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Where to Begin

focus May 19, 2020

Just yesterday, I was getting my haircut and striking up a conversation with the 20-something year old girl cutting my hair. After talking to me for some time, she confided in me (in a low voice, not to be heard by the other “female hair professionals” – what are they called anyway? Barberets? Barbets?) that she was really bored cutting hair and was looking for another opportunity. After talking with her a little more, I told her she strikes me as someone who would be an excellent administrative or executive assistant; perhaps even a project manager. She then said what I’ve heard from countless others (and said myself a great many times):

“I would love to do that, but I don’t even know how to get started!“

Unfortunately, she had just finished cutting my hair and being that this was my first haircut since COVID-19 quarantine restrictions had been lifted, there was a long line of shaggy, angry looking customers waiting in the lobby. I promised her that I would explain at my next haircut.

Here’s the challenge: if you search for “mounting climbing photos,” you’ll see one of two types of pictures:

1. Completion – just like the photo at the top of this post: success!
2. Glory Moment – some notable event on the journey: epic moves, feats of strength…you get the idea.

But how did they reach either of those two phases? This is the paradox of Finding a Starting Point, which screens out a massive percentage of potential mountain climbers before they even begin.

And the same thing is true in the professional realm.

Currently, there are two primary methods to find a starting point: college and certification.

As you know, college is the “defacto standard,” but has begun to fade in recent years. Many are learning that spending four years of your life in higher-education, learning topics that will likely be completely forgotten as soon as the college experience is over is simply not the most effective path to most careers. Especially since the experience leaves many deeply in debt that they will be paying for years to come.

Certifications have begun to gain steam, especially in the technology field. Individuals are finding that passing a series of exams at their own pace using their own methods is quite alluring, especially since that certification can open the door to company call backs and interviews. The challenge with certifications is that they quickly fall out of date and often present a very vendor-specific lens to see the world. Cisco has no motivation to teach you how to use a network monitoring system because they do not create network monitoring systems (even though this software is essential to a typical business)!

I would propose there are at least other ways to start learning a new topic. Freelancing (reactive) and Self Study (proactive).

Freelancing sounds intimidating, but it’s really not at all. There are many websites (such as freelancer.com or upwork.com) that have thousands of jobs available. This is especially useful when you’re not too sure where to start and you simply want someone to tell you what they need. So how do you do it? Simple. Create an account on the freelancing site and begin looking at the jobs available. When you see one that sounds interesting, set your hourly rate extremely low and spend the time writing a solid sounding profile (more on this later). If the client asks you why your rate is so low, just be honest: you’re just getting started and wanting to gain experience in this field. Then, when they hire you, study your butt off and knock the job out of the park!

Self Study is useful when you are already employed and you see the business need OR you know what direction you want to go independently. Let the employer know that you would like an opportunity to solve that need. Then…act just like a freelancer – study your butt off and knock the opportunity out of the park!

Honestly, this blog posting is for my hair stylist (aka – “the barbet”). The next time I get my haircut, I now know exactly what to tell her. My next post will get back to the path I was on before: So you’ve decided to freelance or self study…where do you begin?


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