You never completely control the arc of your career

2 minute read article Leadership   Technology   Career Comments

I love a good rocker bio, and Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run does not disappoint. My first exposure to The Boss was 1984’s “Born in the USA” album. Along with some other albums from that period, I nearly wore the tape out. I have since listened to every album in his catalog, and while I have my favorite, that 1984 album will always have a special place in my heart. I’ve never seen him in concert, but it’s on my list since he is getting up there in years.

I recently picked up his book, Born to Run, and have been enjoying the hell out of it. He started writing it in 2009 and it was published in 2017. From page 1, I was sucked in, enjoying all the stories of his childhood, the ups and downs of his early life, and the insight he provides into many of his albums. There are parts I can relate to, especially his thoughts around getting older.

I’m not finished yet, but one line jumped out at me that I want to explore

You never completely control the arc of your career.

Control (or not)

Now, he was talking in terms of his career as a musician, but it definitely applies to all of us. I’ve been a software developer for nearly 30 years and I know for sure that my career has taken many twists and turns due to things that were outside of my control.

Many of us are currently dealing with economic headwinds that are so far out of our control, it’s not even worth thinking about. It sucks, but it impacts nearly everything.

The big one that sticks out for me is getting furloughed with 48 of my closest coworkers at the start of COVID back in 2020. While it didn’t have a major impact, I certainly had no plans of leaving on my own before that happened, so I was thrown into job search mode unexpectedly. It did lead me to one of the most interesting gigs I’ve had working for Big Tobacco.

I also remember back during the 2008 downturn that at least one, but probably a couple clients, cut all their contractors, impacting me. Again, not expected, and I had some serious thinking to do about how I was going to survive as an indie consultant.

Going back a little further, I had no control over the silly Dotcom bubble bursting which caused the consulting firm I was working for to cut back to a barebones team. When I left that gig with no real plan in place other than to find a new job (which up to that point had NEVER been an issue), 9/11 was less than a month later. It was only by luck (and the help of a friend) that I found some work that eventually led to 14 years of independence.

Final Thoughts

I do what I can to keep my career pointed in the right direction but there are always things that come up that are unexpected. On my drive in to the office this morning for a meeting, I was delayed by about 10 minutes and I thought, “yup, the other people on the road have a say in how quickly I get to work” just like others have a say in the projects I work on, or how long I work on them.

Oh, and if you like audio books, The Boss reads this one himself! I’ve switched between reading the book and listening to the audio version, and sometimes just let him narrate as I read.

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