Wednesday, March 09, 2005

self Careers

I have a philosophy of careers, just as I have a philosophy of almost everything. I get my jollies.

On the one hand, careers are often just one damn job after another. A chain of steppingstone opportunities starting from the day you first filled out an application to the day you hang it all up and go to that lounge chair in the sky, or under Florida skies.

On the other, careers are all that-—plus the story you tell, to yourself and others, that connects all those seemingly accidental steps into something resembling a life plan-—what it all amounts to, and what you yourself are amounting to. The meaning or purpose or end result of it all. How your presence here made something resembling an enduring contribution. Or simply something transient and meaningful to you alone as some sort of private joke or quixotic quest. How you rolled with the flow and were ultimately floated to some new plateau—hopefully high enough to see over the next incoming wave.

That story you tell about what it all means—it’s written up in your resume (the dots) and recited in your interview with the next potential employer (the connections among the dots, aligning your career trajectory with that employer’s trajectory, as best you can). Sometimes—often—we surprise ourselves by the connections we draw, when asked to explain “what do you want to do with your career.” Sometimes—often—we don’t truly know exactly where we’re going until we see a shiny new vehicle and ask to be taken aboard.

I’m no mystic, and I don’t pretend to understand if God has a plan for me, or if anything I’ve done will amount to much in the final analysis. The “what it’s amounting to” can be answered on several levels. One metric is your bank account. Another is the length and depth of your resume (and, in my case, considering how much I’ve published these past 20 years, my bibliography). Yet another is your Rolodex, or your e-mail address book, or simply the list of professional friends (or, hopefully, friend-friends) you’ve accumulated over the years.

But, fundamentally, it comes down to that story. Is my next step advancing me along that path toward whatever it is I see my life amounting to? How can I know till I’ve taken that step whether it was truly the best step?

As people say, God has plans for all of us. But I think God delegates a lot of the planning to each of us individually. He just rolls it all up at the end of eternity into some master plan that gets stuffed into a drawer somewhere. And stays there.