This career coaching post originally appears in my Work In Progress blog for Forbes.com:
It can be easy to get into a rut with your career. Are you on a path that still excites you? Are you at the level, in the industry, and performing the role that you intended? Should you add something to your routine or discard a long-held assumption?
My post last week included book recommendations with explicit career advice to share. Here are three more non-traditional recommendations – non-traditional because only Bill Connolly’s Funny Business is specifically career-related, and even Connolly tackles career in a different way. I feature these three books together because each prompts questions about career choices that many people make automatically and without much introspection and revision later. If you’re looking for some new ideas, consider:
Funny Business by Bill Connolly for its take on the importance of comedic skills in businessThe subtitle of the book is “Build Your Soft Skills Through Comedy” and Connolly outlines a number of ideas taken from comedy and improvisation that apply to professional development. For example, “Let the Idea Breathe” covers how improvisational play and NOT cutting down ideas prematurely often leads to creative genius. Business leaders might adopt this to encourage more innovation and problem-solving. “Know Your Audience” covers how comedians develop rapport and how these techniques might apply to companies looking to better engage employees and customers. Beyond the tactical lessons, Connolly profiles a number of professionals and business owners who are also comedians and improvisers – a lawyer for the Department of Homeland Security, a wedding officiant, an advertising agency where the entire staff takes comedy classes. My favorite stories were the professionals/ entrepreneurs by day, comedians by night, who figured out how to have both the professional and play in their lives. You notice an opportunistic, open-ended and curious approach to building their careers.
Coaching tip: How can you apply more of that openness to your current career? Are you having enough fun? Fun might not be stand-up or improv, but what hobby or interest can you develop to bring more excitement to your whole life and therefore your career?
Fate of the States by Meredith Whitney for an economics perspective on where the growth isSubtitled the New Geography of American Prosperity, Whitney argues that growth is in the central corridor, the “fly-over” states that normally take a backseat to the coastal powerhouses such as NY and CA. This is an economics book, not a career advice book, though Whitney does point out where unemployment is below average, including North Dakota, where fast food workers can make upwards of $20/ hour. The major metros on the East and West coast normally dominate the news, and as a native New Yorker who never left the City, it was refreshing to get pulled outside my regular zone.
Coaching tip: Often times, you can become very insulated in your career – to one industry, to one functional area, to one geography. If growth is happening elsewhere, under what circumstances would you relocate? Even if you ultimately decide not to relocate, actually investigating your options and making a conscious decision to stay where you are brings you more career clarity.
Inside Passage by Michael Modzelewski for a firsthand account of how much one person can change and grow
This is a memoir subtitled “Living With Killer Whales, Bald Eages and Kwakiutl Indians,” so it’s most definitely not a career book. However, it’s a beautifully written story of a comfortable middle class person leaving everything behind to live alone in the wilderness (Inside Passage refers to an area between Seattle and Alaska). Modzelewski meets an entirely different set of people, picks up a whole new set of skills and pushes himself well outside his comfort zone (his dive to swim with an octopus is one of my favorite anecdotes and shows the lengths he goes to push himself). Michael Modzelewski is currently a travel journalist and if you ever get the chance to attend one of his nature talks, as I did on a recent vacation to Alaska, it’s well worth it!
Coaching tip: I am not suggesting you need to chuck all earthly belongings and move to the wilderness. But meeting new people, learning new skills, and stretching outside your comfort zone are critical to your career. Rather than reading a dry, how-to book chastising you to do this, settle in for this poetic account of one adventurer’s change experience. It may inspire you to take smaller, but still change-inducing steps on your own.