Finding your path

Finding your path - image for article by Greg Alder

How many jobs have you had so far? Whilst you count them, let me tell you about my maternal grandfather and my father.

I have a gold watch that was my grandfather’s. It was given to him when he retired after 45 years with a company importing German machinery. By the time of my grandfather’s retirement, he knew everything there was to know about his field.

I can’t imagine why a gold watch was deemed a good gift for somebody retiring. I also can’t imagine what it would be like to work for one company for 45 years.

My dad started work with a small accounting practice that he eventually bought. It grew through mergers and was eventually sold to Ernst & Young (then called Ernst & Whinney). So, he too effectively worked for one business all his life. And he too had amassed encyclopedic knowledge of his field.

Job stability and job loyalty were once considered good. They were once valued.

Not so today. Now, the average person will have had 10 different jobs by 40 (according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics), and 12 to 15 jobs in his or her lifetime (according to Forrester Research).

So, how many jobs have you notched up so far? Are you above or below average?

Now here’s a slightly trickier question. How many careers have you had?

I’ll give you time to work this one out. But whilst you count your careers, I’ll tell you how many careers I have had.

One.

My career is creativity. Every job I have had, in fact every project I have worked on, has simply been a different application of my creativity.

The problem is that the job market and recruitment industry aren’t set up for people whose career is creativity. What they want is a chef or a set designer or a wildlife photographer or a UX designer – not someone who’s equally comfortable behind a camera or a saucepan.

My first fulltime job was in architecture. This taught me how much I love creating stuff – and how much I loathe tedious processes (which is how I viewed drafting that takes up 95% of an architect’s time). Architecture convinced me that I needed to do something creative.

My second full-time job was in marketing research. This helped me understand audiences, their fears and ambitions, dreams and pain points. So, research gave me understanding and compassion, which have made me a better writer and communicator.

My third full-time job was advertising copywriting. Advertising gave me the opportunity to hone my writing skills. I estimate I’ve written over 10 million words for clients, including scripts for 700 commercials and videos.

Because every brief was for a different product and a different audience, to succeed as a copywriter, I needed to be able to shift focus. One moment I had to be a 70-year-old worried her retirement savings won’t last, the next a 15-year-old worried a zit was going to ruin her date. Above all, advertising gave me agility.

Whilst living and working in México, Procter & Gamble asked me to run a workshop for their Latin American team. I enjoyed designing and presenting that workshop so much that I shifted focus from advertising to facilitating workshops.

The workshops covered a range of topics – branding, idea generation, the innovation process, presentation techniques, digital marketing and communications skills. Every workshop is different – every audience, every task to be solved or opportunity to uncover is unique to that client business, that time and that place.

Conducting these workshops around the world has broadened my knowledge, introduced me to people I wouldn’t have otherwise met (many of whom remain friends years after a workshop). Most of all, though, running these workshops taught me how much I enjoy helping others discover their own creativity.

I never made a career of my other passions, but they are treasured creative outlets for me. I love photography. I’ll never be a pro, but my photos are good enough to grace many websites. I started cooking when I was 15. A chef once paid me the compliment of calling me chef. But cooking will never be more than a passion.

What I have discovered in my single career and several passions is the value of shifting focus.

Someone might look at my past and conclude I am a jack of all trades, master of none. That’s their business.

I would never want to get to a stage where I felt I had mastered any skill. I want to keep learn and keep exploring.

So, back to your careers. How many have there been? Or has there been a common thread through everything you have done?

If too narrow, your career description and your job title will limit your opportunities. You’ll be afraid to try anything outside your area of expertise, and you won’t be offered any job outside your field.

Think more broadly about what you do best. Search for that magic phrase that covers every job you have had.

Are you a trouble shooter? My brother-in-law is a trouble-shooter for a major retail chain, but I am certain that’s not what’s on his business card.

Are you an opportunity creator? Every entrepreneur is one of these. The best entrepreneurs see opportunities everywhere – including fields in which they have no experience.

Find your career path, the single element that connects all of your jobs. When you do that, you open yourself to possibilities outside your comfort zone. It’s incredibly rewarding.

Photo by Chris Lu via Unsplash

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