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 /

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    The Six Dimensions of Career Clarity

    You’re finally ready to make that long-awaited job or career change. When starting your campaign, you’re probably saying, “I want to see what’s out there” or “I’ll look at any job that will pay a decent salary.”

    Leaving yourself open to many kinds of jobs might get you employed quickly; but in the wise words of baseball player Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” You might accept a job impulsively, only to quit within a few weeks because it wasn’t what you thought it would be, or get fired for poor performance.

    By simply answering the following “what, how, where, which, why and who” questions, you can discover and sketch out what your ideal career position might look like before starting your job search activities. I call these groups of questions “The Six Dimensions of Career Clarity.”

    1) What passions, strengths, talents, and transferable skills can you build your career on? What job titles fit your skill set?  

    2) How do your natural preferences and personality type factor into choosing your ideal work?

    3) Where do you want to work in terms of industries and target companies?

    • Do you prefer a large firm with opportunities for growth up the corporate ladder?
    • Would you rather be in a smaller company with steady yet satisfying responsibilities?
    • Have you made a list of 50-100 target employers?

    4) Which workplace environment/culture will you thrive in?

    5) Why do you want to work, according to your deeper mission and purpose?

    • What lights you up at the end of the day?
    • What brings you deep satisfaction?
    • What legacy do you want to leave behind?

     6) Who have you always wanted to be “when you grow up?”  

    • Who are you evolving into?
    • How do others see you?
    • What career keeps calling to you and won’t let up? 

    When you take the time to answer these questions, your job search will be more focused, both offline and online. 

     Why? Because this exercise will help you: 

    • Determine which types of work and positions are the best fit for you;
    • Be attuned to these opportunities when they show up in your world;
    • Communicate to your network exactly how they can help you;
    • Project more confidence and crediblity to hiring managers, instead of coming across like a desperate jobseeker who is only looking for a paycheck.

    According to Law of Attraction principles, you’ll draw into your life whatever you give your attention, energy and focus. You’ll find that clarity works like magic in bringing you closer to landing your dream job. 

     © Joellyn Wittenstein Schwerdlin, The Career Success Coach 2013 /

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      A 10-Point Checklist to Define Your Ideal Career

      You’re finally ready to make that long-awaited job or career change. When beginning your search, you might say to yourself: “I want to see what’s out there;” or “I’m willing to look at anything which will pay a decent salary.”

       Leaving yourself “open” to many kinds of jobs might get you employed quickly. But in the wise words of baseball player Yogi Berra: “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” This might be a job you accept impulsively, only to find out it wasn’t what you thought it would be, causing you to quit within a few weeks or get fired for poor performance.

      If you want long-term career satisfaction-not just another job-you’ll have to do some serious research and decision making. Don’t rely on a potential employer or a recruiter to do this work for you; if you do, your career goals become theirs – NOT yours!

      To help define what your ideal career might look like, use this 10-point checklist:

      1.  Company size: Do you want to work in a large company with opportunities for growth up the corporate ladder? Or in a small company with consistent yet satisfying responsibilities? Or would you consider self-employment?  

       2.   Deal-breakers: What tasks have you done in past jobs which you want to avoid? What type of company or workplace culture would you never work in again?

       3.  Environment: What type of workplace culture is right for you? Do you prefer an environment that is controlled and predictable – or unstructured and variable? Do you prefer to work independently or under close supervision?

       4.  Fulfillment: What work will call on your strongest, most enjoyable skill sets, so you’re challenged and happy at work? In which industries can you do your best work?

       5.   Location: What city or rural location do you prefer? What might be your commuting time or travel requirements? Would you work from home?

       6.   Personality Type: How do you prefer to focus your attention (with people or by yourself), take in information (using hard facts or ideas), make decisions (based on logic or people and values) and orient your environment (organized and planned or spontaneous and open)?

       7.   Salary: What are your 5-to-10-year income goals? What benefits package will satisfy you?

       8.    Specialization: What areas of expertise can you master, so you’ll always be in demand?

       9.    Values: Which values — emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, spiritual, work/lifestyle — must be present for you to be your best in your work?

       10.  Work Preferences: Are you more energized by working with information, people, or things? A combination of all three? In which order?  

       According to Law of Attraction principles, you’ll draw into your life whatever you give your attention, energy, and focus to. Once you get clear on all 10 areas above, you’ll have a much better idea of how your networking contacts can help you in your search. Plus, you’ll be pleasantly surprised when career opportunities which meet these criteria start showing up for you!

       © 2010 Joellyn Wittenstein Schwerdlin. The Career Success Coach.  All Rights Reserved.

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