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When setting career goals, go to what matters in your life.

By Ben Feuer

Yesterday, your humble blogger spent a fascinating day at YCombinator's Startup School New York, mingling with students of every imaginable discipline and thinkers of every age range and walk of life.  What most of the folks I met had in common was a mutual fascination with making the world work better, usually in some small way.  Some were interested in online education, others in improving the job market, still others in sharing opinions on world issues.  The focus was on what I would call microentrepreneurship, small improvements in the way we work and live.

This morning, I awoke to a fierce, pointed screed against 'upstarts'/'startups' from a traditional media outlet.  It's not that I disagree with Lehore's argument (which is, simply put, that disruption is overrated as a predictive agent of change, and is more useful as a way of reflecting on what's happening all around us, and that ultimately more conventional measures of business greatness such as a truly useful product and sound management are more important) so much as I dislike the shrill tone of the debate.

There's plenty of room at the table for traditional finance guys AND sneaker-wearing disruptors, even if the one is never going to attend the other's tea party.  And there are truly vital innovations to be found in BOTH areas, improvements in honesty and efficiency that can make the world better, if we remain focused on what really matters.

So if you are applying to school, looking for a goal, trying to sort out what the heck you're doing with your life -- what IS that really important thing?  What is that touchstone?  The answer is simple, if elusive.  You have to believe in what you are doing and understand why it matters.

Apoorva Mehta, the CEO of Instacart, tried twenty startups in a year before settling on the one that worked for him.  It addressed a problem that he himself faced every day.  But there's no reason you can't have the same experience working for Goldman Sachs -- it's just that your improvements will take longer and probably be smaller scale (although potentially higher impact).

Belief and comprehension.  This simple, centering message can carry you past hollow debates about whether a particular theory is "true" (which is impossible) and lead you instead to what you know better than anybody else -- your experience, your feelings, and the future you want to live out.


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