The Biggest Hole of All

The Biggest Hole of All

The New York Times ran an article yesterday about the career prospects of app developers. It’s a cautionary tale for all of us in today’s turbulent world of work.

The article opens by describing a husband and wife team who decide that their dream career is writing apps for the iPhone and iPad. His employer gets them started by laying him off. She then quits her job, and they go all in. They cash in their savings, move from a house to a small apartment and launch an app writing company in the spare bedroom.

It would be the American Dream … only they hadn’t done their homework. According to publicly available research, most app writers today make less than a total of $200 on their creations and just four percent have made $30,000 or more. In other words, their dream had all the makings of a nightmare before they even began.

Now, my purpose is NOT to criticize this couple. In fact, I’ve made the exact same mistake myself. We both violated the most basic tenet of successful career self-management: Look before you leap … whether it’s to a new career, a new employer, a different job, a different assignment, or some other boss or mentor.

How could we (or anybody else) have done something that, in retrospect, seems so nonsensical? Because for the past seventy-five years or more, most of us who went to college were graduated as “career idiot savants.”

Our professors taught us a great deal about their field of study, but absolutely nothing about how to make a career in that field. We spent four years (or in some cases, five or six years) getting educated, but learned nothing about how to put our education to work.

Why did this gap in our educational occur? Academic arrogance. The faculty at many of America’s colleges and universities don’t consider the body of knowledge and set of skills that define career self-management to be rigorous enough for inclusion in the curriculum.

Contrast that with the situation in China. There, every student as a requirement of graduation must take a year-long, credit-granting course called Personal Mastery. It teaches them how to manage their career in their chosen field and in an economy with a lot less opportunity than that which exists in the U.S. of A.

And to add insult to injury, most colleges and universities already have world class expertise in career self-management right on their campus. They just ignore it. It resides in the Career Center, a resource that is all too often under-staffed, under-budgeted, under-prioritized and disrespected by faculty and administration alike.

So, where does that leave us? In the hole plugging business. We have to acquire a sound education in career self-management on our own, and we need to do so right away. Even if we’re currently getting max performance appraisal scores or we just got a promotion or won an award from our employer. The economy, the workplace, the job market … they‘re all becoming more unpredictable, challenging and fraught with peril. And, our only protection is to get smarter at channeling the disruption to our benefit.

How can you acquire that education? Retain a career counselor or coach. They have the knowledge and training to help you plug the hole. Or, if you prefer self-study, use one of the many career books available at, including (warning – shameless promotion ahead) my recently published guide, The Career Fitness Workbook.

But, whatever you do, get started now. And if you have a child in college, get them started, as well. It will be just as important to their ultimate success (and maybe more) as that $35,000 check you’re writing each year for their academic education.

Work Strong,