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Why Your Career Is A Bit Like A Start Up Business: Career Advice For High School Students

Making a decision about your career after high school is a significant milestone. It's both exciting and daunting as it paves the way for the life you'll lead as an adult. What career should you pursue? What if you make the wrong choice? These questions can be overwhelming.

In the book "The Start-up of You," authors Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha offer a unique perspective that might help. They suggest that you think of yourself as a start-up. Yes, a start-up—the same kind of entrepreneurial venture that gave us companies like Facebook and Google.

Why a start-up, you might ask? In a fast-paced, ever-evolving world, start-ups thrive by being adaptable, innovative, and resilient. Similarly, you can navigate your career journey effectively by embodying these qualities.

This book's two most powerful ideas revolve around the concepts of "career capital" and "ABZ planning".

  1. Career capital refers to the skills, knowledge, and experiences that you accumulate over time and that increase your value in the professional marketplace. It's the foundation upon which successful careers are built, and it's something you can start developing right now, as a teenager, to set yourself up for future success.
  2. ABZ planning, on the other hand, is a flexible and strategic approach to career planning that encourages you to have a primary plan (Plan A), an alternative if Plan A doesn't work out (Plan B), and a dependable fallback option in case of a significant change or crisis (Plan Z).

By embracing these two ideas, you can approach your career decisions with more confidence and adaptability. This blog post will delve into the practical application of these concepts and how they can help you start shaping your future career today. Whether you're unsure about your career path, considering multiple options, or feel passionate about a specific field, these strategies can provide valuable guidance as you navigate your journey.

Every Individual is a Start-up

As teenagers standing on the threshold of your career paths, it can be useful to start thinking of yourselves as start-ups. What does that mean? Well, a start-up is a venture born out of an idea, and it's nurtured with skills, creativity, and a willingness to take calculated risks. It’s fluid, constantly learning from its surroundings, and ready to pivot when required. Similarly, you can approach your career choices.

You might not have it all figured out yet, and that’s perfectly fine! Just like a start-up, you don't need to have a perfect plan from day one. What you need is an open mindset, readiness to learn, and the determination to leverage your skills, interests, and values.

Understanding that every individual is a start-up allows you to embrace uncertainty and view it not as a barrier, but as an opportunity for discovery and growth. Just like start-ups focus on their unique qualities and offerings to stand out in the marketplace, you too can focus on your unique strengths and interests to carve out a meaningful career path.

While you might not yet know exactly what career you want to pursue, think about the subjects you enjoy, the activities that engage you, and the issues you feel strongly about. These can provide initial direction, just like an idea sparks a start-up. This is the beginning of your start-up journey: the start-up of You. Remember, it's not about finding the perfect job right now; it's about setting out on a journey of exploration and growth.

Building Career Capital

In the world of business, capital refers to the assets or resources that can be used to generate income or profit. When it comes to your career, there's a similar concept called 'career capital'. These are the skills, experiences, and knowledge that you've accumulated over time and can leverage to navigate your career journey effectively.

Think of your career capital as the toolbox that you carry with you on your professional journey. It can include hard skills like proficiency in a foreign language or the ability to code, soft skills like leadership or communication, and even experiences like internships, part-time jobs, or volunteer work. Every piece of knowledge, every skill, and every experience adds value to this toolbox.

As a teenager, you're in the unique position of being at the beginning of your career journey. This is the perfect time to start building your career capital. Engage in activities that allow you to explore your interests and develop new skills. This could be enrolling in advanced courses, joining clubs, volunteering, or even starting a part-time job or an internship.

Building career capital is also about making strategic choices. Choose experiences that not only align with your interests but also add value to your career capital. For example, if you're interested in journalism, starting a school newspaper or interning at a local publication could be great ways to build relevant skills and experiences.

Remember, the goal is not just to accumulate career capital, but to invest it wisely. This means continuously learning, growing, and seeking opportunities that allow you to use and enhance your skills and experiences. As you transition from high school to the world beyond, focus on building a rich and diverse career capital. It'll be your most valuable asset as you navigate the ever-evolving landscape of career opportunities.

Building Career Capital - Actionable Steps:

  1. Explore Your Interests: Start by identifying what interests you. What are the subjects, activities, or fields that you're naturally drawn to? These areas are likely where you'll be most motivated to learn and grow, and therefore build career capital.

