This is part two of my short book on how to get a job in communications. Part one here.
Words to live by
In one of Christopher Hitchens’ last articles for Vanity Fair, discussing how having a voice is the key to being a great writer, he says, “The rules are much the same: Avoid stock expressions (like the plague, as William Safire used to say) and repetitions.”
You do not need a set of stock expressions describing yourself or what you do. You need some sort of expression, some sort of plot, describing what makes you interesting.
For me, it’s “Start as close to the end as possible.” It’s why this book is short and why the strategies I write for my clients get to the point quickly, without much preamble.
It’s why I will encourage you many times throughout this book to shut up once you’ve made the sale, or resist the urge to screw up your interview by rambling on.
This expression came to define me through a series of experiences and considerable reflection, so I understand if you don’t have yours just yet. But think about it. Think about an idea, a story that describes the way you act and the way you behave that others can understand immediately and appreciate.
That’s the great thing about “start as close to the end as possible” for me. I could just as easily say, “be pithy” or “keep it short.” But you can see that those expressions don’t quite carry the same meaning or weight. No, “start as close to the end as possible” means knowing what your goal is, what it will take to accomplish it perfectly, and doing no more than that for fear of being boring.
Isn’t that a pretty good plan?
There is no 5-year plan
“Where do you see yourself in five years?”
If you’re asked this in an interview, you can say something like, “I really hope I’m coming home from work every day, happy with what I’ve done, knowing that I’ve made a difference. Everything else would be a bonus.” Try not to cringe. It’s an awkward question, so you can only do so much with it.
Banks plan five years out. Fortune 100 companies have five year plans. Giant juggernauts of industry plan in those increments because it’s what their investors, creditors, and regulators demand. But that’s not you.
The guys at 37signals put it this way, when planning for a product or business: “Busting your ass planning something important? Feel like you can’t proceed until you have a bulletproof plan in place? Replace ‘plan’ with ‘guess’ and take it easy. That’s all plans really are anyway: guesses.”
I don’t think that just applies to businesses. I think that applies to people just as much.
You’re just a person trying to get a great job that you love that may lead to more great jobs that you love. If you try to plan five years in advance you’re introducing so many variables and basing so much on hope and fiction that you are bound to — almost immediately — fail to achieve this plan.
Instead, set your sights on the year in front of you. And now here’s the important thing: Just have a goal. It doesn’t have to be what you end up achieving, really. It just need to be something that’s possible, something that you can work toward every day.
You aren’t making this plan so you know what you’re doing in a year. No, you’re making this plan so that at the end of each and every day you can know whether you’ve made progress or not. Movement is as important as direction.
You know that feeling you can get, after a week, or a month, or even a year, when you start to think about what you’ve actually done? How often have you realized that you can’t think of a single thing, career-wise at least, that you’ve accomplished?
By having a clear plan that’s attainable, and by breaking it up into actions you can take every day, you can know whether you’re actually getting closer. You can know after a week or a month whether you’ve made progress.
In my experience, I have never attained only the goal I set for myself. Things have actually always turned out much better than I had hoped. And I think that’s because I was able to do something real, every day, to get closer to achieving my goal.
If you have a vague plan, you’ll end up doing the same thing every day, hoping that in five years you’ll be in a better spot.
And you’ll keep hoping for the rest of your life.