Ask two people doing the same type of work on how they got to where they are and you’re likely to get two very different answers. The two answers fall into two broad categories, the first being a straight-line linear career path and the second being a zig zag. Increasingly, most people fall into the zig zag path and when asked about their career, they invariably say, “It’s a long story”. On the other hand, someone with a linear path can usually summarize their entire career in 2 minutes because not has changed since graduation.
I reflected on my own zig zag career path prior to being interviewed by Mark Franklin, host of the Career Buzz radio show and practice leader of CareerCycles. Mark has an uncanny ability to have guests get introspective on how they really arrived at their current career success. While I still have a long way to go, I’ve had my share of bumps and bruises along the way. I wanted to share 6 career lessons that helped me navigate my own journey. The entire radio interview segment is here (32 minutes into the show). Not surprisingly, they fit nicely into some of Dan Pink’s career mantras from his bestseller, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko.
1. There is no plan
So many of us, (myself included), stick with Plan A long after we realize it no longer fits our changing interests and goals. Whether influenced by our guidance counselor, our parents, our teachers or our own tunnel vision of becoming something we’re not, it’s ok to throw out the plan earlier rather than later. For me, it wasn’t Plan A or Plan B, but Plan C, which wasn’t even a plan except that we knew we wanted to build a company without knowing how to get there. The only thing we knew was to be able to deliver outstanding customer experiences by surprising and delighting customers in small and unexpected ways.
2. Work to your strengths
I felt like a fish out of water when I was studying engineering and things were not going well at the University of Waterloo. While I love working with technology, I have a passion for connecting and communicating with people and learning how technology enables businesses to succeed and thrive. Where I felt suffocated before, Ryerson’s University’s Business Technology Management program allowed me to soar and thrive because it spoke to my natural strengths and interests around business and computing.
3. It’s not about you
Let’s face it. Many people choose schools and companies because they want accreditation from a prestigious school along with a fancy title and a corner window office with a great view. Even if you get here, it’s so important to keeping asking questions to ensure your current opportunity fulfills and challenges you in a way that speaks to your changing interests and goals. Rather than have an attitude of “It’s all about me”, it’s important to realize that every major innovation today happens from the collaborative efforts of “we” instead of a “me” attitude. I strongly encourage you to find a place where you are able to serve both colleagues and customers. The rewards will come back to you ten fold.
4. Persistence Trumps Talent
Seth Godin talks about persistence in a quote from The Dip.
“Extraordinary benefits accrue to the tiny minority of people who are able to push just a tiny bit longer than most. Extraordinary benefits accrue to the tiny majority with the guts to quit early and refocus their efforts on something new.”
A recent video of Sung-Bong Choi on Korea’s Got Talent tells his story of perseverance despite significant hardship and obstacles. One of the judges comments, “Regardless of his hard life, he runs towards what he really wants. Even talented ones rarely have that kind of passion.”
5. Make excellent mistakes
Learning from mistakes is a part of life. I would add that today it is equally important to fail faster, learn faster, so that you ultimately arrive at what you are meant to do faster. Dan Pink points out than the title of the book has symbolic relevance. A bunko” means “to make a mistake from which the benefits of what you learned exceed the costs of the screw-up.”
Michael Eisner in this video talks about how at Disney, creativity and failure were encouraged as an essential ingredient for achieving success.
Canadian philanthropist and billionaire, Seymour Schulich says, “you don’t make mistakes before you’re 30. Use the early years to gather experience and practice good judgment.”
6. Leave an imprint
Whatever you do, wherever you go, even if you are unsure of your next move, leave your mark or imprint. If you believe you are doing something that matters, others will too. When Randy Pausch (October 23, 1960 – July 25, 2008), an American professor of computer science, learned he had pancreatic cancer with only 3 to 6 months to live, he gave his Last Lecture entitled Achieving Your Childhood Dreams. His quote below summarizes the sentiment captured in his talk.
“If you lead your life the right way,
the karma will take care of itself,
the dreams will come to you.”