Figuring out what to do with your life, whether you’re about to enter college or just starting out your career, is one of the biggest challenges one will ever face in their life.

And despite all you learn about math, science, business, arts, sociology, psychology, history, and English; you still never feel 100% prepared for what comes next.  And that’s why this book was written.

Ben Carpenter, author of The Bigs, is a Wall Street CEO who’s, “been there, done that” in the politest way possible.  It was seeing his own daughter struggle with figuring out what exactly to do after graduating from college that inspired him to write the book in the first place.

The problems the book answers come from the way we are taught in this country.  At least in the U.S., most young people have a pretty structured plan.  Go to elementary school, obey the rules, get good grades, move on through high school, graduate, go to college, get a job.

As a teen and young adult, going through the structure gives you a little security, always knowing what comes next.  But eventually there comes a time you finish your list of accomplishments wondering how you are supposed to get from here to retirement…happily.

Carpenter’s book seeks to answer those questions that were never fully addressed in college or high school such as how to:

  • Choose a Career
  • Find a Great Job
  • Do a Great Job
  • Be a Leader
  • Start a Business
  • Manage Your Money
  • Stay out of Trouble and
  • Live a Happy Life

The strength of the book comes from the author’s stories and experiences from his own life.  At no point does Ben make himself out to be a perfect example and that his way is the only way to success.  Instead, he merely seeks to share his own anecdotal stories of how he started a business, rose up the career ladder, became a leader, etc.  Along the way he shares lessons learned from each of these life events and passes on the wisdom he gained from failure and success.

Reading his book felt like I had a CEO mentoring me on my own career decisions and ideas.  I could relate to his stories and almost always found ways to apply his suggestions and advice to my own life.

As a young professional myself, I appreciated the tone of his book and the way he tailored advice with students and young professionals in mind.  Although many of his stories could apply to mid career and senior managers as well, the book is clearly targeting a younger audience.

To give you an idea of some of the wisdom I took away from his book, here are quotes I highlighted from the book.

On the benefits of a corporate career

  • The opportunity to work with, and learn from, many talented professionals and co-workers.
  • Over time, it is likely your co-workers will migrate to other companies and your network of contacts will expand.  These contacts can be invaluable sources for business opportunities, helpful if you want to switch jobs, or pools of talent to hire from when you get into a leadership position.

On lessons learned as an entrepreneur

  • Most young entrepreneurs make the mistake of asking themselves “What product or service do I want to sell?”  More often, the better question is, “What product or service do I want to buy that I can’t easily find?”
  • Everyone understands that in our hyper-competitive free market bad ideas will fail. What is much less well understood is most good ideas will also fail.

On lessons from making job moves

  • It is the oldest trick in the book for managers of a valued long-term employee to attempt to guilt that employee into staying.  Management can make many legitimate arguments to an employee to get him to reconsider leaving, but guilt is not one of them.  All you owe your company is your best effort while you work there.  Beyond that, your only obligations are to your dependents (if you have any) and to your personal hopes and dreams.

On how to use headhunters

  • The first step is to, as early as possible in your career, get on the radar of the 8 to 10 headhunting firms who specialize in your industry.  Regardless of your industry, these will include the five majors: Korn Ferry International, Heidrick & Struggles, Spencer Stuart, Russell Reynold Associates, Egon Zehnder International.  Find out which partner at each headhunting firm is most focused on your segment of your industry, and send a cover letter and resume to that person, remembering to highlight any personal contact you might have in common.

If you could use a guide book for getting some bearings for getting your career launched, or relaunched, on the right foot, I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of the book here (unapologetic affiliate link).