Like compound interest, the beginning of a career is extremely important. Careers are a lot like compound interest. What you do at the very beginning has an enormous effect on the long-term outcome. That is also the nature of chaos theory:

Chaos theory studies the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions; an effect which is popularly referred to as the butterfly effect. Small differences in initial conditions yield widely diverging outcomes for chaotic systems...

And, folks, a career during the years 2011 to, say, 2061 is guaranteed to be a "chaotic system." Your 2011 graduate will face recession, federal deficit spending, technological change, and who knows what else.

Bottom line: getting off to the best possible start is extremely important.

Another metaphor is apt. I have described choosing the wrong career as the equivalent of getting on the wrong international flight. Getting to where you were supposed to go instead of where you went is going to take a lot of time and money after you figure out you went the wrong direction.

Most young people pick majors according to what sounds cool when they are asked "What are you majoring in?" Very bad choice.

Another almost universal mistake is young graduates simply seek "a job." Ask 20 adults about how they chose their first job and you hear things like:

  • they knew somebody who worked there
  • it was the best of the only two offers they got, neither of which excited them
  • they joined the almost-everybody-is-always-welcome-here military
  • they took a job they hated because they had to "pay the rent" and their student loans
  • they went to college 2,000 miles from home to "get away from their parents" and because it was more attention-getting than the local colleges in the spring of their senior high school year and the only offer they got was from a company in that distant college region

Another thing is that far more should be considering starting their own business. That's not to say they hang out a shingle the day after graduation. But once you adopt a goal of starting your own business, you see that working for a business like the one you want to start will be perhaps a more important learning experience than high school or college.

The thought of starting a business is almost totally absent in the conversations of high school and college seniors. It should not be. I suspect that the wealthiest and happiest adults are those who have successfully gone into business for themselves.

That has been my situation since I was 22 on the side and full-time since six months after I got out of graduate school. It's not for everyone, but almost every successful entrepreneur's only regret is that they did not do it sooner.

Having a focus and a long-term plan will help you GET your first job. Job interviewers can see through applicants who have little interest in the position, who are only interested in "a job." When they get an applicant who really is interested in their field or company, they can see it clearly. Guess who gets hired.

They say if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. It is even more true that if you help a child or niece or nephew or young friend pick the right career for them, not just a way to put fish or other food on the table, you give them a lifetime of success and personal satisfaction.