7 Most Important Decisions You Need to Do For Your Career

I’ve been fortunate to go through the kind of education I enjoyed. I’ve been doing the work I’ve wanted (okay, maybe the strawberry farm summer jobs weren’t the shiniest moments in my life). I’ve been offered some great opportunities in my life. I’ve got to meet some really bright people and chatted with some top notch game producers in the world.

When I was a kid playing computer games… it really never crossed my mind that one day I might be hosting roundtables where I could hear what the video game makers of some of the largest gaming companies in the world would have to say. When I was a kid, I enjoyed playing some soccer games on my Commodore 64 – at that point winning the soccer game was important – not what I want to do when I grow up (well, if you don’t count the secret agent drawings).

I believe there are 7 key decisions that have influenced in my own career.

Decision #1 – Decide exactly what you want
What you want?

That’s so simple question that you’d think everybody has the answer. What you want? That should be pretty easy to answer. Certainly we know what we want, right? While the question is simple, the answer might not be. In fact, it can be pretty difficult to tell exactly what you want. People might have an idea what they want to become, but not many are really taking time to figure out what exactly they want. Some people want to be famous. Some people want to make a living making games. Some people want peace in the world. Or all of these.

Whatever it is you want, I really think this question must be answered in great detail. The more details you can mention, the more exact answer you have. In an ideal world, your answer must be such that if somebody asks you whether you’ve accomplished your goal, you can answer either “yes” or “no”.

If your goal is “famous”, then is it easy to say “yes” or “no” whether that goal is accomplished? If you want to make a living making games, then it’s easier to tell when that’s happening. If you want to “be a game producer in a big gaming company”, then again it’s bit easier to tell when that happens. You could give more specific answers (like define what “game producer” really is and define what “big gaming company” really means – is it number of people or game budget or what?).

It’s like those “almost finished tasks”. They basically mean “unfinished”. 95% complete task is not complete, it’s unfinished. There’s only “unfinished tasks” and “finished tasks”. If you decide what you want, it’s better if you have a specific goal that can be easily verified.

Decision #2 – Decide to focus on what you want
If you want to be an artist, game designer, producer and a programmer – then the chances are you are that you are either doing indie games or don’t have a clear focus. While it’s okay (and perhaps more fun) to do everything in your game by yourself, I still think it’s better to focus on some aspect or skills. For example… if you want to be an artist and a programmer, then it might happen that you don’t manage to do either part well. The more you scatter your skills… the more you might lose your focus.

Your goal – the outcome – is here the thing that matters. If your goal is to “make great indie games”, and you manage to do them by yourself, then by all means continue that. On the other hand, you could decide that you focus on the programming side and get somebody else to the art. It’s really up to you what you want, but I really recommend focus. Man who chases two rabbits, catches neither one.

When you decide to focus on some areas more, you realize that you can get more done with the help of others. It’s actually pretty simple to calculate too.

Let’s suppose there’s two tasks that you’ve thought to do:

  • There is a complex programming task that takes 10 days from a pretty good programmer, or 7 days from a skilled programmer.
  • Then there’s an art task that takes 10 days from a pretty good artist, or 7 days from a skilled artist.

Now, let’s look at how long would it take if you’d do everything by yourself. Since you’ve decided to train both skills, you are pretty good programmer and a pretty good artist. Not specifically skilled in either skill, but equally good in both.. If you’d choose to do these tasks alone (and choose to be a pretty good programmer, and a pretty good artist) then it would take 20 days.

On the other hand, let’s see how long would it take if you’d focus more. Let’s suppose you forget the art side and concentrate on training your programming skills. Eventually you would be a poor artist, but you’d become a skilled programmer. If you’ decide to become a skilled programmer, and hire a skilled artist to do art – completing the tasks would take only 14 days.

In this example, you’d be saving 6 days, and could spend those 6 days to something else. This happens only when you decide to focus.

The point is: you can save time by focusing on certain areas. If you decide to do everything by yourself, you aren’t necessarily saving time (or money).

