How to Avoid The Marshmallow Career


In a landmark study done in 1972 by Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel, hundreds of children were offered a marshmallow. However, each child was told that if they could resist eating the marshmallow for 15 minutes, they would receive a second marshmallow.

Decades after, it was found that the children who delayed gratification (around a third of the 600 students who participated), were described as more competent, had higher SAT scores, and went on to have better careers.

A few days ago an entrepreneurial friend of mine posted a quick “Pera o Passion?” poll on his Facebook page. The last I checked, “pera” was leading.  It was understandable, but I have to admit, I felt a bit disheartened.

Quick money is almost always un-strategic.

Let’s talk about this overused word for a minute. For me, to be “strategic” means that decisions are always made to support a much bigger picture. To be truly strategic almost always means to defer gratification. Think Amazon delaying becoming profitable for so many years (CEO Jeff Bezos was barbecued in the media in those days). They were burning hundreds of millions to acquire customers year after year because they were after the bigger picture (a much larger community). This long-term plan paid off. Amazon is now one of the world’s most admired and successful companies.

I think very few of us  really think about our careers strategically.

Instead, most people eat the marshmallow.

A friend of mine recently reached out to me about career advice. He was explaining that he wanted out of the industry he was in, that he would never go back to it. A few weeks later, a high paying job became available in a company he really admired. I noticed it was in the same industry he was in. In a recent email, he was asking me for tips on how to get into the that firm.


He’s eating the marshmallow.

We fall for it early. After years of not earning anything, we finally attend job fairs and get dazzled by the offers we get. Sadly, most people still decide to go to the highest bidder, where the assembly line starts and is built to keep you in.

As we get older, we then feel it:

This money thing isn’t as cool as I thought it would be. 

I’m earning, but I’m not living. 

What field/job can I be truly happy?

or even

Hindi ko natutugunan ang aking pagmemeron.

Quarter life, or even mid-life crisis, at its full hurricane force.

If we ask the people who voted for “pera” in that earlier casual survey 20 years from now, I’m guessing the pendulum would shift to the other side.*

So what am I getting at?

Young people. I’m talking to you. Don’t fall into this trap. Take it from us (slightly) older folks. Think about your careers strategically.

Repeat after me. Big picture. Big picture. Big picture.

Here are some tips on how to avoid the marshmallow career:

1) Take Time to Understand YOUR Big Picture

I think this is where a big chunk of the problem lies. We lack self-awareness. We don’t invest enough time understanding who we are, what we like doing, what our natural gifts are, and what we want to be when we “grow up.”

As some great military people once said “knowing is half the battle.”

Take time to assess. Ask friends about what your strengths and weaknesses are. Take personality tests. Ask people about other careers.

Granted, this won’t be automatic, as “finding out who we are” can take a long process. But I think part of that problem is, we don’t really put enough investment in consciously trying.

Try. Perhaps asking this simple question can help start the process: who am I?

Also, think about YOUR big picture. Not your parent’s. Not anyone else’s.

2) Work Backwards

Once you have a reasonable idea of your Big Picture, do a Covey and try to Begin With The End In Mind.


What career move can you do NOW that will inch you closer to your Big Picture?

Since this is an Startup Blog, here’s my quick tip on what next career steps you can do if you want to own a business someday:

A) Go fulltime and take the leap! Startups are all about learning through doing. Anything else is a bit of a  compromise. Try naming a great startup which was done part-time.

B) Work for a startup. Next best thing.

C) If A & B are too unpalatable, you could: 1) get into sales – it might not be that sexy to some, but selling is an extremely valuable skill to develop in any startup, 2) get into the industry you plan to develop your startup in, the smaller the firm, the better, 3) get into anything which expands your personal network in a hurry.

3) Just Say No

Okay, you’ve got your Big Picture. You’ve got some semblance of a plan on how to get there.

What are you going to do when Company X offers you a big package from out of the blue because your friend gave a good recommendation?

Think Amazon. Think strategic.

If something tempting comes and shows you all the shiny things you can have now if you break your plan, well, just think of all the SHINIER things you could accomplish sticking to the plan.

This is easier said than done, of course. But possible.

4) Pray

By far, my best career advisor has been God. My best career decision-making process has been Discernment. I’ve always maintained that it was He who really pushed me into an entrepreneurial path.

Here’s an interesting thing.

I belong to a Community  which really encourages its constituents to pray, talk to God, and surrender to His will. This group has a disproportionate amount of people who have taken leaps from their long-standing careers into what they truly want to do. A longtime banker who has become a pre-school teacher. An longtime FMCG executive who now works for a foundation. Another longtime marketer who put up her consulting practice. A longtime IT employee who’s put up multiple small businesses. There are more. All of which would tell you they had the courage to take the leap because of prayer.

You should see their faces when they explain how happy they are in their chosen fields. Passion is always evident.

As is the lack of it.

(know anyone who will benefit and resonate from this post? be a blessing and share!)


*The big assumption of course, is that we are earning enough to cover our basic needs. Maslow’s hierarchy in full effect.