Recently I had the amazing honor of giving the wrap-up keynote at the 2015 SLA conference. The conference itself was a pretty intense several days, as SLA is currently undergoing some very difficult but important revisions to its structure, vision, core competencies, and identity. But conference discussions also provided a vibrant, real-life example of how we all need to be able to meet changing circumstances head-on, even if the choices we have aren’t the ones we’d hoped for.
My wrap-up keynote carried the same message. Titled “Improvising Your Career: How to Not Freak Out, Run for Cover, or Have to Move In With Your Folks (or Kids),” it focused on the necessity of having, to quote The Start-Up of You (Hoffman and Casnocha, 2012), a permanent beta mindset when it comes to your career. In other words, consider yourself always in start-up mode, and assume that your most important core competency is your ability to adapt. To improvise. To tap dance as fast as you can….
A corollary of this idea is letting go of ever needing what you do, or how you do it, to be perfect.
Although pretty much all of us in the LIS profession grew up with “perfectionist” tattooed on our foreheads, you don’t have time for that any more if you want a resilient career (or a job, for that matter). Instead, we need to swap fearlessness for perfection, and embrace what Seth Godin calls “buzzer management” – i.e., be fearless enough to press the buzzer before you completely know the answer, before you’re 100% certain, before its 100% perfect.
Because if it has to be perfect, the moment may never happen. How do I know this? Because when I gave my keynote, an event that both exhilarated and terrified me in equal amounts, my PowerPoint technology decided to go completely haywire. The slides advanced (or retreated) on their own schedule, entire groups of slides took off for parts unknown and never showed up, and it was perhaps the least perfect presentation I’ve ever given. I ended up modeling my message, which was to be not perfect, but fearless.
Had I known quite how unperfect I was going to be, I might not have had the courage to step into the opportunity. But by being willing to improvise in the moment, I was able to share a message that I believe is critically important to us all.
And for all of you who laughed with me rather than at me, I can’t thank you enough!
P.S. See the presentation in order and in its entirety here: SLA 2015 – Improvising Your Career.