Do you find your career, or does it find you?

I was talking to a young pup the other day. (Actually, he’s an old military friend who just retired and wants to go back to school. But he’s “beginning” his career, so that makes him young, in a roundabout way…) He wants to go to school to major in accounting, and he has no idea what part of accounting he wants to do–tax, audit, industry, government, etc…

As we were talking, it made me think of the way my career path has gone, and how it has evolved into what I am now. And it made me think, “Never in a million years did I think I would do this, and I certainly didn’t think I would enjoy it.”

When I was 19, I was going to Hacksaw U, majoring in psychology. Wanted to get a PhD in Psych, and solve all the world’s problems.

When I was 21, I was in the Marines, and wanted to be a Marine officer.

When I was 26, I was a retail financial advisor, and wanted to do that for ever and ever, amen.

When I was 28, I didn’t like retail FA anymore (too much sales, too little knowledge of finance). So I decided to go back to school to learn about finance. Wanted to get a MSFinance, and be a security analyst. Around that same time, I took my first accounting class and thought, "This blows. Hopefully this will be the last accounting class I ever take.

When I was 30 (some ten accounting classes and once CPA exam later), I started at a CPA firm, thinking, “I just have to do my obligatory three years, so I can move on to what I really want to do.”

After just a few short months at that job, I got a job in the oil and gas industry, and I thought, “Now I just have to work my way up in the company.”

When I was 32, the O&G company packed up and moved away, so I took another job with a CPA firm and loved it. I’ve moved on from that firm, but I’m still doing the same job. Now I realize I’ll probably never leave, but rather, will try to take over and expand the business to include retail FA and in-house valuations.

What is your experience? Are you more like me? That is, my job had to “find me”.

Or are you more like my friend Rod, who picked a major, stuck with it, got a job in that industry, and has never deviated from his “chosen path” siince he was 17. (He’s 33 now, and doing very well, BTW.)

We try to find various paths to earn money and our skills/knowledge/gut feeling guides us in selecting the the best path to earn money.

I’ve been all over the show. I don’t really know what I want to do, nor have I ever really had a career in mind. I’ve always liked law and politics, and interestingly my current job deals with lots of policy making and has a legal aspect. Perhaps this is where I should be. I didn’t really see a career I wanted in politics early on, and hence why I pursued finance (for the money, of course). Along the way I’ve done most accounting jobs, run treasury operations for a firm with a multi-billion dollar balance sheet and other things along the way. I never thought I’d do any of those jobs. And I never thought that my finance education and expertise in a very niche area would allow me to serve the public and work on developing solutions to public issues. I wish I could say more but anything else would nearly certainly reveal who I am as there aren’t many Charterholders playing this game. I certainly have achieved any material goals for myself at my age, so I’m very satisfied that way. We will see over the coming years how this new line of work develops and what I’ll be doing. I won’t be surprised at wherever I end up in 10 years as if anyone told me 10 years ago what I’d be doing today, I’d laugh them out of town.

I go where the money goes, like Mayweather says, “I’m in the check cashing business.”


Edupristine…is that you?

And just to clarify–I’m not complaining or regretting any of the path that I’ve taken to get here. Like my current boss told me once, “We are the sum of all of our past experiences.”

I applied to various diverse jobs from college and accepted the one that paid me the most money.

To be honest I think it’s pretty normal for people to have some kind of cognitive dissonance after making career choices regardless of the outcome.

To answer your initial question, I think whether or not you find your career or your career finds you entirely depends on whether or not you take ownership of your own career management process or not. The passive approach would be to fall into one job after another without any real meaningful reflection as to whether the next role you take on will end up getting you to wherever you “need to go”. Alternatively, if someone takes a proactive approach when it comes to both their career and education, the possibilities for international relocation and job function widely open up in ways that you would never really imagine.

A lot of this comes down to an individual’s level of risk aversion, where they will concoct any number of possible reasons as to why they are incapable of doing something whether that might be quitting their current job to move overseas to their target market a land a job locally, or going back to school for an MBA or other masters program to reset their career options. Naturally people have legitimate reasons not to take certain risks (dependents, family member who is ill etc), but for all those other people my suggestion would just be to get the hell out of your comfort zone and do whatever the fuck you want to do. Instead of sitting their dreaming about what it would be like to work in X market or Y function of Z geography, get off your ass and register in a masters program, quit your job and become local in your target market an start networking your way in to whatever it is you want to do. Passive people who watch their life go by in safe and medicore circumstances do not ultimately get rewarded for anything beyond an average at best compensation and overall lifestyle.

