September 13, 2020

Horseshoes and hand grenades as an approach to starting a career

One of my elementary school teachers often said that close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. He said this whenever a student would answer a question with a close, but not quite right answer. I often thought this was amusing and never really thought much of the phrase.

As I look back at the past ten years of my working experience, I realize that “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades” has been my approach, even though I did not set out to approach my work that way.

Before university, and throughout university, I worked different jobs. I worked at an amusement park, as a coding teacher, as a web developer, as a business analyst, as an orientations coordinator, as a residence advisor and there were a few other jobs as well. I took solace in the fact that each job was temporary. If my boss was awful, or if my work was tedious and boring, I knew I only had a few months (co-op) or two terms (for university jobs) to grind it out and then I would be done.

Coming out of university though, my first job was working as a technology specialist in the Public Sector. I have never told anyone this, but my very first time I sat down at my desk on that job, I felt an immediate sense of dread. People around me were telling me how lucky I was to find a job like this. That I was now ‘set for life’ with the government pension. This was, admittedly, amid the 2008–09 recession. I started working enthusiastically, and then got pulled back down until I was just going through the motions. I was still doing all of my work, but I started looking for other ways to engage my mind. I went to Toastmasters, where I then networked my way to Deloitte, one of the big four professional services firms and a global company. Then, some politics happened at Deloitte, and I made my way to EY, another one of the big four professional services firms.

Recently though, I was talking to one of my close friends, and we were comparing our different working careers. She had worked stints at P&G, a big bank, and then ended up in the Public Sector. When she reflected on my career, she told me that somehow, my career choices have worked out and that I had a sense of direction. This surprised me because I never thought about my career like that. I did not set out to choose some of these jobs — in a way, they just ‘happened’ to me. I happened to be in the right place at the right time (and by the way, knew the right people).

So, if you are just starting out, worried whether you want to take that next job, or wondering how you can get a sense of ‘direction’, remember that

Close is only for horseshoes and hand grenades (and your career)

Wang, if you have the luxury of multiple job offers, how will you know which one is best?

I don’t think you can know. Well, I guess there is a way by working two jobs, but you may not have that luxury. Plus, if you quit a job only a few weeks or months in, you may burn that bridge and as I quickly realized, the world is a small place where a lot of people know each other, even if you do not think so.

Well, how do you know if the line of work that you are pursuing is going to be your career?

You don’t. Many people start out in one line of work (business) and then end up making a living doing something completely different (making art). You can pivot and change directions. I started out doing technology, but wanted to pivot into doing more business and technology work. And that’s what ended up happening to me.

Will a better opportunity come around the corner that you now have to turn down because you took the first one that came up?

No idea. I think the chances were good that I could have waited for a better opportunity than working at the government. But it could also be that the government job was the one and only offer I would receive for a while.

Are you going to regret taking the job and wish that you had waited around for a better opportunity?

Perhaps, but opportunity comes to those that take the leap. I had no idea that me taking a job in the government would eventually lead to me working for a big four firm. If you don’t take the leap, the alternative is that you are sitting around the house waiting for an opportunity that never comes.

Final thoughts

Don’t worry whether a job is ‘perfect’ or if the next opportunity isn’t even close to perfect. Ask yourself, is this close enough to what you want? Because taking action is better than not. And being close enough is better than waiting for perfect.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *