Surprising Career Lessons We Can Learn from Watching Movies

Even though I’m not much of a movie buff, my husband and I usually watch one together on the weekend. One movie we saw a few years ago was an indie film – Tenure – which at first I thought was a so-so, run-of-the-mill comedy. However, as the story unfolded and led to a surprise ending, Tenure carried a meaningful message (which really resonated for me, from a career coaching perspective) about how to make smart career moves.

Tenure takes place at a fictitious liberal arts college located in Pennsylvania. The main character, Charlie Thurber (played by Luke Wilson) is the most popular English Literature professor on campus. He loves his job and his students adore him. He even coaches a new female professor named Elaine Grasso (played by Gretchen Mol) to loosen up in the classroom and bond with her students. Even so, Charlie longs for tenure, which he believed would bring him job security and a large pay raise.

There’s just one catch: to qualify for tenure, Charlie has to write and publish academic articles — an area where he struggles – while academic article-writing comes much easier to his tenured colleagues and to Elaine Grasso who is also competing for tenure. During his employment at the college, he hasn’t written or published a single article, despite his halfhearted attempts to do so.

With just three months to his tenure review, Charlie devotes his energy to writing a literary article, and submits it to as many English literature journals and publication outlets as possible. When he learns that his article has finally been accepted for publication in a “little- known-but-adequate” online resource, the Dean and the academic committee grant him probationary tenure, with ONE condition: he works closely with a designated colleague to get more articles published; otherwise, his tenure would be revoked.

I wondered: would Charlie accept the conditional terms of his tenure? is he going to become a prolific academic writer, while continuing to be a great teacher?

The answer came to me in a surprise ending: Charlie is strolling down a school corridor which appeared to be at the college; but I quickly realized he was entering a classroom of a local high school, as the new English Literature teacher. When he introduces himself to his students, his winning personality has them at “hello.”

Clearly, Charlie took a leap of faith by rejecting the university tenure track in favor of what he did best and enjoyed: teaching English Literature and making it meaningful for his students. He knew literary article-writing was not his strong suit and that he would be fighting an uphill battle to get articles published. He would have exhausted himself in the process, compromised his teaching abilities, and put himself at risk for losing tenure and his job.

So, the “career lesson” to be learned here is this: when you’re working in a career and job you excel at and enjoy, you bring your professional best to your employer, coworkers and clients. No one wins when you struggle to be someone you’re not, doing tasks that burn you out, in exchange for a paycheck and the lure of job security.

The next time you want to change jobs or careers, do this exercise: go through your career history and create a list of all the job tasks you’ve ever done. Put an “X” through your least enjoyable activities and put a circle around your favorites. Keep this list top of mind before accepting your next position, and you’ll choose wisely like Charlie.

© Joellyn Wittenstein Schwerdlin, The Career Success Coach 2014 All Rights Reserved / www.career-success-coach.com

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