You have probably heard of the three-act structure in narratives. Many stories, plays, books, and films follow this pattern: the characters are introduced in Act 1, and some inciting event moves the protagonist to action. At the end, we have Act 3, the climax, where the character’s objectives are fulfilled and the story comes to a satisfying conclusion. In the middle, between the beginning and the end, comes the second act.
The three-act structure pervades narrative literature because it imitates life. We’re born, we live, and we die. Within that broader drama, we begin an endeavor, we see it through, we navigate multiple challenges along the way, and—inevitably—we enjoy (or suffer) the endeavor’s conclusion.
Many authors who write in the narrative form will tell you that Act 2 is the hardest to write. It constitutes the longest part of the story, is the least predictable, and contains innumerable twists and turns. In writing the second act, authors must resist the tendency to allow the protagonist to fall into the soporific doldrums of repetition, stagnation, and inaction.
Our careers follow the same pattern as these narratives. If you are reading this message, you are probably in the second act of your career right now—after your first job or two, and after any advanced degrees you might pursue, but before you become an effective senior manager, CEO, or celebrated entrepreneur, and before your grand finale.
Your retirement speech cannot yet be written; your lifelong impact is still undefined. Like many people, you might find it easy to get lost in the labyrinth of your career during this stage. At Career Protocol, we equip early- and middle-career professionals with the tools to advance more effectively, fulfill their purpose and potential, and have more fun in their careers. We are happy to introduce this new column to the Forté community.
Here are three tips you can implement during your own second act to keep your career moving forward:
Build your network.
It’s tempting to pay attention to the health of your network only during times of transition. For example, you accept LinkedIn’s invitation to load your phone contacts and connect with your professional acquaintances only when you are planning to leave a job. Most people wait until they are beginning a job search to attend networking events and meet new people. But this is a mistake.
You can’t ask a new connection for a job. Someone you met yesterday will not refer you for a plum new position within her firm. If you want your network to serve you well, you must continuously grow it and nurture it. Attend networking events and attempt to really foster meaningful connections. Follow up with people and engage them periodically. And, perhaps most important, seek new ways to connect people to each other—this is when your network will truly become valuable to you.
Learn how to fail better.
A sure sign of complacency and stagnation is that you haven’t failed recently. If you hope to have a truly exceptional career, you need to take risks, stretch yourself and your abilities, expand your comfort zone, and gain new opportunities through trial and error. You survived your first act with flying colors. You moved up the learning curve, got promoted, and now enjoy greater responsibility.
At this point, it’s tempting to sit back, relax a little, and rest on the laurels you earned in Act 1. But you will be disappointed in the climax of your career if you do not continue to challenge yourself and tackle new obstacles. Take stock of your abilities and chart a course that includes areas for development. For tips on bouncing back quickly from setbacks and using them to grow, read this post about resilience.
Don’t stop talking about yourself.
“Self-promotion” may seem like a dirty word, but your career advancement at every stage depends on it. You need to talk about yourself at networking events when you meet new professional connections. You need to do it in job interviews and during times of transition. But you also need to do it now—right where you are—with colleagues, coworkers, managers, staffers, HR professionals, and even subordinates.
Self-promotion is not what you think it is—it’s not a sales process, bragging, or self-aggrandizement. It is, very simply, storytelling. You must learn how to tell engaging stories about your professional experiences and draw out the meaningful narratives within your endeavors so that you can tout your accomplishments naturally and without feeling or seeming like a braggart.
These tips are just the beginning – your second act will span the next several years of your career, present many challenges, and require you to develop several new skills. In this new series, Second Act, we explore some concepts that can help you on your professional journey. We will enable you to move more swiftly and powerfully to your third act and bring your career to an inspiring conclusion.
Hi, I’m Angela Guido, the Founder of Career Protocol. I help early and middle career professionals define and achieve ambitious goals, embrace learning opportunities, and have more fun in their work. If you are interested in maximizing positive impact, career success, and joy, you have to check out my blog and join my Insider’s List.