Great Career Paths are Messy Creatures

Most people seem to dislike their jobs or at best, find it tolerable. So when we encounter someone who seems to have a great job – work that is interesting, enjoyable, fulfilling and  impactful – it’s natural to get curious. How did they get there? What steps did they take to arrive at their current position. And of course:

How can I do the same?

I’d like to suggest two resources for everyone in their quest to reach their own great career:

Resource 1: So Good They Can’t Ignore You

The first is a book by Cal Newport of Study Hacks called So Good They Can’t Ignore You. This book, (based of a quote by Steve Martin), offers a framework for finding great work.

Great work, according to Newport, is work that offers things like autonomy/control over your work, the feeling that you’re good at what you do and a sense that you are having an impact on the world. He argues that getting a fulfilling career has far less to do with the type of work you do (the first chapter is devoted to bunking the myth that the way to a fulfilling career is “following your passions”) but more has to do with building career capital and leveraging it to gain a position that offers these things.

Career capital depends on the type of role you seek (for TV writers, it’s simply the ability to write really good scripts, while for entrepreneurs it might be a mix of technical skill, unique insight into a market, and a network that can reach great investors). The book is relatively short, quite insightful and full of profiles of people who have found great work. Go check it out.

Resource 2: CareerHoot Interviews

The second resource is a website called CareerHoot by my friend Andrew Chen which an online resource of interviews of people who have made career transitions – so people looking to switch jobs can see how others have done it. Continue reading…

Crafting a Mobile App: a UX Design Case Study for Startups

GUEST POST: Suelyn Yu is an interaction designer at frog (see her portfolio) and worked closely with the team at Ridejoy to help craft our iPhone application. I feel very lucky to have worked with such a kick ass designer and I think this case study should prove useful for any startup that’s looking to build a mobile app. Now, on to Suelyn!)
– Jason  
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BACKGROUND

Do you remember the last time you were traveling on the highway? I do. There are usually countless cars all around me, and yet most of them are full of empty seats. I often wonder to myself, “Why isn’t there a way for people headed in the same direction to travel together?” One company, Ridejoy, aims to solve this problem by helping people share rides anywhere, anytime.

As an interaction designer at Frog, I’ve designed to encourage people toward pro-social, offline actions. When Ridejoy was preparing to build an iPhone app, Kalvin, one of the co-founders, reached out to me for help. I worked with the Ridejoy co-founders; Christine Yen, who built the app; and Seth Warrick, who created the brand and visual design.

It just launched in the US App Store.

IPHONE DESIGN PROBLEMS

After running Ridejoy.com for several months, the team learned a great deal about their current user base. In developing an iPhone app, we wanted to do far more than just “port” the site over to mobile – but instead, craft a new experience.

We identified 3 key challenges:

  • How we get drivers and passengers to post more rides?
  • How do we speed up the process of making driver and passenger matches?
  • How should Ridejoy facilitate “arrangements” between drivers and passengers?

CHALLENGE 1: ENCOURAGING POSTING

For a rideshare service to be successful, it needs to be able to draw from a large pool of rides when matching up passengers and drivers. We know that many people are driving by themselves or are looking for an affordable ride, but if they don’t post their travel plans on Ridejoy, there is no way for these people to get matched up. Continue reading…

My SF Marathon 2012 Race Recap

So you might be wondering why you haven’t seen a post on my SF Marathon. Well, it’s in part because it was a rough race and didn’t go as well as I expected. In addition to that, when I was relaying this story to my friend Derek (the one I interviewed recently) he encouraged me to share the honest truth with the folks over at Greatist.

So I wrote something that appeared last week in Greatist’s weekend edition, but I wanted to share it directly with my blog readers here. I think down the road, I’d like to do a piece on “things I’ve learned so far about running” but let’s start with this race recap.

What I Learned from My First (Blunder-Filled) Marathon

After many months of training, I ran my first marathon this summer. It was agonizingly hard, and I made a lot of mistakes both in training and in the race — but I made it to the finish line. Did it change my life? No. Did it make me a better runner? Yes. Was it worth the hurt? Definitely.

This is how I prepared for and completed that 26.2 mile race. Hopefully my experience and mistakes can help your own journey to completing that first marathon.

Deciding to Run

After graduating from college and finishing an NCAA career in men’s gymnastics, I spent a few unsatisfying years lifting weights to stay in shape. On a whim, I tried running in a pair of Vibram Five-Fingers (those minimalist shoes) and loved how they felt. I hated doing any kind of running as a gymnast, and despite a major knee injury requiring numerous surgeries, the minimal footwear made running fun and basically pain-free.

