Invent Your Future

By Scott Westerman
“The best way to predict your future is to create it!” – Abraham Lincoln

I had lunch this past week with a good friend who is coming to a career crossroads. We met so that he could share his resume with me and brainstorm about opportunities that might fit his background and experience.

It’s interesting to watch how these conversations go. Typically, the job seeker has been on, or has looked at the gigs that are posted in your organization. The lunch is often spent with your friend trying to convince you how to squeeze her skills into what happens to be available.

Contrast that with the Geek Conclaves I’ve found in the last three cities where we’ve worked. Talk to them and you’ll quickly learn that they are doing jobs that didn’t exist two years ago, let alone when they graduated from college.

“How did you get your current gig,” I’d ask?

“I invented it!”

You’ve read my writing ad nauseum about how important I believe finding your passion is. Life’s too short not to be happy, so if you’re not happy in your job, a relationship, or where you’re living, change it! Chase your joy with reckless abandon. Take responsibility for your own happiness.

Ok, you’ve heard enough of that. Many of my friends say, that finding that happiness is a lot easier said than done.


If creating your job from scratch, finding a soul mate, or discovering that perfect chalet on 20 acres, with 10MB internet and a Whole Foods down the street were easy, everybody would be doing it.

Happiness requires work. But it’s worth the effort.

Germaine Greer writes, “Human beings have an inalienable right to invent themselves..”

That’s what my MSUAA co-worker, John Hill, has done. He tells me that the last three positions he’s had didn’t exist before he created them. And I believe it. John is a guy who knows exactly what he wants. He’s researched it with the enthusiasm of a PHd candidate, and has put together such a compelling pitch that it’s impossible not to at least give him a shot at it.

You can do that, too.

Anthony D’angelo says, “If life doesn’t offer a game worth playing, then invent a new one.” In an economy like ours, where traditional businesses are fighting to stay afloat, CEOs are looking for non-traditional ways to re-think paradigms, find new revenue streams, increase productivity and develop new markets. Think about how you might be able to express your joy in this environment, and let the fun begin.

We may stumble across a million dollar idea, but it’s more likely that yours will come after some careful consideration. Ponder these questions:

When have you been most happy?
What were you doing then?
What additional skills, training, relationships and knowledge would you need to become one of the best in the world in that arena?
How would you sell your idea? What’s in it for your potential boss? What’s the return on the company’s investment in your?
If someone were to pay you your current salary to prepare for a job you would invent, how would you spend your time preparing?
How many hours a day would you invest in that preparation?

There are two ways to apply these steps.

The easiest way is to look at the job you currently do. How could you add more value? What are the risks ahead for your organization and how can you be a key player in helping the company deal with them? Where in the chain of command would you like to be in five years and what do you need to do to prepare for it?

We can all take this path anytime we wish. So few people actually think creatively about how they can add more value in their current situation, that those who do are immediately recognized as “keepers”.

There is very little competition on the extra mile.

The second way is to begin now, even while you continue at your current assignment, to prepare for the job you want to invent.

Ryan Schram, an MSU grad and the youngest Senior Vice President in the history of the Eprize organization recommends that you start by giving some spare time to a non-profit organization you believe in. That’s a great way to test drive ideas and sharpen skills in an environment where you’re very likely to be welcomed with open arms.

See if you can find someone else who is currently doing the thing you’d love to do and befriend them. Find out how they prepared, what they did to get the job and how much they are really liking it. Then, take a cold, calculated look at how much work and how much fun the thing truly is.

If it’s still something that fires your imagination, go for it!

I love Thomas Edison’s famous quote, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” So do your homework. And then, make the pitch. Like baseball, the odds of you hitting it out of the park increase with practice… and with time at the plate swinging the bat. You will probably strike out the first couple of times you swing, but if you have truly researched the concept and developed yourself into the ideal candidate, eventually you will discover the right environment where you will hit a home run.

Here are some ideas that people thought were crazy a few years ago.

If your were a traditional banker, would you create a financial service that loaned pennies to the poor in the third world?
If you were a newspaper, would you offer a service that allows people to advertise goods, services and jobs for free?
If you were the Encyclopedia Britannica, would you allow readers to contribute and give your content away?
If you were a radio station, would you allow each listener to put together their own custom playlist and narrowcast it directly to them?

Craig Newmark of Craig’s List , Pandora’s Tim Westergren , Wikipedia’s Jimmie Wales and Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus are among the creative thinkers who turned the prism and re-calibrated our paradigms. They shook the foundations of conventional wisdom in the process. And made the world a better place.

There is always opportunity in uncertain times.

Why not chase it?