People love Apple. But Steve Jobs is a love or hate figure.
I used to love Steveo. I worshipped the ground he walked on. Then I read some stories from people who worked with him. Holly hell.
He wasn’t exactly Miley Smiley on a Monday morning. He threw tantrums better than my 6 month old baby. Even though Steve may not have been the model for good human behavior, we can still learn a lot from him.
He had his genius … but it just wasn’t interacting with humans.
A new book about Steve Jobs called “Make Something Wonderful” has gone viral online. I read it recently and one sentence from Steve stood out:
One of the most dangerous and stifling concepts ever invented by humans, is the ‘Career.’
Let’s break down what he said so you don’t get trapped in a career.
Most careers are an alibi
I read this idea from PayPal founder Peter Thiel and smiled.
Peter describes how before he founded a tech company he tried to be a lawyer. He told friends, family, colleagues, and potential employers that was his career.
But he said being a lawyer for a career felt more like an alibi.
When people tell you they have a standard career that takes them down a single path, what they’re really telling you is they don’t have their life figured out.
The idea of a career is a lie they tell themselves so they don’t need to experiment or take a few risks to figure out what they really want to do.
- We don’t have one career.
- We don’t work for one company forever.
- We don’t stay in the same industry for 50 years.
No. We have a life made up of many different work paths and none of us can predict what those will be. All we can do is follow our curiosity to give ourselves the best chance of finding work we enjoy.
A career has terrible prizes
When you get sucked into the idea of a career it leads to chasing prizes.
The prizes of a career are:
- More work
- More stress
- A diary full of meetings
In my last career, I did everything I could NOT to get a promotion. I didn’t want to spend all of my time being trapped in meetings while the real work had to get done after hours.
I saw employees turn into managers and hate it.
They got a small bump in pay but their job took over their lives. They never had time for themselves. They were always on call. They constantly had to compromise whatever their family needed them for.
This led to divorces, children who didn’t know their parents, cheating, and even drug use.
What you want is more free time to do whatever the hell you want. Not a career full of terrible prizes that destroy your freedom and happiness.
“Career” assumes a single pursuit
In banking my colleagues used to say “they’re a career man/woman.”
It used to drive me nuts. I asked one of my experienced colleagues what that meant. She told me a career man/woman is someone who has chosen their path in life and is going to keep doing it until 65 then retire.
Career people weren’t outliers either.
Most of my 40,000 colleagues in that job believed in a “career.” They saw work as a single pursuit you study for in college, get a job connected to it, then sit back and enjoy the perks to build up the vanity metric of “experience.”
Experience used to be a big deal.
Then the smart cookies of the corporate world stumbled across the buzzword of innovation. They set up agile ways of working.
And through the transition they came across the growth mindset, which says that doing the same thing over and over isn’t smart. In fact, it leads to stagnation.
The innovation era also led business leaders to learn the power of hiring people from completely unrelated industries to help create new outcomes.
Now we live in an era when experience and the industry you started in are almost irrelevant.
The idea of a traditional career is static. And what doesn’t grow, dies. Careers are dangerous because they die in a world where the rate of change is accelerating thanks to AI.
Careers lead to the employee mindset
The employee mindset is a mind virus.
It is directly connected to the idea of a career. Someone who thinks like an employee is taught to see risks as dangerous. They’re taught to budget with their salary and save money.
People like me who don’t believe in careers rebel against this ideology. We see work full of opportunities that require investments of time and money and plenty of risks/experiments.
Don’t fall into the one-path employee way of thinking, company-will-take-care-of-me trap.
A career isn’t separate to your life
Steve said the biggest problem with the idea of a career is it assumes it’s separate from the rest of your life. It’s not.
Work and life are the same thing. There is no separation.
You only separate work from life when you hate the work you do and use it as an alibi to phone it home each day and not do the hard work of figuring out the work you love.
It’s why many employees are obsessed with holidays, leave, sabbaticals, and work-life balance. They just won’t admit they have a career and hate every bit of it. They’re chasing escapisms instead of fixing the problem.
When you’re passionate about the work you do and it gives you a sense of purpose, life, and work blended together. This is the best way to live.
A career quietly suggests there’s no point ever starting a business
The meaning of the word career has a hidden limitation.
When you say you have a career it signals you don’t own a business — and probably never will. It suggests the best path is to be an employee forever. But for many, they don’t want this.
They’re happy to have a career to get started in life and learn about business, but after a while they want to do their own thing and keep 100% of the upside and equity from their blood, sweat, and tears.
The idea of a career often cuts this option off.
HR puppets downplay it so they can hypnotize people into becoming company men/women and not look at other options.
Starting a business is made out to be risky or almost alien in nature, when it’s a perfectly normal option. With the rise of one-person businesses there’s even more reason to consider a path other than a career.
Careers are often safe harbors
Steve Jobs was critical of the typical idea of a career — like a lawyer or accountant — because he found many people in his life chose that path and woke up 10 to 15 years later and realized they paid a huge price.
They’d give their youth to an employer and decide to figure out where their career would lead them later. Or they’d just hope.
They’d believe what their employer told them about there being a clearly defined career path, only to later find out there was no guaranteed corporate ladder to climb.
Some of my friends have climbed the corporate ladder and had to do some terrible things. I remember I had to fire a few people at one point to guarantee my future promotion. I did it and later regretted it.
An unpredictable career choice now works out better than a standard safe harbor career choice that leads to regrets of unrealized potential.
Careers — like being a doctor, banker, lawyer or accountant — are often sold to us as sure things. But as entrepreneur Alex Hormozi pointed out:
One of life’s hardest decisions is giving up the sure thing for the best thing.
You want the best thing, not safety.
A better concept than a tired old “career”
Famous psychiatrist Carl Jung said:
The world will ask you who you are, and if you don’t know, the world will tell you.
That’s the risk of a traditional career. You’ll likely end up being told what to do and what your career will become. When I ask this question to my former colleagues most of them can’t answer it.
They are their career, their job title, their salary, their company brand.
But they don’t know who they are or how they want to change the world in some small way. They just sound lost and brainwashed.
So what’s the best replacement for a career?
Instead of calling your work a career, as if it’s a separate thing, just call it life. The work you do is part of life. It doesn’t define you. It’s a part of you. Work should connect to your beliefs, philosophies, and interests.
It should feel like you’re living the good life. You shouldn’t notice when you are working and when you aren’t.
Choose a life not a career.