Careers are daunting things. We look at other people’s careers and they look like daunting processions of accolades. We look at our own and see the challenges in the past and ahead. A simple step to help others is to help them to understand that almost no career goes to plan.
Don’t Worry About the Showreel
In this age of social media promotion, we can be easily lured into confusing our lives with the carefully curated and often fabricated confections of others. As the great quoted goes:
Never confuse someone else’s showreel with your cutting room floor.
Fiona Tribe, who appears on Twitter as @White_Owly, shared this wonderful Medium piece on why you shouldn’t be harsh on your own career.
When I worked solely as a consultant I used to be envious of the people I admired as consultants who seemed to be always at conferences and always speaking. It took a while for it to dawn on me that to be always at conferences left little time for consulting with clients and that I spent a lot of time turning down speaking engagements for ‘no pay but lots of exposure’. Some of the most successful people are so busy working that they have no profile at all.
Year’s ago explaining someone who claimed a fabulous stock forecasting results, I came across the idea of punter’s memory. You remember only your wins and forget your losses. Most media discussion of people’s careers are constructed on this basis. Unless they are looking to share one heart tugging moment in a TED Talk, most career stories are of unending success piled on success all achieved because of relentless determination and 5am starts.
The determination is always valuable. The 5am starts are optional.
Share the Cutting Room Floor
Most careers are built on a string of failures. It is more like Snakes and Ladders than a Staircase. Nobody goes straight to the top. Nobody gets every job they want and keeps until the next perfect job comes along. Careers are full of inconvenient changes. None of them are irreversible or permanent barriers to the next step. The next step is always your choice.
I’ve lost the job I loved because of lies, deceptions and corporate politics. I’ve had two redundancies in one year and then been faced eighteen months later with the choice of being redundant again or moving interstate to a job I didn’t want. I’ve turned down promotions and high profile roles because they didn’t work for one life reason or another. I have experienced the usual famine and rare feast of consulting. I have been underqualified and over qualified. I have been just perfect but the timing was wrong or the politics were wrong. I have created roles for myself only for them to go to others who liked the look of my work. I have won roles in processes only to see them given to others because I was needed elsewhere.
As I explained to Fiona Tribe, in my reply to her post above I have given up on my career goals multiple times. Things just didn’t seem like they were going to work out. However, I get bored easily so I needed to work and I kept working. That persistence and a willingness to learn and adapt to opportunities before me meant that many of the goals I set have been achieved. My achievements were just not in the way I ever intended and certainly not in a timeframe that I expected. Remember the only thing that is final is abandoning your purpose.
Career stories make goals and paths seem predestined. That’s usually a lie constructed to explain an inconvenient past. We stumble, experiment and fail our way into a path that eventually matches our strengths and enables us to build on our relationships. No CV is a source of truth. They are all carefully crafted narratives to demonstrate strategy and explain continuity where none exists. Most real careers are a mess version of the ‘Lean Startup of Me‘
My CV is a mess by any measure. I have had too many careers, industries, roles and levels of status for simple formula driven recruiters or headhunters. If you are looking for the perfect candidate, I know I am not it. However, I have always prospered with people who want someone who has demonstrated the potential to learn, grow and adapt. My best jobs have been flawed compromises where both sides are getting something from the other and we spend most of the role fighting to make that deal work. My career depends entirely on my tenacity, foolhardiness and the brave decisions of too many hiring managers to take a chance on the dark horse. My CV may be a mess but my career continues to grow and develop because of it.
Nobody is perfect. Everybody needs to grow. We learn a few things that help improve our performance but we are stuck with a few personal traits that won’t go away no matter how hard we wish for more. I owe so much to the bosses, peers, coaches and mentors who have helped me learn. Somethings though don’t change. I’ve tried being the person who gets in at 7am everyday. It isn’t me and only worked when I was young and needed to get in at 7am to talk to my boss. The last time I enjoyed a 7am start was to resign that manager’s great job and get on with my life.
A big thing we can all do to help others is to share our real career stories with their challenges, their uncertainties and their frustrations. We need to make careers less daunting to those who are starting out. Working out loud on how careers happen is a great way to help others to get started on theirs and share the practical lessons of experience.
I recently did a talk on career advice and hope to be sharing it soon. It is full of the kinds of messages I have shared on this blog about the value of solving problems, being curious, collaborating, learning and having fun. However, the biggest, most obvious, but least discussed lesson of any career is ‘Keep going’. Just keep going. Keep finding problems that you love to solve. Keep finding other people who share these passions. Keep helping others with no thought of reward. Keep working. Keep working and things will happen. Opportunity only comes to those who are still trying. All we can hope for in life is opportunity. What you choices you make next is then up to you.