“I can do anything for two years.”
That’s a phrase I used a lot in my early career. What I really meant was, “I don’t love what I’m doing. But I will stick with it until the calendar says I can move. You know: for the sake of my résumé.”
A recruiter had convinced me that leaving a job before the two-year mark would leave a black mark on my employment record. I bought that theory. Truer values—like creativity and quality—may have motivated my daily work; but survival and longevity occupied the space where my aspirations belonged.
Flash forward to right now—the middle of April 2014—twenty-some years into my career and exactly two years since I reopened the Spencer Grace creative business communications agency. Does this two-year anniversary feel significant? Absolutely. It’s a milestone; a natural reason to pause, look back, look forward, celebrate.
And these two years have been so good! In the past year alone:
- Revenues exceeded the aggressive goal I set for 2013.
- Spencer Grace has attracted and served more than a dozen new clients.
- My work now includes not just consulting with organizations, but coaching individuals. Helping people tell their stories—as short as a résumé and as long as a book—has become a substantial part of my work, and I love it.
- StoryStudio’s Words for Work program, where I teach business writing, is growing like mad, and I’ve begun teaching not just in classrooms and board rooms, but online as well. Such fun!
- I’ve nurtured my own creativity by following Noah Scalin’s 365: Make Something Every Day & Change Your Life. I’m less than two weeks from the finish line and have not missed a single day. The full year’s progress is published on bethnyland.com.
Through all this, not once have I felt like I was merely sticking it out, hanging in there, or killing time. I am not in survival mode.
The reason? I have removed that sentence—“I can do anything for two years”—from my vocabulary. I never say that any more.
Instead, I’ve changed the sentence by taking advice I often give to clients and students who struggle with a business message.
Here’s the advice.
To begin writing, we typically dump out what we’ve heard, gathered, and/or borrowed from other sources. As we develop that material, we form ideas that might resonate with the reader. When we’re on a roll, that good stuff eventually comes out—probably somewhere in the middle or near the end of a first or second draft.
But the good stuff can’t stay there. We have to mine for it, and bring it to the top. Starting at the bottom of your draft, look for the shiny, golden nuggets. These are the points that matter to your readers—the ones that will move them to think, believe, or act in the direction of your goals.
In short, I tell writers to turn their drafts upside down … or at least inside out.
Because this advice is best delivered with “hand motions,” here’s a 90-second video of me explaining the concept.
And that’s what I’ve done with that sentence from my early career. Instead of guiding my actions with the rigid statement that “I can do anything for two years,” now I ask a far more flexible question:
“What would I love to do with my time?”
I no longer think of two years—or any length of time, for that matter—as a destination. I focus on those truer values of creativity and quality. I look for ways to exercise creativity and quality in my own work, so I can share good stuff with my clients, students, friends, and family.
Framing career decisions this way (and let’s face it, career decisions are life decisions) landed me where I am now. So I’m sticking with my new, upside-down, inside-out phrase.
How could this question change your perspective? What would YOU love to do with your time?