  2. Learn Relevant Skills: Once you've identified your areas of interest, look for skills that are relevant in those fields. These could be hard skills like programming for tech enthusiasts, or soft skills like public speaking for aspiring leaders.

  3. Gain Practical Experience: Seek opportunities for hands-on experience. This could be internships, part-time jobs, volunteering, or even personal projects. These experiences help you apply and enhance your skills, contributing significantly to your career capital.

  4. Seek Knowledge: Continuous learning is a key part of building career capital. Stay updated with the latest trends, innovations, and opportunities in your field of interest. This could be through reading, attending seminars, online courses, or even following industry leaders on social media.

  5. Build a Network: Networking is not just about finding job opportunities. It's also a valuable source of knowledge and insights. Engage with professionals in your field of interest, seek their advice, and learn from their experiences.

  6. Reflect and Evolve: Regularly review your career capital. What are your strengths? Where can you improve? Use these reflections to guide your future learning and growth.

  7. Invest Wisely: Not all experiences and skills will add value to your career capital. Be strategic in choosing what to learn and where to invest your time. Aim for experiences and skills that align with your interests and have potential value in your chosen field.

Building career capital is a long-term investment. It requires time, effort, and strategic planning. But with each step, you're not only preparing for a fulfilling career, you're also crafting a unique journey of growth and self-discovery.

Examples of Building Career Capital

  1. Aspiring Software Developer

    • Learn to code: There are many free resources online where you can learn programming languages like Python, JavaScript, or C++. Consider platforms like Codecademy, freeCodeCamp, or Khan Academy.
    • Build projects: Apply what you've learned by building your own projects. This could be a website, a mobile app, or even a video game. Your projects serve as a portfolio showcasing your skills.
    • Get involved in open-source projects: This can help you gain real-world coding experience and allows you to learn from other developers.
  2. Future Medical Professional

    • Excel in science classes: Biology and chemistry will give you a solid foundation for future studies in medicine.
    • Volunteer at a hospital or clinic: This provides hands-on experience in a medical environment and a chance to network with professionals in the field.
    • Learn First Aid and CPR: These are practical skills that demonstrate your commitment to the medical field.
  3. Budding Journalist

    • Write regularly: Start a blog, contribute to your school newspaper, or even start your own newsletter. Regular writing hones your skills and allows you to find your voice.
    • Read widely: Understand the current news landscape and learn from professional journalists. This can help you better understand the type of journalist you want to be.
    • Learn to research: Good journalism requires solid research skills. Look for classes or resources that can help you learn how to fact-check, find sources, and verify information.
  4. Environmental Advocate

    • Get involved with environmental initiatives: Volunteer with local conservation projects or join environmental clubs at school.
    • Stay informed about environmental issues: Read books, follow news, and learn about environmental science and policy. This demonstrates your commitment and helps you become a knowledgeable advocate.
    • Start your own project: This could be a local clean-up initiative, a school recycling program, or a community garden. Leading a project can help develop leadership skills and show initiative.
  5. Entrepreneur-in-Making

    • Start a small business: This could be anything from selling homemade goods, tutoring, or lawn mowing. The process of starting and running a business, no matter how small, can teach you invaluable lessons.
    • Learn about finance: Understanding basic finance concepts like revenue, profit, and loss is essential for running a business. You can find resources online, like Khan Academy's course on personal finance.
    • Network: Meet and learn from other entrepreneurs. Attend local business events, or reach out to business owners in your area for advice.

Remember, building career capital as a teenager is all about taking small steps towards your career goal, gaining relevant skills, and seeking experiences that will prepare you for the future.

ABZ Planning

Planning is an integral part of both starting a venture and deciding a career. In their book, Hoffman and Casnocha introduce the concept of ABZ planning, which is especially applicable for you as you stand at the cusp of your career journey.

Here's how it works:

Plan A is what you are doing now. As a high school student, your Plan A is to explore interests, identify strengths, and acquire foundational skills. It involves maintaining good academic standing while also nurturing extracurricular passions.

