Discover the significance of unexpected career turns. See how choices shape your path.
If I were to ask you to identify three turning points in your career, it probably wouldn’t require too much thought for you to come up with them. We tend to remember people or events that have changed our trajectory in significant ways.
But if I were to ask you to consider three of the things you most value, and then to retrace your steps to recall how they came about, it’s likely that upon reflection you would identify a turn in your past that at the time you had no idea would have been so consequential.
Let me give you an example. I’m not only the author of a book on the topic at hand (TURNS: Where Business Is Won and Lost), I’ve written two other books, hundreds of articles, and a number of proposals and recommendations that (I’ve been told) stood out for the quality of their prose. Being a craftsman with the written word is a core part of my identity. And while I can’t say for sure where that journey first began—probably sometime back in grade school—if I trace my professional steps back to the beginning of my career, I recall a most formative turn.
I had recently graduated from college and was working at a health club while I pursued entry-level career possibilities. One day I spotted a newspaper want ad (remember those?) from a hot West Coast advertising agency looking for a field marketing manager based in my hometown to work on the Pizza Hut account. The combination of pizza and marketing sounded like the perfect job for me, and this seemed like a terrific way to break into an industry in which I was interested. So, I applied.
Trouble was, when the initial call came in from the woman who would become my boss, it awoke me from a deep sleep. I had been getting up well before dawn to open the health club, and when I got off work at noon each day I’d go home and take a brief nap. She happened to call just when I had entered a dream state, and when I picked up the phone I couldn’t get my bearings; I’m sure I must have sounded drunk. Needless to say, the call didn’t go well.
After recounting the story that evening to my then-new wife, she encouraged me to write a letter to the woman asking for a second chance. I put pen to paper and not only explained what had happened, but conveyed my naïve-yet-enthusiastic understanding of marketing and why I was the perfect person for the job. She agreed to give me a second chance and invited me to an in-person interview when she next came to town. Needless to say, I got the job.
Shortly after that, I met the founder of the firm, who told me that my letter had made its way to his desk and was the best business letter he had ever read. That was quite a compliment for a wet-behind-the-ears college graduate, and it seared into my young mind the power of the printed word and fueled my love for writing. The consequences of that single turn of events led to a life of professional fulfillment on which I could have easily missed out.
Not all turns have such life-changing ramifications, of course, but any turn may be consequential in some way. The next time you consider taking a different route home from work, changing your desk chair, instituting a new remote-work policy, or writing an important letter (or email, or dare I say, text), consider what might come as a result of it. It may just change your life.
Steve McKee is a business strategy expert and co-founder of McKee Wallwork, a nationally-recognized marketing advisory firm. He’s the author of three books: When Growth Stalls, Power Branding, and the newly-released TURNS: Where Business Is Won and Lost.
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