Career Advice Can Appear in the Strangest Forms

Career development centers are hot spots on college campuses. Prospective students and their parents inspect them, faculty seek their perspective on student success and failure in the world of work, employers liaise with them to find talent, and alumni offices partner with them to keep graduates engaged. In a world that demands outcomes, higher education career centers are at ground zero. Career development is serious business, too, a far cry from the placement offices that dotted academia decades ago. Psychometric testing assists with assessing student aptitude and preference. Professionals groom students for interviews, clarify resumes and sharpen elevator speeches. Further, an exhaustive array of services, curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular provide on-going support to help our college students find work after their formal education.

Finding gainful employment is important. It is also complicated, impossible to standardize, and like many other things in higher education today, increasingly studied and practiced with solemnity and earnestness. I fully appreciate the gravity of a young person’s search for a career, but at the same time, I yearn for simple messages and straightforward advice. Happily, I recently read an autobiography that contains outstanding career and lifestyle guidance – and I am very much looking forward to recommending Keith Richards’ Life to a student seeking help in charting their future. Yes, that Keith Richards.

Life is an extremely enjoyable and engaging first person account of Keith’s childhood, his friends, his loves and his losses. It chronicles decades of epoch debauchery, ridiculous escapades, and bull-headed and self-destructive behavior that hurt and cost lives.  The partnership with Mick Jagger, his drug addictions, the many tours and the creative process are recounted in surprising detail – and it surprises because through much of his adult life, Richards was under the influence. Whether or not one is a Rolling Stones fan, the success and influence of the band is undeniable. Richards’ book offers extraordinary insight into how and why it worked: talented people deeply committed to their craft.

Richards’ passion is music. He loves his family and friends, to be sure, but making music is what gets him out of bed and keeps him awake for days on end. One of the really fascinating things about Richards’ book is how focused he has been, throughout all the drama, sex and drugs, on his music. He was relatively uninterested in money and the lifestyle.  They make for a great memoir, but are really peripheral to what he views as important. Keith Richards’ great success was in finding what he loved early in life and having the talent and opportunity to pursue it.  That is superb career advice.

Richards does not offer these observation as advice. Instead, they tumble out from the prose. He makes no claims to mentor and in more ways that one can recount, he is much more fortunate than smart. Richards made many appalling choices. One of his most redeeming qualities, though, is to acknowledge this – and to be grateful for what he has and what he has done. Happy people are almost always grateful people.

Amid the scandalous gossip, the book also contains some very interesting suggestions about different ways of tuning guitars.  All in all, a very good read.

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