Plan B is your pivot. It's related to Plan A but involves a shift. Let's say you're drawn to both biology and the environment in your current plan. Your Plan B might involve exploring careers that combine both, like environmental consulting or conservation science.

Plan Z is your fallback, something to turn to when all else fails. In the context of your career, this could be any skill or job that you can rely on to support yourself. It could even be the decision to take a gap year and explore different opportunities before making a career choice.

ABZ Planning is not about having everything figured out to the last detail. It's about having a flexible roadmap. It's a reminder that it's okay to pivot (switch to Plan B) or even start again (fall back on Plan Z) when faced with challenges or changes. This approach gives you the freedom to explore and make mistakes while also ensuring you have a solid safety net. As you stand at the crossroads of your career decisions, the ABZ planning can guide you through uncertainty, giving you the confidence to explore, experiment, and embrace your unique career journey.

ABZ Planning - Actionable Steps:

  1. Identify Your Plan A: This is your current path - the one you're excited about and want to pursue. It could be a specific career, a college major, or an internship. Be clear about why you've chosen this path and what you hope to achieve.

  2. Develop Your Plan B: Your Plan B is related to Plan A but offers a different approach. This could be another role within the same industry, a similar major with different specializations, or a volunteer position related to your career interest. The idea is to have an alternative path that keeps you moving towards your larger career goals, even if Plan A doesn’t work out.

  3. Define Your Plan Z: Plan Z is your fallback plan – the safe, reliable option that you can count on if both Plan A and Plan B fail. This could be a more traditional career path that you're comfortable with or a less ambitious version of your current goal. It's not about settling for less, but about having a secure base to fall back on.

  4. Regularly Review Your Plans: The ABZ planning approach is not a one-time exercise. It's a dynamic process that should evolve with your interests, experiences, and circumstances. Regularly review your plans to ensure they still align with your goals and aspirations.

  5. Act on Your Plan A: Start making moves to implement your Plan A. If it's a particular career, research the necessary steps to get there. If it's a college major, explore the courses and prerequisites. Begin to acquire the skills and experiences needed to make this plan a reality.

  6. Prepare for Plan B: Even as you work towards Plan A, keep an eye on Plan B. Stay informed about the industry, network with professionals in the field, and keep building relevant skills. The idea is to be ready to pivot if necessary.

  7. Secure Your Plan Z: Ensure that your Plan Z is always viable. This could mean maintaining certain skills, keeping up-to-date with a particular industry, or even saving money for financial security. Plan Z is about peace of mind, so invest time in keeping this plan secure.

ABZ planning is about creating a flexible roadmap for your career journey. It provides structure and direction while leaving room for change and exploration. As you navigate your career, keep revisiting and refining your plans to reflect your evolving goals and aspirations.

Example ABZ plans for different career interests:

  1. Interested in Computer Science

    • Plan A: Earn a degree in computer science and become a software developer at a tech startup.
    • Plan B: If the tech startup scene doesn't work out, pivot to a software development role in an established tech company.
    • Plan Z: Use coding skills to become a freelance developer, providing a safety net and stable income.
  2. Interested in Medicine

    • Plan A: Attend medical school to become a pediatrician.
    • Plan B: If medical school doesn't work out, consider becoming a nurse or a physician's assistant specializing in pediatrics.
    • Plan Z: Leverage the biology degree to teach science at a high school level, providing a steady career.
  3. Interested in Journalism

    • Plan A: Earn a degree in journalism and land a job at a major newspaper or TV station.
    • Plan B: If traditional media outlets don't work out, consider digital journalism or start a news blog or a podcast.
    • Plan Z: Use the writing skills to become a content writer or copywriter, ensuring a stable income.
  4. Interested in Environmental Science

    • Plan A: Earn a degree in environmental science and work for a nonprofit organization focusing on climate change.
    • Plan B: If the nonprofit path doesn't work out, pivot to a sustainability consulting role in a corporation.
    • Plan Z: Leverage the environmental science degree to teach at a high school or community college level.
  5. Interested in Business

    • Plan A: Earn an MBA and start your own business.
    • Plan B: If starting your own business doesn't work out, pivot to a management role in a corporation.
    • Plan Z: Use the business degree to start a career in sales, which provides a stable job and income.
  6. Interested in Graphic Design

