almost inevitable given your wit, grit, and charisma. In panel discussions or interviews, you'll hear interviewees recite well-crafted origin stories where their determination or ingenuity kept pushing them through every step. For me the journey has certainly not felt like that. To give you a sense of what it has felt like, I've documented my career moves by age and what I think were the most import factors in landing that job. Though do note that after age 19, the single biggest factor was the accumulation of past experiences. I chose not to belabor this point to avoid repetition, not for lack of significance.

  1. 18: blind luck, maybe high GPA
  2. 19: nepotism, maybe moderate GPA
  3. 20: lucky timing, moderately high GPA
  4. 21: moderately high GPA, interview prep, memorable questions
  5. 24: networking, referral, interview gaming
  6. 25: unusually aligned experience, referral, love-fueled determination, interview prep
  7. 27: interview prep, interview gaming, networking

If you're young and this seems woefully unimpressive, that's good. Most outwardly successful people I know have similarly unheroic backstories. The lesson here is that though things may seem tough early on, compounding experience and skills will lessen the role of luck over time. Regardless of what age you're at now, realize that the first couple breaks will not be glamorous and things will feel impossible—push through, things will get better.