Want To Futureproof Your Career? Start Doing This
Does the future of your career leave you feeling a like a game of pong played in super-slow-motion? You'll drift in one direction or another, but a slight breeze has the potential to blow you off course for the day, month or year.
If you're a creative, this is magnified tenfold. You're coming up with ideas as fast as squirrels bury nuts – with a similar problem of not remembering where the hell you buried your ideas and which ones are even worth pursuing. That's what happens when we don't have a destination in mind. We don't know what to kick to the curb and what's worth pursuing.
You're probably wondering, how the hell do I figure out what's worth pursuing? First off, loosen the vice so you have enough room to breathe. Nothing, and this is worth repeating, nothing will be figured out with authoritarian regime pressure.
When I started my business, I forgot how to have fun. Everything became something I had to manage and control so I could get done what I thought I needed to finish. I kept piling on more and more without a much-needed recovery-and-reflection period. My habits slipped into a similar approach we've taken with earth – suck all the resources we can with little regard for the future. If every country consumed resources at the same destructive rate as North America, we would need three and a half earths just to keep up. I could see myself ending with a similar fate if I didn't get clear about my business and how I fit into this world.
I was told that I should write a blog for my business. It'll give you authority in your field and help others see what you're thinking. Except, I felt like I had no idea how to write. I had some serious baggage about writing that left me with lots of limiting beliefs about my ability to put pen to paper. I told myself that I needed to read books, listen to podcasts and delay writing until I could feel confident in what I was writing. I had forgotten how to be creative. It was terrifying to think of putting something into the world that could be rejected.
Marcus Sheridan, a sales and marketing consultant, urges bloggers to stop worrying about getting everything perfect. You could spend countless hours researching how to write blog posts and understand your audience. You could obsess about developing the perfect strategy – without ever putting it into action.
It made sense why I was struggling. I was sucking all the fun out of writing by approaching it with a strategic mindset. Taking a tactical approach is not exactly fuel for creativity. Fear for so many of us keeps us from pursuing anything creative. We pass it off as we don't have the time or there's no redeeming value. But really, we're afraid to admit why we're not doing it.
Here's the problem. Writing is the most important thing you can do with your time. It switches you from being a consumer to a creator. I had no idea at the time, but writing blossomed into a ritual that is the best thing I've ever decided to pursue.
Author Robert McKee let me ease into writing like slipping on a pair of worn-in Levi's with his rally cry to those of us sitting on the fence. "Write every day, line by line, page by page, hour by hour. Do this despite fear. For above all else, beyond imagination and skill, what the world asks of you is courage, the courage to risk rejection, ridicule and failure. As you follow the quest for stories told with meaning and beauty, study thoughtfully but write boldly. Then, like the hero of the fable, your dance will dazzle the world.”
I got what McKee was saying, but I still had troubles with the creative process. My writing felt cringe-worthy. Maybe I wasn't born with the chops to dazzle the world. There are those limiting beliefs slipping in again. Nobody is born a writer, an artist, a musician, or an athlete. We like to tell ourselves that story because it makes it easier to swallow the hard truth. We're going to spend a lot of time embracing the suck before we get good.
Take it from Ira Glass, a master storyteller and host of This American Life and an editor behind the Serial podcast. His shows reach over 8.5 million listeners a month. Glass knows a thing or two about the creative process. He had an interview with a TV station that has become well-known among creative types. It ignites the limiting story we tell ourselves like the spark to a raging gasoline-doused brush fire.
What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.
It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
What the hell else is there is to do after reading this but go all in? I gave up trying to be perfect and started writing. I give myself a deadline of one piece a week. It's led to me writing 60,000 words over the last year and a half. The length of a typical mystery novel. Had you asked me if I had it in me to write a book when I started, the fear of taking on a project of that size would have paralyzed me. But it's those words from McKee that urge us to eat the elephant one bite at a time. "Write every day, line by line, page by page, hour by hour." Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment. It's the baby steps that happen week after week that compound for personal and professional growth.
I let McKee's words be my philosophy and solace when it felt like I took on more than I could chew. "Do this despite fear. For above all else, beyond imagination and skill, what the world asks of you is courage, the courage to risk rejection, ridicule and failure. As you follow the quest for stories told with meaning and beauty, study thoughtfully but write boldly." These words let you remove the lump lodged in your throat and wash down the fear so you can get back to doing work that matters.
What started as an idea to help my business grow, turned into one of the greatest gifts I've ever received. A relationship with myself that I didn't know could have existed. It was the first time I was creating something and putting it into the world. One of the best damn storytellers the world has ever known, author Neil Gaiman asks us to look in the mirror to perhaps see someone we forgot existed: “The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.”
My writing gives my mind a voice. It lets me go beyond the confines of my tiny little head to plant seeds in a world where they can grow and connect with others. Each week is a step towards my vision with a little more clarity than the week before. I don't write because it's good for business, I write because I've made a promise with you to show up. Author James Clear reminds us that it's not just about putting something out for the sake of saying you did, there's a deeper mission for creatives. "The truth is, it doesn’t matter if you’re writing to one person or one million. The responsibility of a writer is always the same: if you’re going to interrupt someone with your words, you better be damn sure you have something good to say to them. For my part, I promise I’ll do my best to write things worth reading."
This desire to write something worth reading has led to me being a part of a bigger conversation of where the future of work is headed. One where I realized I had started to fall behind. I had become lazy with my thinking. I wasn't developing the skills that meant I would still have a job in the future.
The world is moving at a blistering pace that has flipped the conventional on its head. Back in 2013, the head of Google HR said that it has found no correlation between GPAs and test scores and employees who thrive. They’ve stopped looking at those academic qualifications altogether. "Academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely trained, they're conditioned to succeed in that environment. While in school, people are trained to give specific answers, it's much more interesting to solve problems where there isn't an obvious answer. You want people who like figuring out stuff where there is no obvious answer."
William James, an American philosopher and psychologist, and the first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States, hints at the fact that each of us is capable of becoming this person. "Compared to what we ought to be, we are only half awake. We are making use of only a small part of our physical and mental resources. Stating the thing broadly, the human individual thus lives far within his limits. He possesses power of various sorts which he habitually fails to use."
Writing let me uncover all the bullshit that clouded my ability to see myself for who I am and who I'm capable of becoming. It's given me an appreciation for learning a craft and a skill that takes a lifetime to develop. The ability to communicate, take a stance and share your ideas is currency within today's society.
A future will exist where no one gives a shit you have a degree. Show me a body of work. Show me how you think. Show me how you communicate your ideas. Show me how you contribute to a bigger conversation. Show me your ability to be creative, innovative and think in ways that a computer can't (yet).
There's nothing else that can do what writing can do for you, your career and your future. Write for yourself. Begin by finding your voice, taking a stance and digging in. And keep this in mind, it's far easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than it is to think yourself into a new way of acting. Allow yourself to be a beginner. No one starts off being wise. Do the best you can until you know better. Once you know better, do better.