American Horror Story and Your Career


The wildly popular FX show American Horror Story (AHS) recently got some flak for attempting to unite the separate universes of its four seasons. This resulted in a haphazard, after-the-fact feel that fans decried as evidence of the writers’ attempt to impose a coherent narrative that was never there. In addition to being a cautionary tale for the show’s creator Ryan Murphy, this serves as a reminder not to try to force order on an organic process — for example, your career.

For background, the basic understanding of AHS up to now was that each season was self-contained, and even though the show featured an ensemble cast that often carried over into the next season, viewers were advised not to seek a common thread. The seasons were titled “Murder House,” “Asylum,” “Coven,” and “Freak Show.”

Part of the novelty and appeal of the show, in addition to a star-studded cast including Jessica Lange, Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, and Dennis O’Hare, was the format. Each new season meant a new story, a new location, and new characters. This kept fans coming back.

There is no way of knowing for sure if the decision to bring the four existing seasons — in comic book parlance — into a common universe was planned in advance. But signs point strongly to “no.”

Back to your career, which — as much as we would like to think otherwise — is an organic process that often defies the best laid plans. Just as with the writers of AHS, trying to force a coherent narrative on your career can come back to bite you.

My advice is: don’t try.

Instead be open to opportunities that present themselves along the way and let your experiences inform your choices. There might be a common theme or thread or skill set that is a constant companion. And looking back from 5 or 10 years out, you might see it. But you might not.

So rather than imposing a false narrative in an attempt to make sense of your career decisions, accept that career growth and development is an organic process. Instead, hone your skills, connect with like-minded (or better yet, not-likeminded!) people to challenge and inform you, and actively pursue areas that you think will advance your career. This is an ever-changing process and to try to divine your future with any kind of accuracy is an exercise in futility.

In my experience, this will result in a more authentic, honest path — rather than one that is overly engineered.

[And very much not in my experience, but based on common sense and many hours of watching American Horror Story, I highly recommend steering clear of insane asylums, haunted houses, witch covens, and carnival freak shows.]

[Photo Credit: Dave Parker on Flickr via Creative Commons 2.0]