I was having lunch the other day with a former student of mine who has been debating his various career choices. He has been in various sales roles over the course of his short, post academic career. But, he continues to think about his next step, and moving on (which is fine). I’d like to think I’m part of his Personal Advisory Board, so I was happy to have lunch with him to discuss his future. He was considering various ideas: teaching, entrepreneurship, human capital… all ideas I am in love with myself. However, I found myself a little conflicted in telling him to go into any one of these fields. He could have worked for me. Lord knows he’d be excellent. He’s in wealth management at one of the largest investment banks in the world. He is responsible for making 100+ phone calls every 1-2 days and having lunch with 50 wealthy decision makers a year. And, he does a great job.
So, why is he considering other options? That’s what I had to ask myself. That’s why I was conflicted.
He was looking at other career opportunities because he had spent about a four years in the industry, 2.5 at a much smaller investment firm, and 1.5 at his much more prestigious one. And, he was exactly where he started, making just a little less than six figures and wishing he could catapult himself to wealth. He wanted to be in business for himself so thought about starting a retail brand, a web startup, etc. He invested time and energy into these ideas and we even worked on some, together.
But none of these ideas had panned out for him. Instead, he had this high stress, but highly productive position at one of the best firms in the world. So, as I digested this information (and my salad), I asked him “Why do you want to leave this position? Tell me more about it.” He replied.
“I am good at my job. I can do it. Not many can but I can. It’s very likely members of my team won’t make it past their first year, but I’ll be fine. The problem is I want to make hundreds of thousands of dollars, now. The potential isn’t there the way the team is structured.” He went on to tell me that the way his team works, he will work really hard for the first few years to build wealth for his bosses. If he can stay the course, within 15 years, he’ll be around a take home of $1,000,000 per year. I had to ask…
“Is this a coal mine, then, or a gold mine?” You have to ask yourself what kind of business or job you’re in, always. Gold. Or coal?
In the 1800s, hundreds of thousands of people moved either to the US or from the East Coast to the West Coast in search of a gold heavy gold mine. They panhandled. They dug. They did whatever they could to find a few flakes of gold and cash in on the California Gold Rush. And, a number of people were able to cash in. But, as the land in California was regulated and people paid attention to the indigenous killings, it became more and more difficult for new players to move in. Plus, a good amount of gold was mined quickly. Only a fraction of the people who didn’t move perfectly with the right resources actually landed enough goal to become rich.
During that same time, the United States workforce had already been mining for and mobilizing coal to use for any number of reasons. Coal powered everything from factories to trains and was the major ingredient in steel production. It was mined for over a thousand years before, in cities all over the globe and was heavily mined up until its decline from 2007 until now. It had staying power. Most companies took years to establish themselves, mine the coal, and build a distribution channel of customers. But, those who were patient and continuously dug, were rewarded. And, those who worked at those companies made good livings with proper education, training, and hard work (bear in mind, if you were an uneducated miner, you probably didn’t go far, but work with me, here- some did).
Do we see the difference? At all times, you’ll need to ask yourself, “Is this a coal mine or a gold mine that I’m working in?” And, you’ll also want to know, for yourself, if you prefer gold or coal. I, personally, will dig all day knowing that there’s coal at the end of my shovel. It’s consistent, I know there’s a buyer. I know what it looks like. It may take a few years for me to be as wealthy as I want. But, the coal will not falter. It may not make me rich, today. Eventually, I’ll sell it.
Some can work all week just visualizing the gold. They already know how it’s going to feel when they find it. But, it’s also likely that they don’t come up with gold at all, or perhaps just a few flakes. And, it won’t be enough to retroactively pay for their losses.
We ultimately decided that the current opportunity was a goal mine. If he keeps digging, he’ll eventually find a customer for his coal.