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  • Robb Conlon

Captain Fantastic...

I was once given a book by a mentor of mine at a key juncture in my career at my last long term position.

"The Right (And Wrong) Stuff: How Brilliant Careers are Made (and Unmade)" by Carter Cast. I eagerly dove into and ground through the whole book in a few hours.

It was given to me at a time in which I was having tremendous professional struggles against a changing organizational culture and structure, one that didn't include me.

When I say didn't include me, it was MY fault that I didn't change and adapt readily enough to the environment evolving and it eventually led to my departure from that organization. Wait though, I was the guy who won awards for the company and implemented systems to scale customer loyalty and found millions of dollars in additional revenue.

Why didn't this include me? It's because at the time, I fancied myself a bit of a superhero.

In Cast's book, it mentioned 5 archetypes that you'll likely fit into that describe how you work. The first of them is Captain Fantastic.

He's at best a flawed hero, he performs high, but the collateral damage both to the organization and culture can sometimes approach or exceed his benefit to the organization.

In my last long term position, I unfortunately developed into one of these overpowered, success wielding, culture crushing jerks and I paid a massive price for it. I kept barging ahead with my ideas and thinking that I had the best path forward. I should have begun to listen and take on projects and skills that helped me adapt and evolve to the culture.

Hindsight is 20/20, but the result of my lack of willingness to change course on how I fit with the company ultimately led to my downfall.

Captain Fantastic gets SH!T done. Captain Fantastic performs. He puts big points on the board. But he's also about as subtle about it as X-men's Juggernaut (to continue the superhero/villain analogy...) smashing through everything he comes across. When Captain Fantastic can't literally overpower his obstacles with his wit, charm, physical strength, or cunning, he gets stuck.

In job searching, we tend to have aspects of Captain Fantastic in ourselves. We don't adapt, we don't change, and we look to use strategies that are tried and true much more than those that might be new, unfamiliar, or appear ineffective to us.

When Captain Fantastic can't beat an obstacle, he rages, tries harder, and flames out. Usually he's kicked out of the organization without much ceremony and people are happy to see him go.

I got lucky for two reasons: A.) the company I worked for was 1 in a million B.) while bombastic and sometimes pushy, I'm not a complete ass. I was asked to leave the organization and given a parachute as I headed out the door to help me land.

The fact that I was asked to leave the organization is a far bigger deal, and a very Captain Fantastic type flame-out. I'd say it even cancels out the fact that folks told me my departure was a big deal. And that's shame on me for at the time thinking so highly of myself.

So what did I learn and how does it apply to you looking for a job?

  1. Jobs aren't forever; even the best ones. Find and cultivate relationships ahead of time so that if you do leave an organization for whatever reason you have quick options to find new employment.

  2. Leave before things get bad. There's nothing worse than not being able to put a reference down from your last employer, especially if they're in the same industry as your next one! If you're having frustrations, make sure you do the adult thing and act professional at work, it's ok to tell folks you disagree with direction, simply do it in a way that doesn't make you seem aggressive or like a crybaby not getting their way and move to a new position. Always strive to leave on amazing terms.

  3. If you find yourself jobhunting on a timecrunch, mix tactics. Refusal to adapt is what will kill your jobsearch, and finding new paths forward is going to be your best ally in keeping your job hunt going.

  4. There are going to be times where you as Captain Fantastic are right and the world is wrong. Pick your battles, it's not worth sacrificing your internal reputation with your former employer to prove them right on anything but the most critical matter.

So here's the takeaway, if you have aspects of Captain Fantastic in you like I do, make sure you hang up the cape and mask on a daily basis.

Play to your strengths, but keep in mind that hammering the same note over and over makes for very boring music. Vary your approaches to your career and your career search and you'll write yourself a new theme in no time.

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