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October 10, 2012
How to Win an Opportunity of a Lifetime and What to Do Next

Reid Hoffman thought he wanted to be a career intellectual; he
figured that fulfillment could be found by publishing an article in The
Atlantic
every now and again and maybe even teaching a philosophy course or
two at a liberal arts college.  Deciding he wanted to impact more lives
than the fifty or so niche readers of some esoteric literary journal, Reid
changed his career plans and tried his hand in the tech industry.  Landing
a job at Apple in the mid-1990s, he realized that he had found a calling.
 Eventually, he would found a little start-up called LinkedIn.

Ben
Casnocha knew from an early age that he wanted to be an entrepreneur, and he
achieved his aspirations by founding multiple successful companies.  Yet
he too had recognized an urge to create and an unfulfilled intellectual
curiosity.  He used his entrepreneurial experiences to fuel a very prodigious blogging
career
and he wrote a book, My Start-Up Life, which combined his passion for
entrepreneurship with his love of writing.

In
2009, Reid’s and Ben’s paths crossed, and they immediately recognized kindred
spirits in each other.  During one meeting in Palo Alto, they discussed
their ideas on how to use their experiences to help others.  Separately,
they had both been generating philosophies that individuals could better
themselves by mimicking the lessons learned from successful start-ups.
 Together, they refined their ideas to create what would eventually become
a New York Times bestseller, The
Startup of You
.

In
the summer of 2012, their paths crossed with my own.  Reid and Ben joined
forces with Tim Ferriss on a Four-Hour Work Week blog post, “How to Take Intelligent Career Risk (and Win Mentoring from
Reid Hoffman, Chairman of LinkedIn)”
.

Because
I was thinking of making a move out of education, I added my own story to the
almost six hundred others from people looking to make career pivots.  To
my surprise, I received an email from Ben’s assistant, Ian, informing me that I was selected as a finalist for the contest. 

Over
most of August, I hustled to get votes so that I could beat out the other two
worthy finalists: Cheryl, a multi-million dollar business owner who was going
to pass on her company to her sons to write and promote a book on financial
fraud; and Samuel, a former Army officer and West Point professor looking to
give up his military pension to start a fitness company.  Honestly, I
didn’t think a teacher trying to raise a family stood a chance against these
two, but I leveraged my social media contacts as much as I could and something
shocking happened. 

I took a
lead and eventually won the mentoring opportunity from Reid and Ben.
 I
probably annoyed a ton of people on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ in
the process, but I learned first hand the power of social media marketing. 

So
far, the experience with Reid and Ben has been awesome, and they have shared
some insightful advice on how to actually make a risky career change. 

Some
of the best advice thus far:

  • As
    far as narrowing down a career path, they have talked a lot about finding a
    career that not only stokes my passions and fulfills my ambitions, but also
    allows for my work experiences to be transferrable to other industries and
    viewed as assets. (For teaching, they would be writing and editing, speaking in
    front of groups, and marketing and selling Shakespeare to literature-averse
    teenage boys, etc.)
  • In
    the book, one idea that is hit on repeatedly is the idea of being in a state of
    “permanent beta”.  This idea is behind a lot of the advice I have received
    from Ben and Reid, as permanent beta is the readiness to be able to change
    preconceived career plans to match the unstable business climate.  By
    being able to adapt to sudden industry changes and having a contingency plan
    for all your contingency plans, you will be better prepared to take advantage
    of surprise opportunities that may turn up.
  • Lastly,
    some of the best advice I received from Ben and Reid has focused on my
    biggest weakness: my lack of experience or perceived lack of experience.  

One
of the difficulties in my career pivot is that any change I make has the added
risk of having a major impact on my young family.  Giving up a steady job
while being responsible for a mortgage and childcare is a pressure-filled
endeavor; it makes taking any experience-building entry-level job almost
impossible.  And yet, I don’t have close to enough “real” experience most
employers want for non-entry positions. 

Ben
and Reid have been very helpful and full of suggestions in trying to help me
navigate this murky water.  They have suggested finding creative ways to
gain experience: writing, guest blogging, connecting with the influencers, etc.
 They have also pointed out ways to find companies who are young and whose
values align with my own.  By connecting with and writing to key players
at these ideal companies, someone may recognize in me a kindred spirit.

Dennis Keohane is a teacher, journalist and contributor to VentureFizz.  You can follow Dennis on Twitter (@DBKeohane) by clicking here.

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