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Creative Career Path

The Realms of Experience2010.05.12

    The standing joke in the job search is that you can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience without a job.


    Experience is only valuable to an employer if it is relevant and transferable, or if it resulted in making you a better person. Just what is job experience, and is it really worth as much as you might think?


    There is entry level experience, and is basically about adjustment to new circumstances and procedures. For many jobs there is a learning curve, a period in which you learn the ropes, the basic vocabulary, and personality dynamics at work. It isn’t much fun at first, but gradually becomes routine or automatic.


    There is professional experience, which may involve training and licensing, but also requires a period of time learning how to apply knowledge to solving real problems in various circumstances. It used to be that a professional degree could set up your career for life. Now in many fields you never really graduate, and you may have to narrowly specialize to survive.

    There is hard won experience, resulting from mistakes and failures, which may leave you wiser, but often leaves people scarred and cynical. As the Chinese proverb says, experience is a comb which nature gives to men when they are bald. If they survive it, this kind of experience leaves people burned out and hardened.


    There is vicarious experience, where you learn from the experience of others. These can be mentors, coaches, or even people from other times and places. This experience depends on curiosity, humility, and imagination, and can save you from many of the slings and arrows of experience.


    There is expert experience, which carries more authority and commands greater pay, because it prevents problems, saves money, or provides solutions. This is hard to come by, and worth the investment.


    There is also engagement experience, which is what people want most of all, because it is internally driven and self-sustaining. When people are fully engaged, they perform better, learn faster, and have more fun. At the very least it makes life interesting. At the higher levels it can lead to mastery and a sense of mission. In The Experience Economy, authors B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore explore the experience realms, four types of engagement in which a person can be mentally absorbed or physically immersed (vertical axis), with either active or passive participation (horizontal axis). These two axes intersect to create 4 quadrants of experience: Educational, Escapist, Esthetic, and Entertainment.


    Educational experience is active participation with mental absorption. Escapist experience is active participation with physical immersion. Esthetic experience is passive participation with physical immersion. Entertainment experience is passive participation with mental absorption. These are nicely rendered in slide form by Mick Stravellin at


    These may seem like fine distinctions, but it is the distinctions of experience that determine its value. Aldous Huxley (1894~1963) said that, experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him. This is why two people can have the same experience and emerge completely differently from it. This is also why job experience cannot be easily measured on paper.


    In his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell gives numerous examples of what he calls the 10,000-Hour Rule, for which he claims that the key to success in any field is largely a matter of extensive deliberate practice. It certainly makes sense in fields like music or the martial arts, but turns out to be true in just about anything we call talent. Even those gifted with a natural genius often turn out to have been at it in one form or another since they were small children.


    Clearly though, it is not just a matter of clocking in 10,000 hours, or we would all be geniuses in our field after just 5 years of work experience. It isn’t about hard work, which is another word for hard won experience. It is the quality of experience and engagement that makes the magic happen. When you begin to appreciate the fine distinctions of experience, you will be well on the way to engaging in a creative career path.


    William Reed






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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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