Careers are funny things. They aren’t always intentional, and they don’t all last for the same amount of time, but they all happen, whether we want them to or not — and whether we’re willing to admit that they did, or not.

For example, I’ve had short careers as a general labourer, an army reservist, and a student. I’d never put these on my LinkedIn profile, but that’s what I did in the years between high school and graduating university.

Where’s Waldo?

Since then, I’ve worked a number of marketing-related jobs, including a decent stint as an agency hack, and culminating in me running my own inbound marketing consultancy for the last five years or so.

Through all of this, I’ve noticed three stages that any career can go through. You may not stick with any career long enough to move through all stages, or you may not have the talent, smarts, or luck to advanced through each of stages, but there are nonetheless three distinct stages you can pass through on any given career path.

Stage 1: Tools & Tactics

Here’s where you get your hands dirty, where you do the grunt work. You get up close and personal with the daily grind to see how it works, and practice at it until you’re as good as you can get. You learn the tools of the trade, and how to master them.

Analogy: You can fix your own car.

Stage 2: Strategy & Planning

This is the Strategic Planning stage. Once you’re familiar with all the moving parts and how they work together, you’re ready to start using them toward achieving discernible and measurable goals. You can assess different goals, determine how all the tools and moving parts can contribute toward reaching them, and plan how they’re all going to come together for any specific goal.

Analogy: You could follow the instructions on how to build a car.

Your dog would like you to see its untapped potential. A cartoon by Peter Steiner. #TNYcartoons

A photo posted by The New Yorker Cartoons (@newyorkercartoons) on

Stage 3: Direction & Delegation

This is where you get to be a visionary. This is where you get to see (and appreciate) the big picture of the kind of work you’re doing. It’s where you get to set the goals, and delegate to the Strategic Planners simply because you can’t do everything yourself. You stop worrying about the day-to-day, and start looking forward into the future — kinda like Doc Brown, but really more like Lee Iacocca (’cause of the car analogy theme) or Steve Jobs (’cause of the turtle neck thing).

Analogy: You can build and run a business that has something to do with cars.

Honestly, I really just thought that this pic of Holtzman was a lot more interesting than anything I could find on Instagram or related to Steve Jobs.

The Perspective

Okay, so that’s nice. There’s three stages to your career. So what are you supposed to do with that?

Well, how about this? Ask yourself where you are in your current career right now.

Is that where you want to be? Is it where you want to stay? If not, is there room for advancement? If not, are you okay with that? If not, what are you going to do about it? Where are you going to go next? Somewhere where there is room to advance? Or are you going to recreate your career altogether?

Maybe you’re not ready to advance to the next stage. Maybe you are, but there’s something in your way. Maybe you’re already at the top of your career pyramid, and if you really want a change, you have to do something risky and dramatic, like starting all over again at something completely new.

Of course, in all my own careers, I’ve notice that the questions come a lot easier than the answers, so you’re pretty much on your own for figuring them out for yourself. But if you don’t start asking the tough questions, the answer aren’t ever going to come. And if you’re really lucky, they won’t just come to you, but while you’re naked, in the shower, without anything to write them down on.

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