Originally, I was collecting these reads for my brother, a junior in high school. He hasn’t thought much about what his major will be, or what his future career will look like. Basically, he has decisions to make.
I got to thinking, what books and articles would I recommend my brother on managing his career? I’ve done years of career reading—mostly useless—and I can sift through all that for him.
I can include only the crème de la crème of career readings, since my brother doesn’t read for fun. I also have to give the tl;dr of each, since he might not click on the links 😪
Without further ado, here are my 3 favorite career readings:
So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport (17 minute summary)
I’ve followed Cal Newport since high school, when I would read his blog posts on study hacks. He’s since written multiple best sellers while working full-time as a Computer Science professor at Georgetown University. All this, and he shuts off work at 5pm everyday. Goals.
Cal Newport, in his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, beats into your head that the “passion hypothesis” is flawed. The passion hypothesis as an equation:
pre-existing passion + compatible job = work satisfaction
Newport argues believing the passion hypothesis often leads to anxiety, angst, and chronic job-hopping.
He goes on to reference psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski, who conducted a study of college administrative assistants.
She surveyed the assistants to figure out why they saw their work so differently, and discovered that the strongest predictor of an assistant seeing her work as a calling was the number of years spent on the job. In other words, the more experience an assistant had, the more likely she was to love her work.
Why’s this? Newport quotes Self Determination Theory:
autonomy + competence + relatedness = work satisfaction
Likely, the assistants loved their jobs because increased competence led to increased autonomy. Newport says:
When you become better at what you do, not only do you get the sense of accomplishment that comes from being good, but you’re typically also rewarded with more control over your responsibilities.
The underlying theme of the book is that good things come from mastery, not passion.
Read the book/summary in full to learn:
- The craftsman mindset, and why it will help you create work you love
- The two kinds of skill markets, and how to develop rare and valuable skills in each
- The nature of control traps, and how to avoid them in your quest for autonomy
- And much, much more
The best summaries:
- Text summary by Cedrin Chin, 17 minutes (this guy’s summaries are a gift to mankind)
- Video summary by College Info Geek, 7 minutes
“The Pmarca Guide to Career Planning” by Marc Andreessen (19 minute read)
Marc Andreessen is a tech entrepreneur and investor, who co-founded multiple billion dollar companies, as well as the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. His career advice answers concrete questions, like where to go to school, what to study, how to manage your post grad career, etc.
Andreessen says you should think of your career as broadening and developing your base of skills. He quotes Scott Adams, the author behind the popular business comic, Dilbert, to explain why you should be a double/triple/quadruple threat.
Lots of bloggers quote Adams, but Andreessen expands on Adams the best. He answers concrete questions with Adams’ words in mind:
If you want an average successful life, it doesn’t take much planning. Just stay out of trouble, go to school, and apply for jobs you might like. But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths:
- Become the best at one specific thing.
- Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.
The first strategy is difficult to the point of near impossibility. Few people will ever play in the NBA or make a platinum album. I don’t recommend anyone even try.
The second strategy is fairly easy. Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort. In my case, I can draw better than most people, but I’m hardly an artist. And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people. The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes. It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare. And when you add in my business background, suddenly I had a topic that few cartoonists could hope to understand without living it.
…Get a degree in business on top of your engineering degree, law degree, medical degree, science degree, or whatever. Suddenly you’re in charge, or maybe you’re starting your own company using your combined knowledge.
Capitalism rewards things that are both rare and valuable. You make yourself rare by combining two or more “pretty goods” until no one else has your mix…
It sounds like generic advice, but you’d be hard pressed to find any successful person who didn’t have about three skills in the top 25%.
Read Andreessen’s guide in full, where he shares his answers to:
- What should I study in college?
- Which undergraduate degrees are useful in the real world?
- What graduate degrees are useful in the real world?
- What college or university should I go to?
- What should I do while I’m in school?
- How should I think about skills development once I’m out of school?
“7 Strange Questions That Help you Find Your Life Purpose by Mark Manson” (15 minute read)
Andreessen and Cal talk to my brain, but in this gorgeous article, Mark Manson sings to my heart.
Manson is the NY Times bestselling author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, and was a popular blogger before that.
There’s a quote from 7 Strange Questions I replay in my head every time I have a case of existential angst… So a few times a month.
Part of the problem is the concept of “life purpose” itself. The idea that we were each born for some higher purpose and it’s now our cosmic mission to find it. This is the same kind of shitty logic used to justify things like spirit crystals or that your lucky number is 34 (but only on Tuesdays or during full moons).
Here’s the truth. We exist on this earth for some undetermined period of time. During that time we do things. Some of these things are important. Some of them are unimportant. And those important things give our lives meaning and happiness. The unimportant ones basically just kill time.
So when people say, “What should I do with my life?” or “What is my life purpose?” what they’re actually asking is: “What can I do with my time that is important?”
This quote is freaking poetry. He varies the rhythm and sentence lengths so that his words sing. What’s more—he captures this idea perfectly, through his command of the craft, which no layperson can do. Life purpose is not an easy concept to express in its full power.
While Newport and Andreessen tell you how to navigate your career, Manson shares the emotions of navigating your career—and shit sandwiches with olives. If you haven’t read the article yet, you’re in for a treat.
That’s all I got. Happy reading!