Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
March 23, 2012 7:37 PM

Embrace The Squiggly

How did you get here?

I'm fascinate by people and their career paths - especially the marketing professionals. Do you know what I never hear? I have never heard a story that goes like this: "I always knew that I wanted to be in Marketing. There was never any doubt in my mind. All through elementary school, all I could do was daydream about marketing campaigns and working on a company's overall strategic vision. While other kids were outside playing, I was busy drawing up logos for imaginary companies. In High School, I started the marketing club and could not wait until our Economics teacher touched - ever so-slightly - on the topic of marketing. Right after high school graduation, I interned at an advertising agency and could not wait to pursue my MBA with a focus on marketing." Nobody sets out to be a Marketer. Most marketing professionals don't have a very linear career path. It's actually very squiggly.

The reality of decisions.

You can contrast that fictional story above with a friend of mine. This individual was never really sure what they wanted to do. There was no clear desire or talent for one, specific, area of interest. In her final years of high school, a guidance counselor recommended engineering or the sciences because she had above-average math grades. From there, my friend studied engineering through university and squeaked by. Never truly passionate about it, she got her ring and entered the workforce. I had lunch with her a few weeks ago and she confessed that she was miserable because of her work, but could not figure out why. She had followed the rules: did well in school, advanced in a field that typically enables you to be both employable and paid well. Being an engineer was supposed to be a good life. We talked for a bit and then I half-jokingly said, "it's crazy that your current life is based on a few random decisions you made when you were sixteen. Can you imagine that? What did we really know at sixteen?" Her face became pale and flushed. She sat before me - jaw-dropped - and said, "that's it! Why am I leading this life based on the decision of me as a sixteen year old?" 

Embrace the squiggly.

Here's the thing: people want guarantees: if I go to school and get a degree, I get a good paying job, right? If I work hard my whole life, I'll have a pension, right? If I do everything my boss tells me, I'll get that promotion, right? I've been fortunate enough to have met some of the most fascinating musicians, artists, thinkers, authors, business leaders and politicians. I don't take that gift for granted. If there's one thing that has become abundantly clear to me, it's that the most successful people I know have had very squiggly careers. No linear paths and no constant and consistent ascents. It's been bumpy, weird, strange, funky and all-around fascinating.

Isn't that cool?

What I see as cool, most people read as terrifying. I can't quantify why I think like this (and I recognize that these are first-world thinking philosophies), but I have never been motivated by things like promotions, salaries or titles. I was working as an Editor for a community magazine when I suddenly agreed to become a sales representative for an online search engine start-up (and, we're talking about a search engine that came out long before Google existed). Why did I make that decision? It made no sense. I never even really liked the ad sales part of the publishing business. Yes, I was both intrigued and fascinated with the Internet, but it was risky, unproven and not a skill set of mine. Regardless, it felt right. In hindsight, it was one of the best career choices I have ever made. Interesting how those squiggly lines work out. What some might call jumping around, I might call following my professional muse.

What about you?

Being a marketing professional must have been a squiggly journey for you. You may even feel like you're still not one hundred percent certain of where you're at in your career. You may be nervous to quit to try something new or you may be chomping at the bit to get your hands into the next project. All of these are common feelings. We all feel like this. The idea here is not to always look at things in a linear fashion. Try thinking a little more squiggly and let me know how that works out for.

Squiggly just sounds like more fun, doesn't it?

By Mitch Joel