A client was intrigued by a sales position at a Speaker’s Bureau, in which he would be responsible for convincing event organizers to use the bureau to find speakers. He applied, but thankfully, didn’t get the job. After hearing his response to just one question, I instantly knew it was not the job for him.

The conversation went like this:

Me: “Even before they interview you, why not make a list of ten events that hire speakers, call them, and do your best to convince them to use that bureau?”

Him (with face contorted by pain): “That sounds horrendous.”

If my client wanted to do the work, and succeeded, he’d have been exceptionally well-positioned to get the job and the job would have been a great fit. That the experiment revealed otherwise is no tragedy since all he needs to do is conduct another experiment until he gets the result he wants.

Experimenting with a career is like trying on a new pair of pants – oftentimes, we immediately learn that it doesn’t fit. Career changers must do everything in their power to find the right fit. This can be challenging when it feels like everyone is telling us what to do.

There are countless stakeholders that affect our career decisions: our families, communities, and identities, among others. Sometimes, we know they are influencing us. But not always. Many people (like yours truly!) make major career decisions on the basis of unconscious instincts. These instincts don’t always lead us astray, but we shouldn’t let them have all the power. They, and everything else, must take a backseat to the truth – the truth of who you are and what work you should do.

Career ExperimentsWhat To Do

How do you determine the truth? Experiment. It’s as simple as applying the basic scientific method to your career. In other words, come up with a few creative hypotheses about what you should do and test them. If the results of your experiment suggest you should completely ditch your hypotheses, do it. And do it without regret.

That this works should be no surprise. A good scientist pursues the truth, above all else. Bad scientists abandon this cardinal rule. [1] When they do, the danger is that they will let their passions diminish the integrity of their experiments. This could mean that the results, oftentimes released to the public, will mislead. How many studies have you read warning you that your favorite food is tantamount to poison? [2]

Unless you’re scientifically literate, odds are, you won’t read the study – you’ll just swallow the headline. Odds are that even if you are scientifically literate, you won’t have time to read the study. So bad science can do a number on our quest to learn the truth. Similarly, your instincts can disrupt your vital quest to learn the truth about yourself and what kind of career suits you best. Stay loyal to the truth and the experimental mindset that can help you reach it.

The Experimental Mindset Opens Up A World Of Possibilities

As a law student, I wasn’t enthused about the prospect of civil procedure classes. During a frantic late night of deep Googling, I’d learned of an election coming up in the Balkans that needed monitors. I didn’t have the foggiest clue what election monitors did so I was lucky that, unusually, they were so desperate for bodies that they were willing to take people who had zero experience.

My classmates were mystified. Some reflexively told me that you don’t leave law school in the middle of a term… it just wasn’t done. They might have been right. But I did it anyway as experimenting was the only way I could learn the truth. I learned that what appeared to be an unchallengeable rule was not as ironclad as it seemed.

Why This Is Especially Important Now

Old rules are disappearing. How quickly you learn the new ones may very well mean the difference between success and failure. We live in a world of incredible possibilities, and yet so many people blindly choose traditional and obvious paths like medicine and law. Experimenting with your career is all the more crucial in an economy that is changing more rapidly than ever before. You know the drill: As old industries like taxicabs and hotels are disrupted, we’ve all got to contend with new ones like cryptocurrency and artificial intelligence. Freelancing, remote work and unconventional career paths are becoming increasingly common. Some people explore portfolio careers in which they simultaneously pursue multiple projects. [3]

It is harder to keep track of a fast-moving world so don’t automatically assume you know where you fit until you’ve got the data to justify your assumptions. Take some time to learn about yourself – and your natural gifts for which someone will pay you. Then let your mind run wild. Come up with some possibilities and test them before leaping into the unknown. The truth is that we often don’t know what we want, and we often shouldn’t want what is right in front of us. Career experiments are the key to solving both problems.

Speak soon,
Dan King.

[1] https://samharris.org/podcasts/what-should-we-eat/
[2] https://jamesaltucher.com/2018/01/aaron-carroll/
[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/victoriastefanakos/2013/06/14/why-i-love-having-a-portfolio-career-and-you-could-too/#159e1249ba95