The Best Blueprint for Life is That There is No Blueprint

August 21, 2011

I read an article titled “Blueprint for a Woman’s Life”. I have read a lot of articles similar to this – ones that purport a certain sequence of steps to get to a certain level of accomplishment in life. I am here to tell you that I wholeheartedly disagree with these kinds of blueprints.


Let’s take the example of becoming a VC (something that I am potentially interested in doing eventually). The ‘blueprint’ as I have read it is: 1. Start a startup 2. Sell your startup 3. Become a VC. However, through looking at different VC job postings, I noticed that some of their requirements are actually quite different: 1. Go to a top-tier MBA school 2. Work in a major management consulting or investment banking firm 3. Become a VC. The point is, there are different routes to becoming a VC – and you shouldn’t follow one just to get to the end goal. You should do what makes you happy the whole way through (or as much as possible).


And then there is the example of becoming an entrepreneur. While I was in school, I was told that the recipe for becoming an entrepreneur was: 1. Finish university 2. Work for a big company for a few years 3. Start a startup 4. Profit. Well, it turns out that you don’t need lots of work experience to run a successful startup. You don’t even need a university degree. In fact, some of the most successful entrepreneurs have little to no work experience, and no university degree! There are plenty of examples of high school students selling their companies for millions.


I think these blueprints that people are pushing on others are dangerous. They might cause, for example, a young university student to mistakenly think she needs corporate experience to become a successful entrepreneur, even though she has a pretty good idea that she will not like the corporate world. Sound familiar? If I could go back in time, I would definitely have not have gone to my corporate job following graduation. I would have started the startup that I had plans for, validation of, and funding offers for. Because I can honestly say that I can see very little about that job that helped me with becoming a successful entrepreneur. In fact, I think it may have hindered my abilities. Why? Because I was not learning the key skills to becoming an entrepreneur. I was learning to follow the rules, keep my head down, debate minuscule decisions for weeks or months on end, complain about decisions outside of our control, and create one-pagers according to a meticulous format requirement that even specified the font and size of the text. None of these skills are applicable to being a successful entrepreneur – in fact, they are the opposite of what you should do. And when I came down to Silicon Valley, boy was I shocked to learn that very few people I spoke to valued my corporate experience. In fact, some of them actually saw it as a negative thing, saying that I was a ‘big company person’ and may not know how to operate in a small company. I guess the fact that I quit fairly early could actually be a good thing :).


Are you a stock or a bond?
Someone sent me an article about entrepreneurial DNA recently and I find it very relevant to my situation. It says that people are naturally like an equity (more risky) or a bond (more risk-averse), and that business school has a habit of changing people from equities into bonds. It’s true – I think business school mesmerized me. Before university, I thought I’d go do non-profit work after graduation. I never dreamed that I’d instead take a job pushing laundry detergent. But it seemed to be the thing to do according to the environment that I was in for those 4 years. However, when I got out of the environment and into the actual thick of the work, I began to realize that I still wanted to the same non-profit/altruistic stuff that I’d wanted to do before university. I’m hesitant to do my MBA, for a number of reasons, but one major one being that I don’t want to get mesmerized again. I don’t want to be pushed towards the corporate world so the school can keep up their recruiting statistics and corporate sponsorships. I’m seeing a lot of friends and acquaintances that used to be very entrepreneurial in corporate jobs that they hate. But they remain. The companies are helping to finish the job their business schools started by transforming them fully from an equity into a bond. The minute my friends start to look sad or seem like they are looking elsewhere, the companies put a carrot in front of their face – a raise, promotion, car, or free MBA – and they decide to stay. And I know from experience that being surrounded by very risk-averse people everyday in companies like these makes it very hard to extract yourself from the situation. After all, are people that have made a life decision stay there for years despite their unhappiness going to advise you otherwise? (Well, actually, some did at my job, and then I really knew it was time to quit)

Anyway, my advice to all of the people that are trying to follow a ‘blueprint’ from their parents, their coworkers, their career counselor, or an article, is…SNAP OUT OF IT NOW! And follow your own path. Even though what I’m doing now is way riskier than ever before, I am so much happier. Because I know the potential payoff is way greater than the potential downside.


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