Intentionally Building A Better Career
A Discussion of “Do Over” by Jon Acuff
The start of a new year is always a time where people look optimistically to the future. It’s a time where we talk about making positive change in our life, but as I think about change, I am reminded that for many people, change is not exciting. Even positive change can be a terrifying thing, especially change that feels out of our control, change we didn’t choose. Improvement can be exciting, but large-scale change is often intimidating.
If you watch children playing, you will often see one of them fail at something and immediately call out for a “Do Over.” As adults, we often think this is no longer an option, but in his book “Do Over” Jon Acuff writes about the career Do Over. Whether you leave after hitting a career ceiling, get fired, quit because you hate your boss, get transferred to another department with a surprise promotion, or any other number of things you will probably find yourself in a career do-over at some point in your life, you may be in the middle of one now. A career do-over can be positive or negative, voluntary or involuntary, but one thing they all have in common is that we will find ourselves in position of needing to navigate somewhere we haven’t been before.
Long gone are the days where people would stay with one employer for their entire working career. Current statistics show that workers in the US are changing jobs every 4.2 years on average. For those aged 25 to 34, that average drops even further to only 2.8 years. The problem is that the situation these numbers describe don’t line up with what we are prepared for during our traditional education. We are trained to follow the rules, colour between the lines, get a university degree, find a job, and start preparing for retirement. In our planning, we typically ignore all the years in between. We are taught to work jobs, not build careers, and as a result, when we face a career transition we are devastated because we have nothing to fall back on.
In this book, Acuff writes about something he has termed the Career Savings Account. It is a collection of the things that make up a good career and by intentionally investing in each of the four things we can improve our current job situation and manage our next Do Over. These are not groundbreaking things, they are familiar things that can make a world of difference when we are intentional to amplify them. The formula for the Career Savings Account looks like this:
(Relationships + Skills + Character)
Career Savings Account
We make deposits into the Relationships category when we are honest with people, give help when needed, and are humble enough to ask for help. We make deposits into our Skills when we choose to practice a new skill even though it is difficult and we are only beginners. We make deposits into our character when we are generous and treat others with empathy.
Reading it, this formula seems straightforward enough, in fact, it seems downright obvious. When we look at our own careers, and at the careers of our colleagues, it is easy to see the importance of relationships, skills, and character, but too often we let these things lapse in our own lives. Most of our skills in life are developed when we hit a ceiling, without that tension we never have a reason to develop them.
A number of years ago, someone said to me, “Before you start climbing the career ladder, make sure it’s leaning against the right building.” Acuff asks it another way, “Is the work you’re hustling on right now, going to lead where you want to go?” We need to hustle with awareness, without it, all the hustle in the world will simply get us to the wrong place faster. The thing about hustle is that it’s not just another thing you add, it actually multiplies everything else in your Career Savings Account. If we hustle with awareness, we can increase and improve our relationships, improve and strengthen the right skills, and deepen our character. Hustle doesn’t necessarily need to mean fast, it really just means a deep intentionality. It means being focused and consistent. It allows us to create a Career Savings Account that we can draw from at any time.
I love the idea of the Career Savings Account, it articulates so well concepts that I have already seen play out in my life many times. Six years ago I traveled to the country of Qatar to visit my parents for Christmas. While there, I was offered a job on a six-month contract. This job came as a result of the relationships my Father had built.
→ Six months later I was offered a job at a different company as a result of the relationships I had built.
→ Two and a half years later, realizing I had hit a career ceiling at that specific place, I initiated a career Do Over by handing in my resignation.
→ During the time when I wasn’t employed full-time, I was working part-time in two different places. I was officiating volleyball matches, and tutoring in English. I was able to do both these jobs because of skills I had accrued in previous jobs, because of relationships I had, and because of my willingness to put in the hours.
→ A few months later, I received a phone call from a casual connection I had made at my previous job. Once again drawing on my Career Savings Account, I was able to apply for an opening at the company where he worked and am still working there today, two-and-a-half years later. While there, by hustling to increase my skills, invest in relationships, and being intentional to continually I have been able to move up into a new position where I have been really challenged. I’ve had to learn new skills and build new relationships which I now see has strengthened my Career Savings Account.
I know I will not work here forever. Even if I don’t hit a career ceiling or lose my job, the reality is that I will not live in Qatar forever. At some point, I will leave and go through another Career Do Over. Over the years, I have felt like I am lucky, always being in the right place at the right time, but now I see the role my Career Savings Account has played over the years and when I move on to my next Do Over I will be able to draw on my account in the same way.
If you’re in a job you don’t like, start building your Career Savings Account. If you’re in a job you used to like, but have grown tired of and don’t see a way forward, start building your Career Savings Account. If you have a job you enjoy, but work under someone you don’t like, start building your Career Savings Account. Once you start being intentional to put this formula into practice, one of two things will happen.
- You will discover that having the job you wanted was actually about being the person you need to be first. You will be treated differently by your manager and you will come to love your job (knowing there are actually no perfect jobs) and be surprised by new doors that open up.
- You will gain confidence and be ready to navigate a career Do Over by drawing on your strengthened Career Savings Account.
The reality is that both of these are great options and if you are intentional to hustle with awareness, have a goal in mind, and be flexible to take advantage of new opportunities that come, you will be able to successfully navigate your Career Do Over and create something that excites you. As Acuff writes:
“Hustle works two ways. You hustle hard to stir up more opportunities. Then, when you have one, you hustle hard to blow it up as big as it can possibly be.”
Go for it!