I was recently listening to a podcast in which a novelist was interviewed about her writing approach. She stated that she writes books backwards. She writes the climactic ending first. Then, she slowly writes back from that point to create the moments that lead up to that suspenseful ending.
I thought it was an interesting approach to storytelling. I’ve read books that I felt meandered. I’ve wondered at the end of a book or a movie, why did that guy do that one thing?
If you write the story’s end first, then everything you write should do something to work towards that end.
The same thing can apply to your career. We tend to think of things in the here and now – the chapters. Instead, we should write out (i.e. plan) our career as a novel. Think about how you would like it to end.
Your career as a novel – Chapter 1
When students first get out of college, they often face a mountain of debt. They have been through four years of late-nighters, all-nighters, ramen noodles, cheap pizza, and dingy college apartments. I lived in an apartment for a year without owning a broom or a vacuum cleaner.
The first thought many graduating seniors have is that they just want to get a good paying job. They go to job fairs. They interview with whomever will talk to them. With any luck, they get a couple of offers. They select the “best offer” based on pay, job security, geographical location, or whatever factor is most important to them.
They start their job and, if they don’t find great satisfaction, they are at least content. They are finally making good money. They can afford a decent apartment. They can go out for dinner instead of ordering cheap pizza. They can afford nicer clothes. They might even splurge for a vacuum cleaner.
For many, that’s enough. They may spend their entire career at the same company. Whether they move up the ladder or not is irrelevant. Many people simply want to put in their eight hours of work, go home to their family, and spend their evenings and weekends not worrying about work.
Your career as a novel – Chapter 2
Then one day it happens. Perhaps the economy takes a turn for the worst. Maybe the company loses a major share of the market. You come in one day and the boss calls you into the office. With a glum look on his face, he explains the gloomy state the company has found themselves in. They have to take some drastic measures. Your heart starts to beat a little faster. Your mind starts to wander, wondering where he’s going. Then you hear the fateful words, “We’re going to have to let you go.”
They may hand you a box for your personal items. They may escort you out the door. However it happens, you get home and don’t have the slightest idea how to move forward. Someone suggested a couple of years ago to get on LinkedIn. You dutifully created a profile. You have a total of four connections. Hardly a network. You don’t even know where to start.
Your career as a novel – The final chapter
Investment companies often have commercials on TV showing someone retiring. The retiree invites their financial planner to the party. The commercials focus on the nest egg the person saved over the years, but rarely even mention what the person did for a living.
Imagine that day you retire. Whether you plan a big party or not, think about what year you will likely retire. Take a look back on your career. Try to imagine what your job must look like at that point. Could technology have changed enough to modify what you do? Could technology have completely eliminated what you do?
In the final chapter of your career, have you kept up on technology enough to stay marketable in the job market? There was a time when technology was a career option. You could choose to either focus on technology or some other career like marketing.
Today, technology is not an option. One can choose to focus on technology, but it is prevalent in virtually every career. If you get stagnant, you almost certainly will get passed up by technology. Either technology will eliminate your job, or someone with better technology skills will be able to do your job more efficiently.
Your career as a novel – The intervening chapters
By looking into the future, you may be able to determine where you should be heading. You may be able to write those chapters differently to build up to that final chapter.
Your career as a novel may – make that will – change as you progress. Just as a writer writes a first draft and then has many rewrites, that will occur with your career.
You won’t always see the twists of economic downturns and layoffs. But if you are planning your career strategically, with an end in mind, you have a direction. Instead of coming to work day to day with a focus of getting to Friday, you have a plan.
When changes come along, you can look to your plan and rewrite the intervening chapters. When major shifts occur in technology or in your industry, you can even rewrite the final chapter.
For more information, check out Career Management for Mentors
The point is that things can happen that change your career as you know it. It is important to have a plan for your career rather than simply meandering through on a daily basis. If you have a goal for the end of your career, you can be aware of trends before they create changes that surprise you.
A long-term plan like a career will be an ever-changing target. The point is not to establish an endpoint and inflexibly seek it. Define a target that you can always test out for reachability. As your industry, technology, and the world change, you will be better equipped to change with it. Hockey great Wayne Gretzky attributed his success to always focusing on where the puck was going, rather than were the puck was. Focusing your career on where the puck is going will better prepare you for novel that tells a story of success.
How does your career’s novel end?
I welcome your questions and comments.
Image courtesy of Paul at FreeDigitalPhotos.net