    • Plan A: Earn a degree in graphic design and work for a creative agency.
    • Plan B: If the agency environment isn't the right fit, consider freelance graphic design or starting your own design studio.
    • Plan Z: Use your design skills to become a digital marketing specialist, ensuring a stable income.
  7. Interested in Psychology

    • Plan A: Obtain a PhD in psychology and open a private practice as a therapist.
    • Plan B: If the private practice route doesn't work out, consider working as a school or corporate psychologist.
    • Plan Z: Use your degree in psychology to become a guidance counselor or a social worker.
  8. Interested in Culinary Arts

    • Plan A: Attend a culinary school and aim to become a chef at a high-end restaurant.
    • Plan B: If the restaurant scene isn't the right fit, consider becoming a personal chef or running a catering business.
    • Plan Z: Use your culinary skills to teach cooking classes or write a cooking blog.
  9. Interested in Engineering

    • Plan A: Earn a degree in civil engineering and work for a large engineering firm.
    • Plan B: If the corporate environment isn't the right fit, consider working for a smaller engineering firm or starting your own engineering consultancy.
    • Plan Z: Use your engineering degree to teach at a community college or become a private tutor.
  10. Interested in Music

    • Plan A: Attend a music conservatory and aim to become a professional musician in an orchestra.
    • Plan B: If the orchestra doesn't work out, consider working as a session musician or composing music for films and commercials.
    • Plan Z: Use your musical skills to become a music teacher, providing a steady income.

Build Genuine Relationships

Building relationships is not only about networking for your career; it's about creating a support system of mentors, peers, and friends. In the start-up world, building strong connections is essential for growth. Similarly, as you navigate the early stages of your career, cultivating genuine relationships can help you gain valuable insights and open up new opportunities.

Remember, these relationships should be based on mutual respect and benefit. It's not about how many people you know; it's about how well you know them and how well they know you. A meaningful connection with a teacher, for instance, can provide you with guidance, support, and opportunities that you wouldn't have access to otherwise. Similarly, maintaining good relationships with your peers can lead to collaborations and opportunities in the future.

Building genuine relationships also involves giving back. Share your own experiences, offer your skills, and support others in their endeavors. This reciprocal nature of relationship-building not only strengthens your connections but also enhances your personal growth and development.

As you stand on the brink of your career journey, remember to invest time in building these meaningful relationships. Engage with your teachers, attend career guidance sessions, join clubs, and volunteer for projects. Each of these interactions is an opportunity to learn, grow, and build relationships that can shape your career path in ways you can't even imagine right now. Remember, your network is part of your net worth. Nurture it.

The Strength of Weak Ties

When we talk about relationships, we often think about close ties: our best friends, family, or favorite teachers. However, the book "The Start-up of You" introduces an interesting concept: the strength of weak ties. These are the people you're not very close to, like acquaintances, distant relatives, or people you occasionally interact with. Despite not being part of your close-knit circle, these individuals often offer the most opportunities.

Why? Because they have access to different networks, opportunities, and knowledge. Your close friends and family often know the same people and opportunities that you do. But weak ties can open doors to completely new paths. A casual friend from a club might know of an interesting internship, a distant cousin might introduce you to a new field, or a neighbor might share the experience of a unique career.

As a teenager pondering over your future career, these weak ties can become valuable sources of insight and opportunity. They can introduce you to career paths you didn't even know existed or help you find opportunities that aren't publicly advertised.

So, don't shy away from striking a conversation with the new student in class or saying hi to a distant relative at a family gathering. Remember, every interaction is a chance to broaden your horizon. The strength of weak ties can be a powerful tool in your career exploration journey. Be curious, be friendly, and don't hesitate to reach out beyond your immediate circle.

Take Intelligent Risks

Start-ups are synonymous with risks. They venture into uncharted territories, break away from norms, and innovate. However, these risks are not taken blindly; they're calculated and measured. As you contemplate your career journey, adopting this ability to take 'intelligent risks' can be a game-changer.

Choosing a career can sometimes feel like taking a leap of faith. There's uncertainty about whether you'll enjoy a particular path, whether it'll align with your life goals, or whether it'll bring you success and satisfaction. But remember, just like a start-up, you're not expected to have all the answers.

