Thinking Of “Career” As Bodies Of Work

When I was a teenager, my dad handed me the book most dads hand kids who don’t know what they want to do with their careers.  Twenty-five years later, I’m still slowly figuring out what color my parachute is.

What we want to be when we grow up is something I talk about all the time with my dad, and also with my friend Gary Bolles, whose dad actually wrote What Color Is Your Parachute.

Amy Friedman, who sits on the executive team at Scratch, taught me to think about “career” in terms of bodies of work.  I like that a lot.  Helps me make sense of my biggest and most meaningful endeavors, and how they fit together to comprise a life’s work.

It came up last week when I was spending time with Chris Poole.  Most people know him better as “Moot,” the legendary (he is all of 26 years old) founder of 4chan and champion of anonymity.  Moot and I were talking about his next step after shutting down his startup, DrawQuest.

Moot posted on his blog after a much older friend asked him to think about himself at the age of 50: “What would I be excited to tell my younger self about the life I’d led?”  I find that question about as exciting, important, paralyzing and naive as anything else you could ask me about what will happen ten years from now, or even five.

Bodies of work are like self-ographies you don’t realize you’re constructing.  Until much later.  We’re too close to a subject in motion.  We’re lucky if, at close range, our bodies of work distinguish themselves from one another enough to make any sense of them.

I’ve done two bodies of work at Viacom, far as I can tell.  The first was mtvU,  a grand experiment in 2004, we set out to super-serve college students with a network of their own, focusing on music, original programming and events.  Before YouTube was born!  We became the first network to simulcast on the web, the first to go completely tapeless, the first to send 3 college students to Darfur, and much more.  Our team blew past its goals years ahead of plan, and the network was a success.

That made possible my second body of work at Viacom, which I’m still in the midst of: Scratch.

I’m super proud of both.

Between the two, I ran what was called MTV360, a development and production team.  I don’t consider that a body of work, per se.  More like an arm.  I learned stuff, I led stuff, I made stuff, but my time there didn’t really add much definition (for me or for the company).  It wasn’t wasted, it was just a year of gearing up for the next body of work (even if I didn’t know it at the time).

For Moot, it’s exciting to think about what his next body of work will be.  And to look back and mark where one ended and the next began.  In the meantime, it’s really great to read his blog and appreciate the candor.  Makes you want to go on the journey with him as he learns to dance, to cook, to garden, to fly.  Maybe even to parachute.

Does a body of work have a beginning, middle and end?  Not sure they’re always so linear.

Must they be singular, mutually exclusive?  I don’t think so.  Sometimes they seem to overlap, coincide, mash up.

If you’re a music artist, one of your albums might constitute a body of work. Or perhaps it’s the last 3 you made that all add up to one body of work.  Critics will have opinions, fans will decide, but only you know.

And now the big question, the one we all struggle with in times of transition: How do you know when you’ve completed one body of work and are ready to begin the next?

If you ask me, you just know.