There’s No Such Thing As Career Planning

Do you have a 5 year career plan?

If so, there’s one thing you can plan on – very little will go as planned.

I never planned on being in the Entertainment business. I was singularly focused on becoming a teacher. I was a student at New York University pursuing an MBA. I already had my Juris Doctorate, my BA, and Master of Laws degrees, when an Executive Vice President from Columbia Pictures came to recruit what they thought would be “the best and the brightest.” While I absolutely wasn’t interested in a career in Entertainment, the business school felt it was a necessity to take interviews with these large companies who often endowed them. During our meeting, I was completely transparent about my passion for teaching and a lack of interest in the movie industry. She respected my candor and our conversation moved to hockey – a topic I was very passionate about.

It just so happened the Executive Vice President had a spare ticket to a professional hockey game at Madison Square Garden and invited me to go. As a student with financial constraints who couldn’t otherwise afford such a ticket, this opportunity was not to be missed. Her conversation continued. Remembering my interest in teaching, she exhorted that teaching in a classroom wasn’t the only way to teach. You could reach, touch and open the minds of an audience of millions more people through filmed entertainment than you could ever do within the walls of a single classroom. I was curious. They asked me several days later to interview and have lunch with the President of the company whose offices were on 5th Avenue uptown. Heck, that sounded like a cool lunch and I save money. That led to their invitation to fly to California, a location I had not been, but I reminded them that I really wasn’t interested in the movie business. They said that was alright, come anyway. I hadn’t been to California so that was an offer I could hardly refuse.

The trip to California ended up to be a stay for the next 35 years. If I hadn’t been open to the interview and the serendipity of a hockey game, my incredible journey in the Entertainment and Sports industries, which continues today, would never have happened.

Is there an icing on this cake? Yes! Within six months of my new start in Hollywood, I became a guest lecturer at UCLA which led to a professorship at both UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and its School of Theater, Film and Television. It’s during the courses that I teach in these schools where I often invite highly accomplished executives to converse with me and engage with the students and myself, that I discovered many of these folks also had very circuitous career paths.

In one of my current graduate courses on winning in the business of sports, Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated producer-director-writer Mike Tollin, whose credits include Radio, Coach Carter, Varsity Blues and the documentaryHank Aaron: Chasing The Dream, admitted to never laying out a career path. His advice to our graduate students was that everything leads to everything and that you have to trust that the “dots will connect,” even though you may not see the connection at the moment. He shared that they must take every opportunity they get as “make or break” and leave nothing on the table.

Pacific 12 Conference Commissioner, Larry Scott, thought he’d follow his Harvard education with a career as a CEO of some large company, never anticipating he’d end up in the sports business. He told our UCLA MBA students that he never had a five year plan and later recognized that luck and believing that he was always at the right place at the right time factored into where he is today.

Bob Bowman, President & CEO of the hugely successful Major League Baseball Advanced Media, encouraged students to always work for the best person rather than focus solely on the right career path. He advised if you’re given the choice between a great, great job for a less than great person and what appears to be just an ok job for a magnificent and talented person, bet on the stellar person every time, even if the money or job is not as good as it will pay off for the rest of your life.

So what does all this mean for you and your career plans?

  • Opportunity is always lurking.

    Don’t be an ostrich with your head in the ground! You must do your job, but you must manage your career which means being constantly vigilant for opportunities. This doesn’t mean you’re an opportunist, but that your career is in your hands. There may not be a straight line to what you believe is your ultimate goal. By being flexible, however, often you discover new avenues that may lead you to your final destination. Or you may end up somewhere totally unexpected, but find this new experience highly rewarding.

  • You don’t always need experience, but experiences.

    While relevant experience is desirable, having an employee with a background of diverse experiences demonstrates that they’re not only well-rounded, but they may offer a unique lens based on these experiences that gives a fresh perspective on innovation, problem solving and management – all areas critical to driving competitive advantage. In this world, interdisciplinary experiences can provide a bouquet of resources and a larger opportunity horizon to demonstrate your talents.

  • You never know who knows who.

    Relationships are critical to your career path to success. Everyone you meet is an opportunity to demonstrate your passions and your personality – two critical components that are often the deciding factors in people recommending you or sharing their enthusiasm about you. You never know if and when they, or someone they know, may be asked about you. During these encounters, be generous in offering your help to them. As they say, “what goes around comes around.”

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