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When it comes to your career, are you an architect, a sculptor, or an author? Craftsmanship is a key to career fulfillment, because, while you can find a great job, you have to create a great career, one that suits your own tastes, talents, and goals. Each successful person displays that creativity in his or her own way. If you have not yet figured out how you are going to shape your own dream career, consider these three possibilities:

Louis Sullivan's Prudential Building

Louis Sullivan’s Prudential Building

Some people are career architects. They design their career plans well before executing them, and their plans are detailed and thoughtful. “Form ever follows function,” said the American architect Louis Sullivan, known as the “father of the skyscraper,” and this truism drives career architects as well. They plan out their career with an overall goal in mind – to achieve a certain position, say, or to own one’s own business – and this goal influences their career plans. Career architects also want to learn as much as they can about the resources they have available to them. Just as Sullivan learned the physical load-bearing capabilities of the new steel frameworks available to builders at the end of the 19th century, so that he could plan his elegant tall buildings, career architects learn the educational and experiential opportunities and requirements essential to their chosen careers, so that they can make ambitious career plans. And those plans are what distinguish career architects. Because they know what they want, and they have a well-informed sense of how to get it, they can make such long-term plans, and then carry them out with certitude. Having a detailed plan can be both efficient and comforting. As long as the overall goal was well chosen, the career architect can start from scratch – even right out of high school or college – and assemble a satisfying career one piece at a time.

photo credit: Marcus Obal

photo credit: Marcus Obal

In contrast, the career sculptor is like Michelangelo, who said, “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.” Instead of assembling a work, he felt he was revealing it. In a similar way, the career sculptor has to carve away what does not fit his or her career vision. The career sculptor is usually someone who has only developed a clear career vision after having been in the workplace for some time. Not everyone enters adulthood with the certainty that career architects must possess. Some people stumble into a field and then realize that, having acquired the requisite skills and experience in the course of years of less inspired work, they have suddenly come close to their dream career. From that point on, the career sculptor only needs to carve away the pieces that obscure the newly-acquired career vision – by, for example, shedding unwanted responsibilities – to achieve a lovely focus on the work that really moves them.

The many people who do not enjoy the good fortune of setting clear career goals early, or of suddenly discovering their perfect career later on, can still create fulfilling careers if they approach the task as career authors. Career authors construct their satisfying careers in the same way that an author like John Updike constructed his prose. In 1987, the Houghton Library at Harvard University produced an exhibition of some of Updike’s archives, which he had contributed to the school. The exhibit, which featured drafts of some famous works, some with passages crossed out and new material written in, was given a title taken from Updike’s own description of the gifts required for writing well: “The Art of Adding, and the Art of Taking Away”. These gifts can also serve anyone seeking career fulfillment. Whether you have a vision of the perfect career you want, or only a sense of what might go into such a career, you can always be moving closer to it by always mindfully “editing” what you do. Add new experiences, new skills, new responsibilities, if you think they might be appealing or might bring you closer to satisfaction. Endeavour to take away the aspects of your work that do not promise long-term satisfaction. You may have a vision, like the career architect and the career sculptor, of your ultimate career goal, and if you do, career authorship might well be the most efficient way for you to reach it. But even if that vision is still cloudy to you, the acts of adding to and taking away from that vision are often the best ways for you to achieve the focus you need.