Want a Sustainable Career?

Recently I had an opportunity to watch ‘The Mousetrap’ in London. The play, written by Agatha Christie, is in it’s 63rd year of continuous performance !

It’s unique in that way, and brings about a key question — what has made it’s appeal universal enough and made it relevant for over 60 years? And could one apply some of the principles to sustaining a long career?

I spoke to a few of the cast and crew after the show backstage and here are the key points from what I could learn. Certainly applicable for careers in today’s ever changing times.

Study the audience all the time: One of the processes the theater uses is to consistently have dialogue about the changing tastes of the audience — stakeholders in corporate parlance. They believe that the changes they have been willing and able to make have been the result of openness to the feedback and a deep understanding of the (human) nature of the audience. In careers too, the relevance, irrespective of the profession, will depend on a deep appreciation of the ‘buyer’ and making changes based on that appreciation.

Make changes as if your life depends on it: Not my words — but one of the actors. There is a deep belief in the group that while the story and the eternal underlying promise of a good mystery remains at the core of the success, consistent changes in the way the play is performed has kept them alive. Actors have been deliberately changed (with lots of resistance), dialogues modified and even the settings and colours of the sets changed with times.

All the changes have not eroded the core promise or values that come with the play. In careers too, it is not about changing your core or values, but about making other changes that are able to bring to fore the best of oneself, and making deliberate and hard changes when required.

Learn and practice all the time: Every member of the troupe practices regularly, including the ‘stage boys’ even though it’s the same play day in and day out. Actors take feedback from each other on how to improve further, experiment with new ways, and practice these if they work well. Every small element works like clockwork, and it’s pure practice. I learnt about the hours they put in. It’s astounding to see the dedication and deep desire to learn and work hard at something they know and do so well already.

One of the members said -’We learn about the play and our work, but we learn even more about ourselves and our capability every day when we learn and practice”.

Many of the actors and staff also excel at other places in similar professions. The belief is that the practice here rubs off on making them an overall better person and professional.

Believe: The energy and the bonhomie backstage was quite interesting. The group believes very strongly in a few things. Firstly, that they are doing a great thing by entertaining so many people, and that is what they are meant to do. Secondly, they must do the best for the ticket paying audience. Thirdly, they must get better at each performance and lastly, they believe in the entertainment value of the play and the human emotions and values displayed in the play.

“ If you don’t believe you can do a good job for your audience and that they get real value by being here, you may as well not act”.

In a career sense, self belief that one is doing the best and adding value is perhaps the most underrated. It needs to be coupled with the deep desire to deliver value to the stakeholders, and you have a winning mix.

Collaborate: Theater is teamwork, like most of our workplaces. Not just teaming between actors but also with all the other people behind the scenes, as well as the audience. The team highlighted the level of candor among the team members, as also the ability to continuously improve with feedback and support from other team members. “ I could not have done so well if x and y were not there to help me”.

While careers tend to be seen very much as an individual thing, the real success comes when we are able to grow together with other people. And growing others grows us — no question. Career sharks who are interested only in growing themselves, especially in today’s connected world, may have challenges in growing personally and professionally. And collaboration is a great way of learning new skills, and improving ones skills at making 1+1= certainly more than 2

There were many other tips and insights, but these were the big ones, and certainly connected with me. So which of these are you thinking about and investing in for your career?

And by the way, if you do get a chance, watch ‘The Mousetrap’ — it’s marvelous!

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Bimal Rath. A loving heart is the truest Wisdom.

Executive Coach. Student of Leadership in all walks of life. Loves uncovering potential in people. A helper.