Our 11 Chances at Greatness: Having the Courage to Change Your Career (or Corporate Mission)
The other day I saw an infographic (cartoon?) that gave me a new perspective on success:
When I re-posted this on Facebook, I received a response from a friend in his early 20s who recently graduated with a degree in neuroscience, but hasn’t settled into a job in that field. He said:
“This really improved my mood and made me less in despair about the future. Thank you.”
The implication, of course, is that even though he spent the last few years learning neuroscience, he realized at some point that there may not be a future for him in the lab. Or the classroom. Or anywhere that neuroscience would be relevant. He might choose to do (or be forced to do) something else entirely, and that was a really scary thought.
He’d already learned a thing. Now he was just going to, what? Start over and learn a different thing?
This cartoon says it’s exactly what he’s supposed to do. In fact, all of us – not just the fresh-faced 20-somethings – should not only expect to start over, we should plan to do it every 7 years.
But I don’t wanna.
Ok, but here’s what went through my head. I loved this cartoon when I was thinking about it in terms of my friends and family, but when I turned it on myself, I got a little nervous.
Because I genuinely love what I do. I always wanted to be a writer, so I became a writer, and now I write. Pretty simple. And it’s everything I hoped it would be – I feel engaged in what I do every day.
Was this cartoon telling me I’d spent enough time as a writer, and now I needed to give it up and become a surfer or a ferret wrangler?
That didn’t sound like a recipe for happiness to me. So I thought about it some more.
Here’s where I landed.
No, I don’t have to turn off my computer and devote the next 7 years to becoming a dog walker, or a UFC fighter or a silversmith. (Although I think I’d enjoy one of those things. One, I’m pretty sure I’d hate. The other I might enjoy if it’s still a thing, although I might be a little bit timid at first, because, you know, Johnny Tremain.)
But I should at least stop and look for opportunities to expand what I do, alter it, or flip it on its head. Should I expand into completely foreign types of writing? Take design courses? Throw myself into a new hobby? Maybe I don’t have to “die” – maybe I can just start a new volume in my story that builds on the last one but looks distinctly different.
I think the main point is this: At the very least, we should all give ourselves permission to change course sometimes. There’s nothing shameful about having past lives.
Fact: A lot of successful businesses have past lives.
Did you know Tiffany & Co. sold stationery for about 18 years before switching to jewelry? And Avon originally went door-to-door selling books? Or that The Gap was originally a record store that also sold blue jeans? At some point, these companies recognized an opportunity, took a risk, and said goodbye to their past lives.
Tiffany & Co., Avon, The Gap, Google and PayPal all survived a core mission change.
Google and PayPal are both examples of companies that have adapted or completely changed their original business plans within a few years of being founded.
So to everyone out there feeling worthless or afraid because your most recent venture isn’t panning out, don’t feel overwhelmed at the prospect of starting something new. It’s ok to change. Go for it. Give it 7 years.
And to everyone whose business/life/haircut looks the same as it did in 2006, maybe it’s time to build on what’s working, let go of what isn’t, and get started on the next 7 years. After all, we only get 11 chances at greatness.