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Why “creating options” is good and “keeping options open” is bad

Taking the leap

A common issue we come across working with people around their career choices is the urge to “keep options open”.

“Keeping options open” normally plays out as a plan to try multiple things and amass a portfolio of experiences before committing to a single path. “Until I know what I want, I will keep on moving”

We understand that people want to keep their options open. But this route does not work. You only keep options open by doing what it takes to “create options” for the future. This means reducing choices today and focusing on something, anything, to the point where you have proven you are a success. Taking the leap, giving it your all and not hedging your bets.

This is because careers are path dependent. What you did last impacts what you can do next. Realistically, access to the next option is based on how well you have done in the last one.

Careers are not like a stock portfolio where reducing risk comes from diversifying across a broad range of shares. They follow a different version of risk.

Career risk comes from not being good enough at something for people to take note. Since careers are competitive, career success comes from being better at something than the next person applying for the same job. Which means demonstrating more success than them. That you delivered results, that you did something remarkable.

This is almost impossible to do if you keep on moving, trying new things. Doing more and more things at an unremarkable level does not increase the chances of success, it reduces it.

This does not mean that you have to keep doing the same thing for ever. What it does mean is that visible success in one area is the best passport to moving into another. Freedom of choice comes from having created new options, not keeping multiple options open.

Put simply, the way to make it easier for someone to say yes to you, is to show 100% commitment to be remarkable where you are now. That is how you keep your options open.

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