This gets me to the next decision:

Decision #3 – Decide to do important work
Most people have some talent for many things. For example, even though you might like doing art and programming – chances are that you might be bit more skilled in programming if you stop doing art and focus on programming. (As for the record: I enjoyed doing some 3D models in the past but gave up the art side and concentrated on programming. Today I’m a poor 3d artist, but more skilled in programming)

When you choose to take certain paths, you see that you become more skilled in that when the time passes. You get more stuff done, and can get somebody else to help you with the stuff that are not your strongest areas of expertise. In this case, it could mean that you get somebody to do art for you. It means that you have more time to become more skilled.

Important work simply means the kind of work that requires your skills, and is in line with your own goals. If your goal is to be a great programmer – then it makes sense to focus on programming and get other people to do the art. If your goal is to become a great programmer in a gaming company, why spend time learning art?

Taking the decision to do more important work means that there are some less important tasks or tasks that require less experience. For example, you might realize that accounting firms are pretty good doing bookkeeping. It means that perhaps you could hire an accountant, instead of spending days filling forms when you could be programming (or doing whatever it is that you are good at).

I realize that this stuff isn’t black and white. Everybody needs some skills in many, many things. You need to be able to do some math when calculating budgets or solving algorithms. You need to be able to write. You might need to learn some business skills if you want to self-publish products. You probably need some management skills to cope with people. Certainly you need lots of things just to be able to function in the gaming industry. This still doesn’t mean you should necessarily learn 2-3 very different and complex skill. You cannot be the best programmer AND artist AND manager. You need to choose. Depending what you choose, you naturally might need to learn some new skills that help in your role.

It’s up to you to define what is important for you and your career, and decide to more the important stuff.

Decision #4 – Decide to expect opportunities to come
Expecting good stuff to happen is something where you need to take a certain attitude. You need to start thinking that it’s just a matter of time when the opportunity knocks door. Or, if it doesn’t knock, then you better start knocking doors by yourself. Either way – the opportunity will reveal itself. Whatever happened in the past or is happening right now, it does a world good to expect good stuff to happen in the future.

I have no scientific facts that could confirm this – but I’ve heard other people saying this, I’ve seen this happen in my own life, and my hunch tells me that the more good stuff you expect… the more good stuff you receive.

Naturally one must be ready to accept to take whatever the future brings. If you expect million dollars to come to you, then by all means do that – but don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t happen. Perhaps you have poor expectations and would need to adjust your goals.

This is quite difficult to explain, and might sound quite controversial: but I think it’s good to expect good things to happen, and accept what the world offers.

There are people who think that now it’s their time to become successful. They might have read some inspiring book and they get really excited. They start wearing better clothes (since books told them that you need to “dress for success”). They start doing mental training. They start doing all kinds of stuff and believe that things will go fine.

Then they encounter their first setback and give up.

They get back to their earlier state of mind and feel miserable for their bad fate.

Here’s couple of things to remember:

  • If you keep helping others… at some point other will start helping you. The more you help others, the more help you receive. I don’t know if there’s such thing as a Karma, but I’m 100% sure that this is the way how the world functions. If you give something, you’ll get something.
  • If you give opportunities to other people… at some point opportunities will come to you. That’s how it goes. If you help others (and notice a good opportunity for them), they are more eager to bring opportunities to you.
  • It doesn’t matter if you heard “no” for 99 or 999 times… the next time you might hear “yes”. Patience is required. Sometimes good opportunities take time. Sometimes they take more time. Sometimes things happen faster than you anticipated. Be patient, be persistent and good stuff will follow. Don’t give up.

Breakthroughs take time to happen. Some comedian once said something like this: “It takes 20 years to become an overnight success”. I 100% agree on this. Newspapers are good at reporting overnight success, but they fail to report all the hard work that happened years before the breakthrough. Great success requires great amount of work to happen.

Basically – if some people have become successful “in one day” or got high paying jobs, that’s probably because they’ve done pretty good stuff in their past (or their parents did).

That’s good to remember. If you think 5 or 10 years forward, you might see the “overnight success” there. Perhaps it requires you to make some bold decisions (like the ones mentioned in this article), but at least you are free to choose.

If you have an attitude that tells you that it’s just a matter of time when you will be what you want to be, then you’ve kind of already won. Then it’s just a matter of time.

Decision #5 – Decide to do more what you want
This is a crucial decision to make. Many people have a some kind of vision about what they want to become, but not many are doing anything to reach those goals. When you decide to do more what you want (and less what everybody else keeps telling you), you notice that you start going faster towards your goal.

