zenhabits : breathe

Letter to an 18-year-old on the Career Path Less Traveled

By Leo Babauta

Recently an 18-year-old who is finishing school wrote to me, asking for advice on choosing a career without enough life and work experience to make an intelligent decision.

He said, “Should I take the road less traveled, which may be risky and fearful, or choose a college course that interests me to some degree and see where that leads to. I suppose I don’t want to end up as the typical everyday-joe at the office from 9-5. I want to be different from the masses, to make an impact on this world, to be fulfilled. How do I get the best start into adulthood?”

It’s such a great question. And what I love is that he’s asking the question in the first place — most 18-year-olds just take the safe route.

Here’s what I’d say: take the career path less traveled.

If you don’t want to be the typical Everyday Joe, in a 9-to-5 office job, don’t go the route that everybody else takes.

If you want to be different than the masses, you have to take a different path.

I took the safe path when I was 18, and got a job and went to college, and it didn’t screw me up … but it also took me nearly 20 years before I finally found what I loved to do. It was a struggle, being on the road that’s well traveled, because I was consigned to a career I didn’t really like.

Yes, the career path less traveled is scarier. There are no guarantees. You are sticking your neck out, taking risks, being different, probably to the scorn of others. This is lonely.

But the loneliness is temporary. Soon you’ll find others who are doing things different, and you’ll connect with them in a way you’d never have connected with the people taking the safe path. You’ll be inspired by them, and inspire them in turn.

And the scariness is a lesson worth learning — if you can overcome a bit of fear, you can do anything. You’re not limited to the world of comfort and safety.

So what do you do on this scary, lonely, exciting path?

That’s totally up to you — you are empowered to figure things out on your own.

But here are some ideas:

If you do half these things, you’ll love the path. If you do almost all of them, your impact on the world will be palpable.

And when you’ve been traveling this path for 6 months or more, write me back and tell me how it’s going.

with love,
Leo



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