Got a request from somebody who's a protegee of someone Linked In to me. We subsequently linked to each other.
This fellow then asks me for career advice in the following vein:
The purpose of my message is to learn about your ascent to being a world renowned analyst.
Often times, analysts are perceived to be indispensable because of their technical ability to first access data and then render it in easy-to-understand graphs and charts. After the completion of this time consuming task, analysts are then expected to explain data trends and irregularities in "plain English". By this time, my eyes are so glazed from normalizing data, my write up - while good - is lackluster at best.
As I read "The Pentagon's New Map", I see the book's content as a balanced amalgamation of data, research and insights. You are exactly what I want to be what I grow up.I would love to be that analyst who makes a difference in the way business and political decisions are made.
How do you recommend I get to that point in my career?
- Never turn down a chance to do public speaking. In fact, seek them out at every opportunity. Even if you do a lot of public speaking, it will take the usual 10,000 hours before you get really good.
- Study as many foreign languages as you can fit in. Studying several languages is more important than mastering one. Good storytelling is ultimately translation, and the best-communicating experts are experts at talking to other experts from fields other than their own.
- Write every day. If you don't get enough opportunities, then start you own blog or join a group blog.
- Prepare to view good writing as a lifetime pursuit. It will take nonstop writing for about a decade before you really get good.
- Whenever possible, seek out and work with professional editors on everything you write.
- Read authors whose style you admire and work their tendencies into your own material.
- Listen to what people say you do best and then do that as much as possible, getting others to do things for you that you do poorly. So if mentors you trust tell you're not a good writer and not a good speaker, then spending your life trying to overcome your weaknesses is probably not a great idea. You'd be better off sticking to what you're best at and trying to make those skills world class.
- Nobody is good at everything. Life involves choices.
I have learned - over time - to keep my advice general like that, versus trying to plot out career paths for others, because, when you do, you inevitably advise them to either: 1) retrace your "brilliant" journey; or (worse) 2) do the opposite of what's made you such a bitter fuck about your life and career. It's like when you go around asking profs for advice on your PhD topic (which I did all over greater Boston): they either have you updating their own diss or tilting at some windmill they now wish they'd taken on instead.
In truth, I don't advocate anyone pursue a long and steady career, which is why I'm not partial to dispensing wisdom about following my "brilliant" path, nor am I one to suffer bitterness over the choices I've made. Every choice I made, I made because I felt it was time to move on and I was more fearful of creative stagnation than career stagnation. Simply put, I feel good when I feel creative, and when I don't, I go with no regrets.
Peinvention, as scary as it is, beats stagnation every time. The only thing you can be assured of in this world - in this era - is that your "beloved" or "hated" career will likely terminate much faster than you expect, forcing you into a new one (this one feels like my 5th).
Personally, I love that about this world. To me, the scariest thing in this world is the person who works the one track for 35 years and then retires - a disappearing notion. To me, that would hell on earth. I have always been distinctly aware that I only get one at-bat, so I plan on swinging at everything before I go.
Everybody needs a Plan B.
I am always plotting my escape from my current career, because the minute something become un-negotiable, you might as well cash it in. Because that's when your career starts owning you instead of you owning your life.