Taking intelligent risks means assessing potential paths, understanding the upsides and downsides, and then making informed decisions. Perhaps you're considering studying art, but you're apprehensive about job opportunities. Research, talk to professionals in the field, understand the prospects, and weigh it against your passion for the subject. The risk here isn't just financial; it's also about fulfillment and satisfaction in what you do.

Taking an unconventional path or making unexpected choices can be daunting, but often, it's these choices that lead to unique and rewarding careers. As you navigate your career decisions, remember that risk-taking is part of the journey. However, ensure they're intelligent risks. Equip yourself with knowledge, seek advice, and trust in your ability to make informed decisions. It's these calculated risks that will help you step off the beaten path and discover a career that truly resonates with you.

Actionable Takeaways:

We've taken a journey through the entrepreneurial approach of the "Start-up of You" and applied its lessons to your career planning. Here are the key takeaways:

  1. Embrace the Start-up Mindset: Start seeing yourself as a start-up. Understand that, like a start-up, you're on a journey of self-discovery and growth. You don't need to have everything figured out now. Explore your interests and strengths and start from there.

  2. Be Adaptable: Recognize that change is the only constant. Stay open to new ideas, be willing to learn and adapt. Whether it's evolving interests or changing job markets, remember that adaptability is your superpower.

  3. Plan Flexibly: Employ the ABZ planning method. Have a current plan (Plan A), a related pivot (Plan B), and a fallback plan (Plan Z). This approach ensures you have the freedom to explore and the security of a safety net.

  4. Build Genuine Relationships: Invest time in building meaningful relationships. Whether it's mentors, peers, or friends, these connections can provide guidance, support, and opportunities.

  5. Leverage Weak Ties: Don't underestimate the power of weak ties. These connections often provide fresh perspectives and can open doors to new opportunities.

  6. Take Intelligent Risks: Don't shy away from taking risks. Just ensure they are well-informed and calculated. Remember, often the most rewarding paths come from daring to venture off the beaten path.

Remember, your career journey is not a straight path but a winding road full of exciting opportunities and valuable lessons. As you embark on this journey, arm yourself with these actionable takeaways from "The Start-up of You". Here's to an exciting and fulfilling career journey, the start-up of You!

Frequently Asked Questions 

1. Why should I think of myself as a start-up? By thinking of yourself as a start-up, you adopt a mindset of adaptability, innovation, and resilience. This mindset can be beneficial in navigating the rapidly changing career landscape and making effective career decisions.

2. What does it mean to be adaptable in the context of career planning? Being adaptable means being open to change and ready to update your skills and knowledge as per the evolving industry trends, emerging fields of study, and advances in technology.

3. What is ABZ Planning? ABZ Planning is a method of creating a flexible roadmap for your career. Plan A is what you're currently doing, Plan B is a pivot related to Plan A, and Plan Z is your fallback option.

4. Why is it important to build genuine relationships when planning my career? Genuine relationships can offer guidance, support, and opportunities in your career journey. They can provide valuable insights, open up new opportunities, and create a supportive network around you.

5. What is the 'strength of weak ties' and how can it help me in my career? Weak ties are people who are not part of your close-knit circle. They offer the most opportunities as they have access to different networks, opportunities, and knowledge.

6. What are 'intelligent risks' and how can they influence my career choices? Intelligent risks are informed and calculated risks. They involve assessing potential paths, understanding the upsides and downsides, and making informed decisions. Taking such risks can lead to unique and rewarding career paths.

7. How can I apply the lessons from 'The Start-up of You' to my career planning? You can apply the lessons by adopting a start-up mindset, being adaptable, planning flexibly, building genuine relationships, leveraging weak ties, and taking intelligent risks.

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Careers That Matter provides online programs to teenagers across the globe. The organisation is based in Melbourne Australia. We have students from across Australia including Sydney, NSW 2000, Melbourne, VIC 3000, Brisbane, QLD 4000, Perth, WA 6000, Adelaide, SA 5000, Hobart, TAS 7000, Canberra, ACT 2600, Darwin, NT 0800. We also take students from The United Kingdom including London, Europe, and the United States including New York , Canada, New Zealand including Auckkland and Wellington, and Asia including Singapore and Malaysia.