Crooked Career Paths Are The Norm

Crooked road

Does this remind you of your career path?

When directing the VCU Brandcenter, I built an advisory board made up of industry leaders to help us in our goal of educating the next generation of leaders. Top advertising and communications professionals joined us each Friday to share their insights on business and life. It didn’t take long to notice that most of them had careers that weren’t straight orderly paths connecting one logical dot to the next. Generally, they were crooked unexpected paths to success. What lessons did we learn from this? Well, that flexibility is key. They may have started down one path that failed but then doubled back and used another strength or interest to open a new door.

Ad man Phil Dusenburry is an example. He went to a Virginia college on a baseball scholarship. When this didn’t pan out and his scholarship money dried up, Phil found a job at a radio station to raise money. After he’d been there awhile, he was asked to fill in for an announcer who was a copy writer. Phil stepped up and began writing radio ads, something he parlayed into a New York junior copy writing job. He then worked his way up to become one of the top television creative directors and Chairman of BBDO North America. His work for Pepsi, GE, and other International accounts was lauded as the best in the industry. While successful, Phil’s love of baseball inspired him toward screenwriting. Circling back to this early interest, he wrote the movie “The Natural”.  It was produced and starred Robert Redford. While Phil had originally imagined a career highlight in baseball, he never suspected it would be as a screenwriter instead of as a player on the field.

There isn’t any one true path in real life. Instead there are twisting paths that sometimes crossover one another or circle back. Often, taking a small step in a new direction leads to bigger opportunities. We need to stay open and willing rather than jumping headlong into the only path that we assume is the one. Evolution is natural. Learning is fun and life is always surprising.