If you don’t enjoy your current job, then perhaps you can consider taking some time off or doing less hours per week. Then you can do more what you really want to do, and not just follow the path other people have showed to you. Bosses might want to keep you doing what you’ve done for the last 10 years, but remember that you should be deciding what you do. Naturally you need to take into account what kind of workplace you have before you start making suggestions, but I really encourage you to at least think about this.

If you think you have too little time, then perhaps you can take some actions to become more productive, and get time to do more what you want. If you have many hobbies or responsibilities, then perhaps you can decide to do more what you really want, and consider re-scheduling your hobbies and responsibilities.

When I say “decide to do more what you want”, I don’t mean that you neglect your family or friends. Balance is definitely required. Keeping healthy relationships and social life is very important for all of us. All I’m saying that one shouldn’t be pushed to live their lives by others. If your job is pushing you to some direction, then take time to ponder if that’s where you want to go. Making this decision requires balance, but even with some small changes it’s possible to do more what you want, without damaging any relationships.

Decision #6 – Decide not to follow the money…

I’ve sometimes taken part into the discussion about “passion versus profit”. Some people ask if they should follow their passion or go for the profit. Some people believe that passion is the thing that one should follow. Some people remind that passion doesn’t bring food on the table (or is unrealistic). I think it’s pretty clear what we need here.

I believe we need to choose balance.

Those people who follow only their passion (without never considering profit) will end up broken. (Okay, I might be exaggerating a bit here… but I do that to make sure I’m really clear about this). So basically: if you just do your passion, then the profit (money that pays your bills) might not come to you. I would think that there might be quite many artists who just do what they love (paint) but really don’t consider the profit side (like selling art or something), and perhaps aren’t as happy as they could be if they’d consider more the profit side. In a modern world, it’s pretty difficult to survive without money – so neglecting this side wouldn’t be so healthy.

If you follow only the profits (and never do what you really want), you burn-out. Again, an exaggerated statement to make my point. Okay, I’m sure there are people who don’t burn out, but I’m pretty confident that people who are motivated only by money aren’t really doing what they want. After all, money is just number. Who cares about those numbers? It’s the feeling of telling others about those numbers or the feeling of getting a nice new toy (like a brand new car) that really matters. It’s the stuff that money gets that can motivate people. Money in itself is not important – only the stuff that money can buy (okay… I admit that there might be some people who enjoy getting money just for the sake of getting money, but I’m sure you get my point).

Like mentioned, money is not the best motivator. It’s a necessity. You need to eat and pay some bills, so money is important in today’s world just to survive. But, if your career is just about making money – and not what you really enjoy – then you might not feel good. I’ve heard people who’ve made 6-figures a year to quit their jobs because they hated it. These guys have said that they are more than happy to do anything else, as long as they don’t have to work in those bad jobs.

I recommend choosing balance. Choosing the balance between both of these elements: passion and profit. If you follow your passion, you must also learn how to earn some bucks from your passion. When you think about getting a job, you might want to work with a poorer salary if the job is more interesting.

Profits keep your body alive, while passion is something that keeps your mind alive.

Decision #7 – Decide to take action, now
If you read this far and think there was some good points in this article, then you’ve probably got some good ideas – but the work is not done yet. There’s one more decision to take. Answering the first question might be the most important thing you can do for your career, but you still need to complete the 7th decision. Decide to take action now.

It is absolutely crucial that you take action right away, if you haven’t done that yet. Some people prefer to wait for a year or two (and end up being in their job for a decade or two), but I don’t think that’s such a good idea. If you wait and wait and wait, you end up watching as your life passes by. It’s almost imperative to decide to take action to get your career (and life) in the right direction.

Of course you can stay in your current job and be happy, but at least that’s a conscious choice by you. If you enjoy your career, then by all means continue the way you’ve gone so far. If on the other hand you feel like you’d like to do something else – decide to take action towards your goals. Quitting your job doesn’t need to be the solution. Perhaps you can get your bosses to consider new alternative ideas or products. Perhaps you could try to make your current job bit more better.

Figure out what you really want, and start taking action to get to your goal. That’s the way to go.

Juuso Hietalahti