Rant aside, the most impressive people I have met have gotten out of their comfort zones and have taken a very hands on and active approach to their career and life decisions, and have achieved their objectives in almost all cases from what I have witnessed personally.

So almost every one agrees that money is the main motivator.

We often try to plan out our careers, but for all but a few of us, it seldom works out as planned, and we shift from place to place depending on the environment, the opportunities, and our tastes.

But I noticed that one old guy who was being interviewed on Charlie Rose said “It’s funny, when you look back on your life, it seems as if there was this overall path that took you from there to here (here being some kind of success), but when I go back and remember what it was like, what I most remember was that nearly every step seemed uncertain and and ‘let’s try this.’” Some guesses may be more informed than others, but they are ultimately just guesses.

So it seems that there is some smoothing going on, the same way that you can look at the S&P Chart today and say that “clearly” it was crazy to hold stocks in 2000, and the economy in 2007-8 was clearly unsustainable, but if you go back in your memory and are honest, what was most likely happening is that - yes, it seemed a little strange - but it was not at all clear that a bubble would burst and wipe out 50 percent of assets, and people who didn’t trust the stock market felt poorer and poorer every day compared to their friends and family members who were daytrading.

I think for most of us, this is an iterative process of finding a career. Sometimes one arrives at your career point and discovers that new technologies have made you redundant before you even start.

There he goes again.

I took a slight decrease in comp (take home anyway, my 45 days off per year make up for it) for my current role which is much more rewarding. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the BSDs on here have done the same, taken less cash for more challenge or instrinsic reward. I’m definitely no BSD though. At some point in your career the job you’re doing becomes more important than a few extra dollars. Maybe I will return to industry or banking once I’m done with service here, but it won’t be for the money. I don’t really need more (though I’ll take it). It will be for challenge or other reward.

Ok, I admit that I work here partly because my professional cuddling and crab rangoon businesses failed to take off.

Perhaps you are at the top of Maslow’s pyramid that is why you don’t value money as much as we (people at bottom of the pyramid) do.

I found when I started having money left over in the account at the end of the month, I stopped aggressively chasing money (that’s not to say I don’t want more cash, just its not important). I have a couple side businesses but they are mostly to prove to myself that I can do it. I don’t take any profit out for day to day stuff, I just reinvest for future business opportunities. I’m not going to say I’m some self-actualized guru. I’m not immensely wealthy compared to the itera types. Being happy with what you have and pursuing things for the right reasons is just a choice you’ve got to make. It doesn’t require anything special. I’ve seen my dad work himself nearly to death to provide a tiny bit of incremental short term gain. I promised myself early that this was not the life I was going to live. I would have traded more time with my dad for my new bike anyday. Hopefully my son won’t have that issue. Remember you could die tomorrow, we all could. Having spent your whole life chasing a bigger account balance for some distant future purpose will seem pretty silly at that point. Too many people don’t see that until its too late. Your kids won’t remember that you worked 10 hours more for the sunroof in the Audi but they will remember the 10 hours you spent helping with homework or playing catch in the yard.

Mine definitely found me.

Roughly chronologically:

  • Writing software to run numerical control systems (mills, lathes, punch presses, and so on)
  • Writing software for GPS and DOT (deep-ocean transponder) navigation
  • Designing EFP (explosively formed penetrator) warheads
  • Writing software to estimate the cost of building petroleum processing facilities
  • Writing software to run freeway monitoring cameras
  • Analyzing mortgage-backed securities
  • Analyzing risks on aerospace projects
  • Consulting in project risk management
  • Developing portfolio analysis software and bond market simulation software
  • Teaching finance: asset allocation, international finance, and CFA review courses
  • Developing CFA curricula for third-party providers

Sprinkled in there were also 20 years of teaching university mathematics, and 20+ years as a professional magician. Next step: teaching university accounting courses.

Why didn’t you stick with writing software?

If you’ve ever attended a warhead test, you wouldn’t be asking that question.


What I said was most careers involve a fair amount of muddling through, so don’t sweat it too much and just try to make the best informed decisions you can under the circumstances, and [implied] don’t worry if your first attempts don’t work out as you planned, it’s still possible (though not guaranteed) that you’ll end up somewhere you want to be.

I accept that some people like Turd magically arrive on the one true path from day one through their superior decision-making, but that this is not very common. I suppose that’s why the decision-making would be considered superior, as long as there’s no luck involved. :wink:

Fair enough. But your software experience wasn’t limited to EFPs.