How To Do Life

Fresh ideas about career and personal issues

13 Analogies and Metaphors to Help Your Career

Simple helpers for career-minded people.

My career counseling clients have found these metaphors and analogies helpful. Perhaps one or more might be useful to you:

Choosing a career

Shopping mall. Searching for a career is like looking for an outfit in a shopping mall. It’s fun to try lots of stuff on, including accessories, but you needn’t buy until something feels very good.

Love. Even if you’ve found a great-fit career, you may not feel fully enamored of your choice. As with romance, you’re unlikely to fall head-over-heels upon meeting even your ideal romantic partner. You usually have to get involved. Same with a career. If I filled a room with people who love their career, most of them felt that way only after they had gotten into it: tailored and accessorized it to their strengths and became expert. If they had waited to choose a career until they were in love with it, they might have been waiting for Godot.

Helicoptered onto a mountaintop. When you’re considering a number of careers that seem fairly equal in desirability, your situation is like that of being dropped from a helicopter on top of a frigid mountain with many paths leading downward. If, for very long, you stay there contemplating which path to take, you’ll soon die. You must quickly look down each path and then start down the one that appears most felicitous. Only then can you discover whether it leads to a sheer cliff, a gently descending path, or if there are better side paths you couldn’t have seen from the top. Same with a career. After a modest amount of reading, watching videos, and job shadowing, it’s usually wiser to pick than to wait for a eureka moment. Then find the best training, and over time, tailor and accessorize your career to fit.

Tailor and accessorize. Off the rack, few suits look great. To look its best, you must tailor and accessorize it to suit you. Same with your career. For example, if you’re going to be a career counselor, you’ll maximize your likelihood of happiness and success only if you carefully select a niche, setting, and approach tailored to who you are and what you want: for example, a solo practice at home specializing in cognitive-behavioral strategies to help unhappy lawyers.

Landing the Job

Matchmaking. Throughout the job-seeking process--from first inquiry to last interview--your job is not to try to convince as many employers as possible to hire you. It’s to find a good fit between your strengths/weaknesses and what the employer needs. That maximizes the chances of both of you being happy with each other. So, state your strengths and weaknesses, including in your first inquiry to employers. That will not only facilitate finding a good match, it will make employers more likely to believe you’re being honest when you’re touting your strengths.

A video game. Many people view job hunting with dread. It’s helpful to think of it as a video game. You enjoy the exploration and while you’ll meet monsters (People who denigrate or ignore you), you'll also encounter at least one guide or fairy godmother, and with persistence, you’ll find the treasure.

The two gold miners. After pick-axing unsuccessfully on a few veins, one miner gets frustrated and quits. The other miner realizes that many failures are usually required before finding sufficient gold to make a living. He doesn’t take failed efforts personally. S/he simply views failure as a necessary prerequisite to success. Same with the successful job seeker.

Deck of cards. Imagine a deck of cards were laid face down on a table. You’re told to pick one card at a time. If it’s the ace of spades, you land a job. Even if you had to turn over all 52 cards, you’d no doubt keep going until you reached the ace. You wouldn’t get despondent and give up. Searching for a job is like that. Usually, within about 50 good inquiries, assuming you’re targeting jobs for which you’re well qualified, you’ll usually find good work. The key is to not give up prematurely or get sloppy in how you make those inquiries.

Like asking for directions. One of the most potent ways to land a job is to cold-contact desired employers. Many job seekers are reluctant to make such a query, feeling they’re imposing. But when you send a brief, honest email or voice mail asking if a prospective employer might want to talk with you, you’ve taken no more time than when you stop a stranger on the street asking for directions. If the employer decides s/he wants to talk with you, that’s her choice.

Success on the job and in life

Peter Pan. Many people won’t grow up. Unconsciously, they want to be irresponsible. Make the decision consciously: Is it time to remain as Peter Pan or to become an adult?

Jiminy Cricket.  Jiminy Cricket always sat on Pinocchio’s shoulder as the voice of conscience. As we decide how to do a task, we need a Jiminy Cricket on our shoulder, ever whispering in our ear, “Is this the most time-effective way?” Not necessarily the fastest way nor the most through way, but the most time-effective way, the way that yields the most benefit for the time expended.

Drug addict. Addicts choose the short-term pleasure of getting high even though their drug use affects their brain functioning, career, and personal life. Similarly, procrastinators choose the short-term pleasure of postponing tasks despite that imposing a bigger price for doing so.

Steak over sizzle. Instead of working to improve their competency or attitude, many people focus on networking, looking attractive, etc. Ultimately, you’ll feel better about yourself and make a bigger contribution if you focus more on your steak than your sizzle.

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 
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