Is Your Career “Paint by Numbers” or “Connect the Dots”?

Posted October 19, 2012 by Marcy Twete in Career Moves

Have you ever looked at someone and thought, “I simply can’t understand how you’re doing this with your career!” Take my father and I for example. My father has spent his entire career working his way up in his industry. He is phenomenally well-respected by his peers not only within his own company, but throughout the industry. He has spoken at national conferences and by my count, will never retire. He’s also worked for the same company for over 30 years, except for a brief stint in the 90s when the company was sold and we were relocated to St. Louis, Missouri. He left the company for a job in Montana for a while before returning ultimately to his rightful place in sunny North Dakota.

I look at him, and while I respect his career, I do not understand it. To stay in the same company, or the same industry even for 40 years baffles me entirely. But then, my husband read an article in The New York Times, an interview with Citrix CEO Mark Templeton. In it, the writer asked Templeton his best advice for business students and he said the following:

There are two strategies for your life and career. One is paint-by-numbers and the other is connect-the-dots. I think most people remember their aunt who brought them a gift for their birthday or whatever and it was a paint-by-number set or a connect-the-dots book.

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And the more time you spend on paint by numbers when you’re a connect-the-dots person, and vice versa, the harder it’s going to be.

Of course, he elaborates more in between these two statements, and you should read all of his wisdom by clicking here. But what mattered most to me was in the last line. You see, neither of these paths – paint by numbers or connect the dots – is less than the other. They are both valid paths to success, and often to the same success. My father is paint by numbers. I am connect the dots. It’s why we’ve often disagreed, but why we complement each other so perfectly. He likes to see the final picture and know where things are going. I’m okay with more ambiguity and following the path that feels right for me.

Which are you? Paint by numbers? Or connect the dots?

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."