Looking back on my time as an undergrad student and my first couple years as a young professional, I can very well remember how much my career decisions were driven by one simple thing, my resume. I remember how I wanted my resume to be “comprehensive and complete” … a little bit of consulting, a little bit of finance, some specific industry-experience, and "oh, I need to be president of some sort of student club.” Whatever it took to not be locked down into a specific industry but to keep as many options open as possible – hoping to collect all those puzzle pieces I needed to compose a specific picture that recruiters wanted to see.
Afraid of unexplainable gaps and experiences that might not fit into the “story” I was meaning to tell, I walked around not asking myself whether I was passionate about the work or if I was aligned with the company’s mission, but rather how something would look on my resume. Simply because I cared a great deal about how others would judge my decisions. Fast forward to today, and I can’t even remember the last time I thought about my resume. So what has happened since then …?
Well, I blame Silicon Valley (not the “oh, that’s shitty”-type of blaming but the “feck that’s awesome”-type of blaming)! The last 4+ years here have very much shifted my mindset. The last time I cared about my resume must have been the very decision to move here: “that working experience in the US would certainly look good”… but I feel that the Valley ripped this sort of thinking off me.
Ever since I moved here, I’ve been surrounded by a spirit and by people who deeply care about pursuing the things they are passionate about. People who take risks to follow their dreams and who don’t fear any judgement of others. Folks who decline well-paid jobs to rather do things that make them happy. Not afraid of having to justify anything to anyone, they push themselves to try new things. They know they might fail, but they don’t care … because every little failure gets them closer to pursuing the things they are meant to be doing in their lives.
Of course, not everyone here thinks this way, but there are many. There is one of my best friends who left an amazing full-time job working closely for Google’s Chief Business Officer to learn how to code and then returned to Google working as a Software Engineer (as a contractor!). There is this transgender guy who quit his sales job a few weeks ago explaining: “I decided to leave my job last week so that I can pursue a path that better aligns with my values and my interests.” Or the GSB grad who had a stellar career at AirBnB but then decided to quite her job and help people pursue their passions (shout out to Jessica who runs The Passion Company). There are many examples of people who don’t shy away from making career decisions based on what they desire to do and not what looks good on paper.
And this really got me thinking…. thinking about what a unhappiness trap it can be to make resume-based decisions. I say unhappiness trap because a resume is nothing more than lens through which other people will evaluate and judge you. And there is nothing worse than to make professional decisions based on how others will look on it as opposed to making decisions based on how much a decision brings you closer to what you actually, really want to do in your life.
Don’t believe me that this is a thing? There is even an idiom in English language that describes decisions/opportunities as 'resume builders’: "Oh, you landed a job at X? That’s such a resume builder.” Too often I see young people ending up in companies doing jobs that don’t fulfill them – afraid of quitting because it might not look good on their resumes: "Oh man, how am I going to justify in my next job interview that I worked here for less than a year." They know they are not happy, but their resume paralyzes them to effect some change to the situation they are in.
I have to clarify that there is nothing wrong with trying out different ideas, working in different verticals and industries to gain experience. This can all be part of the process of figuring out what you really want to do in your life… but I *do* caution against making decisions that will help tell a specific story or depict you in a certain light – similar to how I walked around some years ago.
I’ve come to believe that those who don’t care about their resumes end up being happier and, yes, also more successful in their careers. We tend to forget that careers can go for more than 45+ years and that there is nothing more important than to pursue the things that really get us excited and passionate. Those things will not always be clear to us and it will always require some failures and experiments to figure out what our true calling is. Trying new things and potentially taking a “wrong turn” is absolutely human and should be celebrated, not judged. I rather see someone taking three wrong turns until they find their path as opposed to spending a lifetime doing things that they are not aligned with their true spirit.