Friday, January 14, 2011

Three Reasons Obituaries are Good for Your Career

As a former newspaper reporter, I have a soft spot for obituaries. I remember it being my first published assignment as a full-time reporter. But now that I help people with their careers, I like to recommend them as an antidote to the funk you can fall into during a seemingly endless job hunt.

Just check the New York Times or Washington Post obituaries. If you're obit is appearing there, you've arguable "made it" in your career. So many of those write-ups include lives that can inspire job hunter on a down day. In between emails and phone calls, why not check in with the dead?

Lessons I've learned this week:

1. Even those with little formal training can "make it." Ellen Stewart's obituary today in the New York Times tells the story of how a dress designer started a theater in  a New York City basement apartment. Al Pacino, Robert Dinero and Bette Midler were among the famous actors to eventually appear at her venue.

2. It's never too late to recover from failure. Dick King-Smith, author of 'Babe' and countless other published children's stories, described his first career as a farmer as a "disaster."His obituary in the Washington Post on Wednesday outlines his career changes: selling asbestos suits to firefighters, working in a shoe factory, and launching a career teaching elementary school at 53. He didn't begin writing full-time until age 60.

3. Sometimes you really aren't doomed. Bill Bower was part of a mission to bomb the Japanese in the months after Pearl Harbor. His obituary describes how he took off in a plane that he knew he couldn't return in: the ship was too small for him to land the bomber. He manage to parachute out of his plane after completing his mission, get help from Chinese villagers, and make his way back to the U.S. on domestic flights. He lived to see his kids play with the medals he was awarded. 

Week after week, the dead can inspire. And sometimes the next step in your career can seem less daunting. Honestly, if Bower can head into enemy territory, you can definitely make that call to see what happened to your resume, right? 

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