Most Career Paths Don't Follow a Straight Line—Turns Allowed

crossroads representing opportunity

You may not have heard of Toby Whithouse, but you probably know some of his work.

Whithouse is a senior writer for the long-running and internationally acclaimed Doctor Who television series, which has attracted millions of fans around the world.

Interestingly, Whithouse never set out to be a writer, starting his career in entertainment as an actor. How did Whithouse go from “channeling other writers” as he put it to writing scripts himself? In a recent forum held at the New Theatre Royal in London, Whithouse said it was all a matter of working hard until he found something that made sense.

He studied music and drama before setting out to become an actor. Starting in the early 90s, Whithouse made the rounds of British theatre and television, working steadily but not hitting the big time.

Then, Whithouse said, in 2000 he decided to write a play that he and “my unemployed actor friends” put on. Jump Mr. Malinoff, Jump was performed in 2000 to some acclaim. The end result was that Whithouse the actor had suddenly become Whithouse the writer.

"Following on from (his play) I was offered lots of TV scripts to write,” Whithouse said at the forum. “You are more in control of your environment as a writer, whereas actors are constantly waiting for someone to give them an opportunity. To write you don’t need to get an audition; it is more of a meritocracy. As a writer I am not going to lose a job to someone because they are taller than me.”

Whithouse’s career path is a great example to those of us who feel trapped in jobs that are unrewarding, and a reminder that career paths do not necessarily follow straight lines.

These days, it’s not hard to find people who feel they are in the wrong job. Or, they’re at the right company, but in the wrong department. Or in the right department, but they have the wrong job description. The big challenge is finding a way to get out of something you don’t like, and into something that brings you career fulfillment.

Not everyone can have the same good fortune as Whithouse, but his message about working hard and being prepared to take chances to find a better career should resonate with us all.

In Whithouse’s case, it was putting in the time and effort to write his first play without any idea how it would be received. For others, it’s a process of getting out in to the workforce and trying different things until they find the thing that makes them happiest.

Author and blogger Stefanie O’Connell, who writes about personal finance and career trends among other topics, recently delved into the same general topic with a post that looked at the whole idea of “pursuing your passion.”

O’Connell argued in her blog that advising someone to look for a job they can be passionate about can be misleading. Particularly, if people are not warned that pursuing your passion can involve a lot of heavy lifting.

O’Connell as well started out as an actress. However, when she discovered just how difficult and financially challenging that could be, she evolved into a Gen Y commentator and an expert in personal finances for people of her age and career stage. She went on to write The Broke and Beautiful Life, which describes her own winding career path.

“I find that people who aren’t sure what they’re passionate about get stuck when they hear the advice, ‘pursue your passion,’ not knowing what to do next,” O’Connell wrote. “But passion doesn’t arrive while waiting for inspiration to strike, it’s uncovered through action and work.”

If you’re unhappy with your job, or that it’s just not the right job for you, there are things you can do about it. You can go back to school, or take the time to search out the educational and employment qualifications for the job you really want, and then apply yourself to acquiring them.

If Whithouse and O’Connell have shown us anything, what we shouldn’t do is just languish in a job that makes us unhappy.

Contact us to learn about career transition and outplacement.

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