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How Control and Chaos Define Your Career

Jon Acuff discusses the four moments you'll encounter in your career and the key to navigating them.

Jon Acuff: There’s four types of change that happen in life and they start with this really simple idea of imagine a vertical line and at the top of it is a voluntary change and at the bottom is an involuntary. And a voluntary change is where you choose to change. I’ve mentioned before this graphic designer who decided to go back and take classes. He made a voluntary change. An industrial designer I know didn’t want to change, didn’t want to learn AutoCAD and an involuntary change happened to him. He lost his job. There’s all these moments in life where we get to choose to change or change happens to us. But not every voluntary change is good and not every involuntary change is bad. We’ve all voluntarily gone to the wrong job for longer than we should. We’ve all voluntary dated idiots longer than we should. And we’ve all had involuntary things happen to us that were good too. I think about Dave Barnes, my musician friend in Nashville where I live. And he had a song go number one. Blake Shelton the country music star recorded a song of his called "God Gave Me You" and it changed Dave’s life forever as a songwriter.

And if you ask him how did Blake Shelton find out about that song he’ll tell you he rented a car at Hertz at the airport and the previous person who had rented it had programmed a station that Blake never listens to. And he got in the car and he turned it on and my song that I was singing came on and Blake Shelton said, "You know what? I’m married to Miranda Lambert. We’re in this season of our life. I should record that song." Dave had this amazing involuntary change that happened to him. So have you. You’ve had that happen to you where a friend you haven’t talked to in three years calls you up and says, "I know we haven’t connected but there’s a job I think is perfect for you." So you have to add this other line to the equation. So if you’ve got a vertical line that goes from voluntary to involuntary you add another line that goes from negative to positive. And when you do that you see there’s these four different do-over moments that every career is going to go through. The first is what’s called a ceiling. It’s when you are voluntarily going towards something negative. You’re getting stuck. The second is an involuntary negative moment. That’s called a bump. You lose your job. Another company buys your company and lays off your sales team.

Maybe it’s smaller than that. Maybe you had an amazing manager who loved you and fought to hire you and then left that company a month after you got there. Or you were part of a great team where you knew how to work with this team and they shuffled things and now you’re on a new team and you’re vulnerable and you’ve gone through a bump moment. But what about on the other side of the equation? The positive moments. A voluntary positive decision, when you willingly decide to change your life is called a jump. It’s a jump moment. New York City is a jump city where people come here and they jump towards something positive. Starting a blog is a jump moment. Reading a book is a jump moment. Going to a conference, taking a class. It’s you saying I’m going to do something positive to change my life. And then the last one is a positive moment that’s involuntary. Where something good out of your control happens. That friend calls you up out of nowhere and offers you a job. It comes in a million different shapes. I talked to a CEO of a bank in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

I said how did you become CEO? He said well I was a teller for a few years and then my manager got arrested for counterfeiting checks. So her job opened up. Do you think in his five-year plan he said first three years I’m going to kill it at being a manager and really work hard and then hopefully somebody above me will go to jail and their job will open up. Of course not. He got this unexpected moment. And so that’s what a career is about is learning how to navigate these four different seasons. And it would be great if you could just eliminate the negative side, if you could just say, "I’m going to make jump moments where I do positive things — eat so much kale. And I’m going to have opportunity moments where surprises happen to me." But if you’re watching this video you know that’s not how life works. That’s not how a career works. You’ve gone through most of these moments by 9:00 a.m. Before you finish your first coffee, you’ll say, "Okay, I’m in a jump moment and that’s part of my career but I’m in a bump moment over here and my relationship is stuck over here." And so what you have to do is navigate these four different career do-overs.


Even if someone works hard at their job and makes all the right moves, there's still a chance that next week the company will go bottom up. Jon Acuff explains that this scenario is just one of four kinds of "do-over moments" a person will see in the course of their career. These kinds of changes can happen as a result of a voluntary or involuntary action and their results can be serendipitous or detrimental. The key, Acuff says, "is learning how to navigate these four different seasons" of control and chaos — positive and negative. Jon Acuff is a New York Times bestselling author of Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck.

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