How much should you research your career?
In career decisions, we advise that you don’t aim for confidence — aim for a stable best guess.
Career decisions have a big impact on your life, so it’s natural to want to feel confident in them.
Unfortunately, you don’t always get this luxury.
For years, I’ve faced the decision of whether to focus more on writing, organisation building, or something else. And despite giving it a lot of thought, I’ve rarely felt more than 60% confident in one of the options.
How should you handle these kinds of situations?
The right response isn’t just to guess, flip a coin, or “follow your heart.”
It’s still worth identifying your key uncertainties, and doing your research: speak to people, do side projects, learn about each path, etc.
Sometimes you’ll quickly realise one answer is best. If we plot your confidence against how much research you’ve done, it’ll look like this:
But sometimes that doesn’t happen. What then?
Stop your research when your best guess stops changing.
That might look more like this:
This can be painful. You might only be 51% confident in your best guess, and it really sucks to have to make a decision when you feel so uncertain.
But certainty is not always achievable. You might face questions that both (i) are important but (ii) can’t realistically be resolved — which I think is the situation I faced.
However, if you’ve done your research and your best guess has stopped changing, then you’ve probably done the research that is worth doing — it’s time to make a decision and simply try something for a while.
In short: aim for a stable best guess, not confidence.
The alternative is to keep researching your options to try to get even more confident. But if your best guess is no longer changing very much with additional research, that research isn’t producing much value, while you’re incurring the costs of delay.
In my case, I decided to focus on writing for a while, but I still don’t feel confident it’s the right call.
One extra piece of comfort: you can always try the new path for a few years, and then if it doesn’t work, try something else.
- Gregory Lewis published a great post about this topic — the graphs above are taken from him.
- Near the end of our career planning process, we lead you through how to investigate your key uncertainties, and when to stop your deliberation.
- Lack of confidence can sometimes be about anxiety rather than information. If you’re struggling to commit, I find it helpful to make a list of: (i) what might go wrong, (ii) how I could prevent that from happening, (iii) how I could cope if it did happen, and (iv) the costs of delay. More here.
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