Why Young People Should Think Beyond Professional Tracks

Question: What was your first job?

Peter Thiel:  Well my first job was, was – after law school, working as a clerk for a Judge and then working in a law firm here in New York.

Question: How did you end up where you are today?

Peter Thiel: You know, it’s always hard to know how much one’s particular trajectory can be translated into other contexts.  I worked at a law firm, I worked at a bank, and then in my late 20’s decided I should do something entrepreneurial; moved back to Silicon Valley and ended up getting involved in the technology boom as a co-founder and CEO at Paypal back in 1998. 

And it was, it was certainly very fortunate I was in the right time and the right place.  But I think – I do think that one of the things that people should think about a lot is not doing something that’s incredible tracked.  And one of the things that I see a great deal of, and I think it was true when I was going to college in the late ‘80’s, and early ‘90’s, and it has become, I think, a lot more true in the years since then, is that people have gotten more and more tracked in various ways.  And they’re tracked from the time they are in preschool, they’re tracked into sports, music, charitable activities, and instead I think it would be very good for students and young people to develop passions and interests about specific things that they would like to do that are not necessarily the credentials that you need on some sort of generalized respectability criterion, but that are ways that will really change the world and make it better. 

I think that this will actually be much more important in the days ahead because we’ve sort of had a long period of sort of stability and sort of say 1982 until 2007, the U.S was sort of in a low volatility zone where in a way, the track of safe things were the right things to do.  And that’s no longer the case today. You have people graduating from colleges where they took on $200,000 of student loans and they assumed quid quo pro, they would get a good entry-level job doing something.  That’s not quite happening anymore.  And so I think that we need to actually be encouraging something that’s more adaptable, more entrepreneurial in the decade ahead.

Recorded November 15, 2010
Interviewed by Victoria Brown

In this Summer School for the Real World feature, PayPal founder Peter Thiel says people can get locked into rigid tracks too early, preventing them from developing their interests and passions.

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