American Horror Story and Your Career

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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]