Choose Your Own Adventure

Earlier this week I was on the way to the airport working my way from one city to another for meetings and I got a call from a friend. He was giving me an update about a job he was pursuing and had good news to share. His potential boss-to-be wanted him to have one more call with someone on her team to make sure the job was really what he wanted. It was less an interview situation than it was a chance for my friend to make sure of what he’d be doing and who he’d be doing it with.

At that point, my friend was looking past the meeting and telling himself that he definitely wanted the job. I stopped him and suggested he really take the time to talk through it. It’s easy to get caught up in a decision on something we think we want to happen and lose sight of the possible downsides. Each time it’s like those choose-your-own-adventure kids books where you make a choice and flip forward to read what happens. That door we think leads to the treasure may have a dragon behind it – or it may have the treasure. He thought that made sense and took a different approach to the call. It turned out well for him and he’s got a better picture of how the job functions on a daily basis.

There’s a couple nice things about taking stock of different situations and deciding what we’d like the outcome to be. The first and most obvious of these is that you open your eyes and make better decisions. We can make better choices when we have a clearer picture of what the outcomes may be. The other factor, which is probably less obvious, is that it can help you judge how stressful a situation should be. I wrote a piece on LinkedIn about managing stress and the most key aspect is knowing your situation and the impact of what can happen as a result of your choice. In my friend’s case, this wasn’t a make or break call and it would give him a great chance to learn about the job fit for him. It helped clear up stress he may have had about moving forward with the new company.

I think back to my own recent job change. I had a referral from a friend I trust who told me that I’ve got the right skills to succeed and that I’d love the group the job was with. That plus my own calls with my now-boss and a teammate took some of the stress away from my interview. Another big factor was that I was in a good situation with my old company. If I were to make a move, I wanted a situation where I could learn a lot and also had some desires about the culture. What that led to was a fairly unique presentation for my interview. I injected a lot of what I enjoy doing in my spare time into the content and tied it to skills I can use on the job plus my background which would make me a great candidate. The first three slides are below. You’ll note that they’re all hand drawn and the first is what I like to do and bring to the job. The third is my perspective on growth and learning in a corporate environment. And those are sandwiching a smoked pastrami recipe (sorry/not sorry for the unabashed pun).

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I had a safety net because of the job I had, but I also picked up on some clues from my phone interviews and research that this approach could really fly. I chose my own adventure knowing that I could either crash and burn or nail it and land in a great spot. As you can probably guess, I had a blast and the experience made a tough choice very easy. It also helped my boss hire someone who showed up in a suit and tie when she was looking for a cultural match which was more creative and less formal.

If there’s a moral to these stories (aside from stress management which is really important), it’s that we’re going to be happiest choosing an adventure which really suits us. It’s OK to test life as much as life tests us. I know enough people who made career choices they worked hard to reverse over the course of a couple years to know it can be done wrong. We spend enough time doing our jobs that we should want them to be rewarding, fun, challenging, and positive experiences plus pay the bills. Not every day is an adventure where we fight dragons for treasure. What we can do is try to make sure that our jobs are close to our own version of that and enjoy the book we write along the way.


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