My competitive career as a runner began in July 2011 when I ran in the San Francisco Marathon’s 5k. The adrenaline rush from that first 5k was thrilling and got me rehooked on being a competitive athlete. In the months following, I ran more 5ks, a few 10ks, and even some half marathons.

Around the winter holidays, I thought to myself, “It’d be pretty awesome if I came back to next year’s SF Marathon and did the full distance. Seven months should be plenty of time to train.” For whatever reason, I felt that finishing a marathon would officially make me a “real” runner. And before I knew it, I had an SF Marathon registration email sitting in my inbox, and there was no going back.

SF Marathon 2012 Race Course

Training for the Race

The marathon distance was daunting, but I knew from my years as a gymnast that with the right training, the seemingly impossible becomes possible. I looked at several well-known marathon training plans, but they generally required running 5 or more times a week, and I wanted a plan with lower mileage to protect my knee. I ultimately turned to running blogger/coach Jason Fitzgerald to devise a custom plan for me.

I ran about three times a week: One easy run, one longer run with a few miles at a faster “tempo” pace, and a slow long run on the weekend. I lifted weights, used the elliptical or performed body-weight exercises on two other days, and rested the other two days. Continue reading…

Book Notes on [Good Strategy / Bad Strategy]

Good Strategy / Bad Strategy Book CoverI just finished a great book on strategic thinking called Good Strategy / Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why it Matters. It helped me understand what strategy really is both from a conceptual perspective and also concretely with case studies of companies like Apple & Nvidia and organizations like NASA and the US Army that had successfully implemented good strategy.

I highly recommend you check it out because the case studies really bring the concepts to light. But for your benefit and mine, here are some of the key takeways I got from it.

What Strategy is Not

Strategy or “strategic thinking” often refers to the work engaged by leaders of an organization, but just because someone is power is thinking, doesn’t make it strategic. A common mistake is to create goals, visions, budgets and/or “key priorities” and call that strategy.  They are NOT.

Strategy Has Three Elements

All good strategies have what the author calls a “kernel”. They are: a diagnosis of the primary challenge(s) and obstacle(s) faced by the organization, a guiding policy for how the organization plans to approach or overcome the challenge(s) and a set of coherent actions and resource commitments designed to carry out the guiding policy. Continue reading…

Twelve Life Lessons Learned from Burning Man

12 Life Lessons Learned at Burning Man

I recently went to Burning Man for the second time this August – it was a great experience, though very different from the first time I went in 2011. I’ve heard from veteran Burners that your first time at Black Rock City will always be your best.

I’m not sure that’s true yet. It’s definitely less mind-blowing when you know what to expect, but on the other hand, this second experienced allowed me to think more about what we all can take from the values, culture and experience of Burning Man.

1) Listen to your body

One of the 10 principles of Burning Man is “radical self-reliance” and it’s a critical one when you’re trying to survive out in the middle of nowhere. The 100+ degree heat, chalky alkaline dust, reduced sleep schedule and new diet of dried fruit, beef jerky and water forces you to really be mindful of your body. If you’re not careful, you can be hit with heat exhaustion, super chapped hands and feet, or a GI issue.

But why leave that mindfulness out in the playa? Back in the “default world” there are plenty of opportunities to be more aware of what you’re eating, how well you’re sleeping and how stress is affecting your body.

2) Be more open to new opportunities

There are so many things to do out at Burning Man – send post cards, connect with camp mates, volunteer to light lamps, dance on art cars or run 5k’s. I heard someone call it “Disneyland for adults” at one point this year.

But in most cities and of course with the internet, opportunities are everywhere. You can volunteer at a local homeless shelter or take up a new yoga class or study to become a bartender or just say hi to your neighbors. If you feel like you’re stuck in a rut, just look around and find something that catches your eye. Opportunities to do interesting things are all around us.

3) Focus on the now

There’s a joke at Burning Man that everything runs on “playa time”. Meaning scheduled events often start late or perhaps not at all and coordinating anything is tricky (in part because of all those shiny opportunities we talked about).

In some ways that’s a hassle, but in other ways, it’s very freeing. People aren’t operating on schedules and tight timelines – instead they live in the moment. They’re not thinking about what they have to do next but focus on what they’re experiencing right now.

Obviously, we can’t all be like Arnold Schwarzenegger and work without a schedule, but if we can remember to catch our breath in a busy work day and realize that we’ll do our best work when we focus on the now, we’ll all be better off.

Continue reading…