Sweat the small stuff: Why every decision counts in career development

Bryce Dekker shares some principles to guide students through the choices that will impact their careers.

I loved the movie “Click” starring Adam Sandler where he discovers that a remote can fast forward, pause and rewind certain parts of his life. It gave a glimpse of what life could be if we lived it with the benefit of hindsight.

Life is very much an accumulation of small decisions, made one at a time with far reaching implications. The decisions we make often have compounding effects (positive and negative) as we feel the effects of these seemingly fleeting moments in time, far into the future.

How do we make the best possible decisions for ourselves without wanting to push the rewind button? I believe strongly that it is in applying principles, as defined in Ray Dalio’s best seller, ‘Principles: Life and Work’ to our decision-making process. These guidelines will determine whether your choices compound in a positive or negative way.

Three principles

Here are three principles you can use when it comes to making decisions around school subjects, degrees and careers. Apply these to your choices and you are more likely to make a good call.

1. Don’t run from your strengths.

Widely considered one of the world’s best footballers, Lionel Messi is known for having what many consider the best left foot in the sport. Messi’s incredible skill relies mainly on his left foot, which is so honed that he doesn’t need to rely equally on both feet to excel, as many professional soccer players strive to do. Marcus Buckingham asks the question in his latest book, 9 Lies About Work, “If you look at excellence in the real world, it doesn’t look well-rounded, does it?” Buckingham adds, “Neuroscientists say learning is like new buds on an existing branch. You learn and grow and advance the most in areas where you’ve already shown some advantage.”

If we put this into practice, then look for your advantage for excellence, what subjects come easily to you? What subjects do you enjoy? If you enjoy it and it comes easily to you, take it! What tertiary learning journey will hold some appeal for you? Forget about whether it is an actuary or an artist, follow a learning journey that excites you. Play towards your strengths, search for excellence and the rest will take care of itself.

2. Keep the end in mind.

It’s unrealistic to expect you to know your exact career while still at school. But don’t use this as an excuse for not exploring and having fun with a few options. It is important that you know how tertiary institutions work so that you make sure that you give yourself access and opportunity to pursue the options you wish to. Yes, things may change over time, but it helps to start with something rather than waiting for inspiration.  

The nature of a good tertiary institution is that it allows for a certain amount of exploration, so pick a lane you wish to swim in and if it so happens that you switch a lane then this is often part of the process in building the right career for yourself. 

3. Check your reasoning.

I don’t want to crush your dreams, but it is important to make sure that you reflect on whether you are making your decision for the right reasons. Too oftern I’ve seen young people make choices for the wrong reasons.

Don’t pick a subject or a degree because your mates are doing it, or your parents want you to do it, or because it has social gravitas. Pick it because it plays to your unique configuration of strengths, because it is an opportunity for you to achieve excellence and enjoy the time at school or university. Parents, teachers, counsellors and fellow pupils can give advice, but it is your journey you are shaping so you must be the one who is comfortable with the final choice. If the learning journey and the possible career outcomes hold appeal, then you are generally veering on the right side of the decision-making process. So, consider the advice of others, but then once you get your reasoning straight, make the decision for yourself.

Use the pause button

This structure of decisio- making principles is of course not perfect, but I do believe that having a framework that assists in the decision-making process is better than not having anything at all. In this way, good decisions about your school subjects can lead to sound choices around degrees and diplomas, which in turn will facilitate good options for your career. A positive compounding of decisions along the way, rather than a once-off career choice. I hope that in sharing these principles, I have prompted some helpful thinking about your future.

My take home message? Spend time on the small decisions, think about them rigorously, make a call and then make it count. Unlike Adam Sandler you won’t be able to rewind your life to change decisions, or fast forward to see the outcome of your choices. There are no do-overs. You do though have a pause button. Use it wisely.

Bryce Dekker is an industrial psycholigst who specialises in career guidance and works extensivelywith high school students. You can find out more through his company Direction DD.

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