Bias Toward Action

This afternoon, I interviewed three career service professionals at Stanford who help students connect their values, interests, and passions to careers. It's part of an internship I'm doing with the Stanford Life Design Lab; I'm in the "need finding" phase of a project that will end with an online module, accessible to everyone, designed to help students navigate the difficult process of planing for a life and career after college.

Several times, a phrase came up that resonated strongly with me: bias toward action.

Here's what it means in a career service context: if you ever don't know what to do, you can either a) talk to people or b) try new things. The talking to people part doesn't mean sitting around with your friends, it means conducting informational interviews, reaching out to someone on LinkedIn, going to a panel discussion and asking questions. Trying new thing means exactly that: go do something, even if you're not sure how it's going to go or you don't feel 100% prepared. Both are useful, and both are action-oriented. Neither is a philosophical exercise.

The career service professionals all agreed that having a bias toward action is a huge advantage for people planning their lives and careers. It helps you figure out what you love and what you don't, it helps you make connections with other and learn from mistakes. It can help you to grow and change and adapt. It makes your decisions more informed and intentional.

What is having a bias toward action? It means do something. Start. Take action. It's a key part of design thinking. Identify a problem, craft a solution, try it, fail, make adjustments, try again. It's an iterative process. It's the opposite of discussing or debating or arguing. A lot of valuable learning happens from doing -- and failing.

I align with this thinking. It makes sense to me because every cool new opportunity or job or experience I've had was a result of action. I think this is true for almost everyone.

Getting a job in the legislature was a direct response to interning in the legislature (something the vast majority of political science majors didn't do). Interning in the legislature was a direct result of interning on a campaign and meeting a legislator who saw my work ethic. Working for a youth training company came because I said "yes" when my mom asked, five years before I got the job, if I wanted to volunteer at a summer leadership camp. 

It's easy to get stuck. To overthink things. To be paralyzed by a lack of self-confidence or fear of the unknown. I am very much a "planner" type of person; I want to know what I'm going to be doing in 1 year or 2 years or 5 years. Oftentimes I'll identify where I need to go or what I need to do, but instead of taking action I'll spend more time researching or thinking or debating. It's something I'm trying to adjust because I think it's a bad habit. What I've found, though, is that the more I take action, the more I trust myself to get it right.