How can I know where to go next?

By Austin W.

I started my MBA program at Harvard this fall, so I’ve had some occasion to speak with classmates about career and life planning. HBS encourages students to think carefully about career options. Although there are exceptions, the general consensus goes like this: “While other less fortunate people must make do with the limited opportunities they are relegated to in life, you who will shortly be graduates of this distinguished university are free to fully optimize each and every step for minimizing risks, and maximizing rewards along the way to ultimate success.” Ultimate success is usually taken to mean “The Top.”

This general conversation—the volume of which will reach great heights during the upcoming recruiting season—reminds me of the journey of young Alice through Wonderland, especially that poignant dialogue between her and the Cheshire Cat:

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

The Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.

Alice: I don’t much care where.

The Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.

Alice: … so long as I get somewhere.

The Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.

The “getting somewhere” of Alice seems similar to “The Top” that I and my classmates seem to have in the back of our minds. But to settle the question of where to go next, it becomes painfully clear that Alice needs to know specifically where she wants to get to, which she does not know. She just has a vague expectation to “get somewhere.” The notion of “The Top” is equally vague. So while it’s fair to say there’s no need to know specifics about our ultimate professional destinations, the question remains: “Where, then, should we look for guidance about where to go next?”

Here are some gospel principles I use to guide my own decisions about where to take the next steps:

  1. God has a plan for my life, and he knows me better than I know myself.
  2. Through prayer and reflection, God increases my self-awareness, and I come to learn more about my God-given gifts.
  3. I should seek work that most leverages these gifts, and allows me to contribute net positively to my family, myself, and the world.

Taken together, these principles help me to put work in the context of my life, rather than the other way around. With the proper perspective of life and its true purpose, which I believe is to become more like God by seeking his guidance and applying it in my daily life, work is put into proper perspective as the means to other, more meaningful ends. Therefore, work is only important insofar as it contributes net positively to achieving the ultimate goal of life. It does this as we exercise and perfect our God-given talents to bless and serve others, as well as develop virtues along the way, such as diligence, faith, generosity, and patience. I will be focusing my efforts on finding work environments that allow for this kind of personal growth, which I suspect will lead me to different opportunities than if I were organizing my search only by the quickest way to “The Top.”

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3 thoughts on “How can I know where to go next?

  1. micaiah says:

    I love Alice in Wonderland quotes.
    I like how you define the top not by the world’s standard, but by becoming your best self standards.

  2. Nicole says:

    Thanks for this timely reminder. I do think our perspective/ approach is exceptionally important as we make decisions about our lives. And it is so easy to either forget that we should keep things in the proper context or to think that we don’t actually have the ability to make choices and shape our environment.

  3. Abalyn says:

    Lovely post, Austin.

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