The ABCD of Careers

My friend Dougald recently told me about "Asset Based Community Development", which put very simply means starting with the assets in a community already and assessing how it can provide for its own needs, rather than starting with what's missing and making the local community dependent on central assistance.

I really like this concept. I like local emphasis, and I like the faith in people that lies at the heart of it. And I've also realised that I've been doing my own personal version of the same philosophy for myself.

Dougald is also, in his spare time, an anti-careers advisor, and we speak from time to time about our own career paths in all their peculiar twisty-turny glory. And I've come to the conclusion that I've actually been doing Asset Based Career Development. Here's my first stab at a 3-step guide:

Rule 1:
Go with the flow. Career planning is hugely overrated: sometimes life has a way of guiding you into the right place at the right time. The trick is to do lots of different things and pay attention to what you find the most fun, the easiest to do, to what gives you energy. Soon you'll find that there are some things you can do almost effortlessly, there's just a natural "flow" to them. If people won't pay you for doing them, do them in your spare time and monetise it later. And don't do stuff you hate because it will "get you somewhere later" - only suckers do that. If you don't enjoy the process of the work you do, you're either in the wrong business or you're being exploited. Career planning is hugely overrated - just do lots of stuff and follow what works for you.

Rule 2:
"If you want an interesting life, find the thing that's growing fastest in your community and join it." When I left university, my dad told me that quote, paraphrased from George Bernard Shaw I think. So I went to work in the internet. I often wondered why the hell I was working in technology when I had a history degree and didn't really like computers, but after a few years I realised I liked learning new things, working with intelligent people, designing from scratch, overseeing projects from start to finish, and producing something of value to other people at the end. And with the internet swiftly becoming ubiquitous, suddenly I had lots and lots of options. I couldn't have found this out if I'd had a plan. In fact, how could I have had a plan for my career ten years ago? My current job didn't even exist back then.

Rule 3:
Follow the people, not the money. When I was younger I wanted to be a barrister. Then I met barristers. I wanted to be a filmmaker. Then I met filmmakers. Meanwhile, in my personal life, I did stuff I enjoyed with people I liked spending time with. I met activists and social innovators, educationalists, researchers, radicals and open source hackers. And I had a lovely time hanging out with them and having interesting conversations. Eventually, my friends and I started School of Everything, and I've become a "social technologist" working in "innovation", "changing the world". Which is lots more fun than being a management consultant, and actually turns out to be pretty well-paid too.

I'll be refining this methodology over time - Dougald, Tessy, Anthony, anyone out there have anything to add? But for now, from a more sociable angle, here's my current mantra that I think should be posted on the wall of every careers office in the land:

The most important factor when choosing a career is whether you like the people you work with.

Don't pursue some abstract career plan. Do the things you enjoy, with the people you enjoy, and then work out how to pay for it later. To live life the other way round is just plain silly.