Monday, January 21, 2008

The Journey of a Successful Career

I like looking for stories of admirable people. People to admire because their stories illustrate some interesting aspect of life or illuminate an important principle. This post's topic is the idea of purpose, and what it means over the course of a life, and the admirable person is: Sandra Bullock.

Forbe's July 2007 (so shoot me, it's been in my file for a while) article "Miss Practicality" is an illustration in how a career changes over time. Miss Bullock, cute and likable girl-next-door on screen, has parlayed that success into her own movie production company, which then branched into television as well as active real estate work, and even a restaurant chain. How do those all fit together? It's her management skills.

In films Bullock delivers an appealing and cute likability, but in showbiz she can be tough and fiendishly focused on micromanaging the minutest details of whatever occupies her.

By the time she had parlayed Speed into roles in a string of well-received films, she had developed a penchant for pitching in to scout locations, court potential investors and give the studio her opinions on which overseas markets might offer the best returns.

By combining her self knowledge of what she liked to and could do well, with opportunities that came her way, she's found reward doing many different things. In the process, she's increased her leverage and power so that she's able to direct her next steps as opposed to letting the market dictate her work.

"Producing gives business-minded actors the ability to create vehicles that are perfectly matched to their talent and their sensibilities. If you're simply waiting for the phone to ring, you're at the mercy of the marketplace."

This is a great illustration of how purpose develops within us over time. Few of us end our careers where we originally envisioned they'd go, and rarely in the exact type of job we envisioned. For most that is a good thing as it represents maturing desires, better knowledge about what satisfies us, and broader offerings in terms of suitable jobs. I for one, thought I'd be designing chemical plants; certainly never thought I'd go to business school, work in marketing, or aspire to run my own business unit some day. But that is the adventure that life takes us on, if we are willing to understand ourselves, and our inspirations, and look for unique and sometimes unthought of opportunities to practice those traits.


Burgess Laughlin said...

I love success stories. Thank you.

Learning to make a certain distinction has helped me bring my life to where I want it to be. The distinction is between these terms/ideas:
- A task, which is a particular goal-directed activity such as nailing together timbers for the structure of a new house.
- A job, whch is a set of tasks, usually for one employer.
- A career, which is a progressive series of jobs, with each new job ideally bringing more responsibility or greater depth of knowledge.
- A central purpose in life (CPL), which is an abstraction that can span a lifetime and a wide range of tasks, jobs, even more than one career.

Ayn Rand's CPL was to portray the ideal man, in writing, including, naturally, the fundamental ideas that would guide such a man. (See Jeff Britting's biography, Ayn Rand.)

In effect, her CPL subsumed two careers: fiction writing and then nonfiction writing. Each career subsumed a variety of jobs (or self-assigned projects). And each job, as every writer would know, subsumed a variety of tasks, ranging from research to draft-writing to proofreading.

Consider Howard Roark's life work in The Fountainhead as another, though fictional, example: welding, as a task; draftsman, as a job; architecture as a career; and a CPL of designing buildings for life on earth.

One purpose of having a CPL is integration. With integration, life isn't just a heap of interesting experiences, but a meaningful whole.

Kendall J said...

Burgess, what a thoughtful response. I think it is exactly this idea of both integration and a hierarchy that could be termed the wisdom that people gain over time. I find most younger people I've spoken with, and that includes myself at that age, have a sense of the immediate job they want, and an overarching vision (no matter how uneducated) for what they want to do, but without the steps in between it becomes difficult to actually chart the course from point A to X. It is exactly the understanding of this method of looking at progression that allows someone to consciously plan how to get to where they want. Especially indispensable if you are ambitions and aspire to great things. Thanks again!