If you are part of our young wealth builders community then you probably know that things are very different for us than they were for our parents. Our guest speaker, James Ranson, is going to give you the run down on why you may want to think twice before buying into the idea of the traditional career path. Take it away James...

“If you study hard, get good grades, go to a good college, and get a degree in something lucrative, you’ll get a good job, work your way up the corporate ladder, and eventually retire rich and happy.”

We’ve all heard that, haven’t we? Usually from a parent, grandparent, teacher, or other mentor-figure who’s a lot older than we are. It’s sound advice from their perspective, because chances are that’s either exactly how they did it, or possibly how they always wanted to do it but never quite got to. And as advice goes, there’s nothing really wrong with that statement…except for, well, everything.

The five points of that counsel make up what I like to call the Myth of the Direct Career Path. Young people today are being told that if they complete each step, the next step will automatically happen. This is a myth. Worse, they are being told that these are the steps that they and their peers automatically should take. This is also a myth. And worst of all, they are being sent into the world believing that if these five steps don’t work right away, simply working harder at them will make them work eventually. Myth number three.


How does this myth work? Let’s break it down.

Teenage Student Studying Hard

“Study hard and get good grades.” Everybody is told this as kids, but far too many kids spend way too much focus on getting a grade or a standardized test score and not nearly enough on actually learning. (I know I did.)And the current state of test-centric public schools isn’t helping with this trend. You may get into college, but will you really be ready for it?

college bound

“Go to a good college.” What’s a “good” college these days? Harvard? There are high school valedictorians who do six extracurricular activities, play three instruments, and volunteer every weekend, that can’t get into Harvard. Why spend time and energy looking for good colleges when you could be looking for the RIGHT one(s) for you? Or even exploring opportunities before or outside of college like trade school, travel, volunteer work, the military, or entrepreneurship?


“Get a lucrative degree.” There is no such thing as a lucrative degree. For every new doctor, lawyer, or financial analyst graduating and walking into a six-figure job, there are a hundred who struggle to find work at all, let alone work they can live on. Your college experience can help you prepare for a job, but the degree itself has very little to do with how much money you’ll make.


“Get a good job and work your way up the corporate ladder.” Assuming, of course, that you don’t get fired. Or laid off. Or downsized. Or that your company doesn’t tank. Or that the corporate ladder at your company is even climbable. Or that you don’t discover after a year or two or five or fifteen that the supposedly good job isn’t fulfilling you and that you’d rather do something different. Your parents or grandparents may have worked their whole lives in one job. You won’t.



“Eventually retire rich and happy.” Okay, this last one is not impossible…but it sure isn’t going to happen if you try to follow the previous four points. Following those points is what got a lot of current retirees where they are today—living paycheck to paycheck, working part-time to supplement Social Security checks that don’t cover their bills, afraid their failing health and advancing age will wipe out what little financial security they have left.

In short, not one of the five steps is a reliable path to its alleged sequel anymore. They’re all part of the myth.


I’m going to guess that many of you are thinking one of two things right now. Some of you are thinking “oh no, that’s terrible! Is there any hope for me? What am I supposed to do now?” And some of you are thinking “come on, James, that’s pretty harsh! Is it really that bad? Aren’t you overstating the problem for dramatic effect?”

Let’s all take a deep breath.

Of course there’s hope. You wouldn’t be reading the Start Young Financial blog if there weren’t any hope. 🙂

And maybe I do enjoy a little drama in my posts, but I wouldn’t write this if I didn’t believe it. If you don’t want to take my word for it right now, this article will still be here in six months. You can revisit it then.

So where do you go from here? If you don’t follow the five steps of the Mythical Direct Career Path, what DO you do?

Why, what you want to do, of course. 🙂

That may start in high school, where you discover a passion for soccer or service or saxophone or snowshoeing or something else (it doesn’t have to start with S), and decide to pursue that passion with your whole being and see where it takes you.

That may start after high school, when you go abroad for a summer and decide you don’t want to come back yet, or visit a bunch of colleges but don’t get that “this is right” feeling from any of them.

That may start in college, when you realize that you made the wrong choice of school or of major…or that, however unexpectedly, you made the right one.

That may start after college, when you don’t want to give up soccer, service, sax, or snowshoes, so you take a job not for the job’s sake, but so that you can keep pursuing your passion while keeping a roof over your head.

That may start in graduate school, if you go, when you discover a whole new direction your life could go that hadn’t occurred to you before.

That may start in a job, when you find a problem your company has and solve it in a creative way, and the company fires you for thinking outside the box, and so you start your own creative problem-solving business.

That may even start when you’re not young anymore, and reading Start Young Financial is something you tell your kids or grandkids about, and you realize you only have so much life left, and decide to live it as loudly and boldly as you can.

win and dail

You will note (as will your parents if they’re reading this over your shoulder) that when I say “do what you want,” I’m not advocating sitting around watching YouTube all day. What I’m advocating is taking control of your life and doing things by choice. Not because some person who isn’t you told you to do them, not because you feel like you’re supposed to do them, not even necessarily because you get paid for them (though getting paid is always recommended), but because you choose to do them. You see the ubiquity of the Myth of the Direct Career Path every day, and you choose not to fall for it. And even if by some miracle your path ends up mirroring that myth perfectly, you know that path is 100% yours because you chose it with every single conscious step.

James Ranson

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James Ranson is the founder and chief communications officer of Held For Ranson Professional Communications, a location-independent business and blog providing content writing, grant writing, editing, presentation coaching, professional feedback, and career services to entrepreneurs, bloggers, travelers, coaches, nonprofits, and more. After many years of feeling life was holding him for ransom, James decided that enough was enough: it was time to wake up and start holding life for Ranson, hence the company name. James has written grants for three opera companies, coached speakers for three (going on four) TEDx events, managed three professional box offices, sung in Carnegie Hall, and at one point could swim a mile in under 20 minutes.