Is your career something you can only see looking backwards?

16 July 2018

Is your career something you can only see looking backwards?

Here’s a new thought I’ve been mulling over the weekend.

As a culture we spend a lot of time thinking about our career in the future tense.

We think ahead to our career. The question is “where am I going next?” “What are my career goals? How do I execute on them?”

And at the most extreme end of the spectrum, we are encouraged to come up with ten-year plans.

The future tense

I have always struggled with this.

Imagining myself three, five or ten years in the future feels almost impossible to do accurately: there are just too many variables.

And if, after much head scratching and pen chewing, I do manage to actually articulate where I want my career to go in the future, the ink dries…

…and my heart wants something else.

The present tense

So, thinking I was just bad at it, I gave up that kind of visualisation, and for most of the last five or so years, I have stuck to just figuring out what to do next.

Practically, that means focusing on the current project. And once that project is done, searching around for a new one.

At any given time I am guided by my curiosity now, not a long term plan.

It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. (E L Doctorow)

The past tense

I have found this a helpful philosophy.

Once you move forward this way, your career suddenly becomes visible - whenever you look behind you.

I notice this as I begin to rewatch all my old films, starting in 2009, one-by-one, the good and the bad.

A long red line, my decade-long career, is right before my eyes, clear as day.

All of which is to say that we should stop thinking of our careers as something to make tangible in advance, and instead realise they are the outcome of something else: a life led by curiosity, adventure and wonder.

Just a thought. I’m aware this could also easily be filed under “things said by privileged white men.”