Anything is Possible (in a Startup)

I know you're out there. I can feel you now—corporate recruiters at career fairs, sending offer letters to work at banks and consulting firms.  I know that you're afraid.  Google is.  You're afraid of startups. You're afraid of change.  You’re afraid that students and young people are going to realize that you’re not the best place for them to learn, grow, or gain in responsibilities.  I don't know the future. I didn't come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it's going to begin. I'm going to publish this post, and then I'm going to show these people what you don't want them to see. I'm going to show them a world … without you getting in the way of their amazing careers.  A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries; a world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to them.

Students, there's something wrong with your career. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. You are seeing a career set in motion before you but somehow your eyes are still closed—winding up in internships you don’t care much about, applying to grad schools because you can’t figure out what else to do.  If you don’t make a drastic change soon, you’re going to end up so hopelessly dependent on the system that that you will fight to protect it. 

Do you think the lawyers at the RIAA suing music fans weren’t teenagers at one time?

Free. Your.  Career.

It’s time you were shown the world *they* don't want you to see--the dream world that has been pulled over your eyes to hide you from the truth.

What truth?

That your career is a prisoner—in a prison that has been constructed in your mind to keep you contributing your energy into the system.  It's a prison that limits your ambition, clouds the path ahead of you so you don’t even know what jobs are out there, and keeps you in line with everyone else--mindlessly marching to careers in banking, law, consulting and accounting.  The prison walls are built with career fairs, campus job boards, and industry panels--all seemingly meant to help you but, in reality, sending you down a path that makes you just another battery in the system. 

You feel it when you print your resume, put on a suit, or sit down for a big company interview.

Open your eyes to the truth--the desert of the real if you will.  This bustling corporate landscape where you made your way up the ladder, learned a ton, and retired happy, rich and fulfilled ended years ago.  Now, these mindless corporate careers live in a world where the light of the sky has been blotted out, where the dead hopes and dreams of those before you are liquefied and fed shamelessly to new recruits, and control reigns supreme.

There is, however, hope.  There is a city deep underground in New York where people who have been freed from this prison gather--a Zion, if you will.  They work at small, innovative companies like Foursquare, Tumblr, Meetup, and GroupMe.  They are passionate about what they do, excited to come to work everyday, and just as excited to stay late surrounded by awesome people solving interesting problems.  As my friend once said, “I never hugged a co-worker until I worked at a startup.”

This city is the thriving New York startup community, and if you’re willing to unplug from the Matrix—the cattle driving process of big corporate recruiting—you can join in.  We’re fighting the good fight against the machines.

To enter this Zion, you need more than just code (although being able to code helps). 

You need to know kung fu… to be a ninja—to be the kind of worker that takes initiative, learns what they don’t know, goes the extra mile, and asks for forgiveness, not for permission.

Do you think that’s air you’re breathing? 

If you’re willing to wake up, unplug, and explore the idea that you don’t have to work for PWC or go to law school if you’re not ridiculously psyched about it, start now.  Show up for a startup event.  Join communities of innovators.  Start blogging about what you *are* excited about.  Don’t try to reverse engineer your resume to try and figure out who would hire you.  Follow awesome startup people on Twitter.  Put down the job listings and show up at the companies doing things you care about and find out what you can do for them that they can’t live without.  No kung fu skills?  Learn them!  You’re in school right?  Most of you have at least six to eight months before you graduate.  Pick up a ruby book and learn some code.  Take a sales training course.  Learn how to drive traffic to your blog using Google keywords. 

You don’t need an idea.  You don’t have to be a founder.  You don’t need to learn to code (but it does nearly guarantee employment).  You just have to be willing to reach out, build relationships, and make yourself useful.  Start participating and creating value.  Go make a list of 25 innovative companies you’d like to work at and have at it—reach out  on LinkedIn to founders, their investors, people who work at the companies.  Innovation is a ground war—house to house—and so should your career development.  Get out of your dorm rooms, off campus, and start showing up… or just be a battery for the machine.

I'm trying to free your career, but I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.