Stick or twist?

Mick Jagger strikes me as the kind of guy who’s got it all figured out. In fact it’s likely you have the same opinion; the Stones have rolled past their 50th anniversary milestone and Jagger & co. continue to pull in the pay days and professional respect of peers despite being the right age for the rock n’ roll retirement home.

From the outside it looks like Jagger had this long term career path planned the whole time. Of course, the reality is quite different and reading an old 1980’s interview with David Bowie recently reminded me of this. At the time, Bowie and Jagger were collaborating on the old Martha and The Vandella’s hit, ‘Dancing in the Street’ as Jagger tried hard to distance himself from his own back catalogue and craft a new image away from his band mates. Jagger’s attempts to be seen as a stand alone solo artist were stalling, and Bowie noted that his frustration with being tied to the Stones and perceived inability to launch his own projects brought Jagger to tears on more than one occasion.

So it begs the question; When it comes to career planning, how do we figure out if it’s better to stick or twist?

There are many examples of long established careers with deep expertise in one area and The Stones are the pinnacle of this in the public eye. As I think about their success and tenure I can’t help but reflect on the projects, plans and career paths I’ve deviated from in an attempt to shake things up in my own professional life. I find myself wondering how things may have panned out differently had I chosen to stick with some of them- maybe I could have made it as the next big fortune cookie writer! However, in the current economic environment we are all being urged to diversify, blend, adapt and above all else be flexible and open to new paths and experiences. Confusing? I think yes, and even the greatest professionals experience the dynamic tension between growing and twisting vs. deepening and sticking.

There are a many different tricks and tools that can be put to good effect to help with this conundrum and as a first step, I recommend that my clients put names and numbers to some of their decisions points to help them get clarity. Here are a few questions that should help you get closer to the information you’ll need to make an informed choice:

Have you fallen into the passion pit?  How many times have you sat at the bar with your friend the designer/writer/scientist/armpit sniffer/researcher/teacher and walked away feeling so incredibly enthused by the tales of their professional high jinx that you are ready to call your boss and give your two weeks? It happens to us all, even when we are in jobs we like (maybe even love). One of the biggest challenges my clients face when it comes to researching a new job is separating their friend’s love for what they do with hard data on whether it would be right for them. An easy fix is to write down three things you know your new gig must have before sitting down to talk to others about what they do. At the end of the meeting pull out your list and rate on a scale of 1-10 how closely the new gig would map on to those three decision points, with 10 being a perfect fit. If you hit a score of 5 or less on two of the three areas then beware- you’re falling in love with her passion, not with her gig at the deodorant testing lab.

Are you doing it just because it is cool? We all feel tremendous pressure to go towards things that are Sexy Right Now (big data, anyone?) It is the same pressure Jagger was likely feeling back in the 80’s when every successful front man from David Lee Roth to Morrissey were jumping ship to launch solo careers and cast off associations with their previous band mates.  As you think about a twist, use your personal board of directors to help you cut the signals you should be listening too from the noise that surrounds you so that you don’t lose sight of the career elements that will continue to bring you joy despite what the cool kids think.

Does it really have to be a total twist? I’ve worked with many coaching clients who have been ready to walk out on their high paying corporate gig to go and write their Life Story from the beach in Hawaii- in fact I have one coachee doing exactly that, successfully, right now- it can be done and for my client it was absolutely the right move for her. But to figure out if it’s right for you the first challenge is understanding exactly what is driving your desire to change- is it really time to pivot, or is it a case of office culture gone bad and a toxic boss to boot that’s got you dreaming of the beach? If it’s the latter, twist company but stick with your title and career content.

These questions are a good start to help you get clarity on whether you should stay put or make the jump. But remember, despite our best efforts not all changes happen. Jagger failed to create a long lasting solo career and identity away from the Stones, but it all worked out for him in the end, and as you chew over your stats and decision points, here’s a look at what things might have looked like if Mick really had made a break, enjoy (warning: explicit language!):