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Stay mainstream until you have demonstrated success doing unusual stuff
Many people who accomplish great stuff do so by taking fairly unusual career paths. For instance, many entrepreneurs drop out of college to pursue their startups. If you're considering the possibility of leaving a mainstream track (education followed by job) for something offbeat, and potentially high-impact, read on.
Our main piece of advice: stay (at least nominally) on a mainstream track until you have demonstrated nontrivial success with the unusual trajectory you are considering. In particular, do not quit the mainstream track purely on the strength of arguments of the form: "once I don't have to waste my time on jumping through the hoops of the mainstream trajectory, I'll have enough free time to do something unusual." In absence of experience, you may overestimate:
- Your ability to work productively in the absence of external structure.
- The probability that your endeavor will lead somewhere, even if you are able to work productively on it.
Rather than dropping out of the system, start trying to take out small amounts of time to work in the direction of your unusual trajectory. This may involve some neglect of your official mainstream trajectory, but a modest amount of neglect is fine, as long as you make sure you meet some minimum standards, sufficient to bounce back if necessary.
Once you have demonstrated success with the unusual trajectory, consider quitting the mainstream trajectory.