How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World

By Michael Melcher
Partner, Next Step Partners

Self-Reinvention Expert and Bestselling Author Dorie Clark joins Michael Melcher on his Career Stewardship podcast

Dorie Clark taught a course on strategic thinking and was stunned to see it take off as the second most popular course of LinkedIn learning with more than 1.1 million views. 

The hunger around this topic led Dorie to write her fourth book The Long Game (coming out in Sept. 2021), which explores how to reorient ourselves to see the big picture so we can tap into the power of small changes that, made today, will have an enormous and disproportionate impact on our future success.  

In Episode 32 of my Career Stewardship podcast, Dorie Clark shares why and how to be a long-term thinker in a short-term world. Following are a few key excerpts from our conversation (that have been edited for clarity and brevity). Listen to the full interview here: Dorie Clark discusses the Long Game.  

Career paths are less clear but there are more opportunities

Thirty-plus years ago professionals had a clear career progression. Many imagined careers as an escalator where hard work led to ongoing recognitions and promotions. But if you expect to be tapped on the shoulder to move up in your career, you’ll be sorely disappointed. You need to be proactive and strategic about finding your own opportunities. A lot has changed.

Dorie Clark: A lot of middle management roles kind of got flattened, condensed and broomed out. So there are fewer roles to get promoted into. There were also massive waves of layoffs and outsourcing; things got leaner. And so people were not moving in lock step anymore. Opportunities were still there, but you had to kind of hunt for them. You couldn’t just get on the escalator and let it ride. 

If you are an ambitious person — the kind of person who is good at and optimized for looking around corners, looking for opportunities, hunting things down — you had a world of opportunity. Because all of the sudden, things were muddy, unclear, there’s a little bit of chaos. A smart person can really make hay with that and advance really quickly because they are no longer bounded.

But a person who is used to or been trained to sit back and wait for things to happen to them — that person is screwed. Things are not going to happen. 

Michael Melcher: I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s and even at the time it was very clear to me that the old model of “pick a company or a career and do that for 30 years and then retire” — I knew that was gone.

The problem is that we don’t have a new paradigm. We’re not really taught exactly how careers work. That was why I wrote my book The Creative Lawyer and I started working with career stewardship ideas. There are real frameworks and tools you can use and certain people know them. But they aren’t taught widely. You don’t learn them in school. 

If you are accustomed to following instructions and then getting a gold star or an A — that’s the opposite of what happens in the career world now. You need to figure out that no one is going to give you the gold star or an A and even if they did, it may not lead you to what you want.

The other thing that you point out — that I think is very true — is that it’s not simply that opportunities have gone away with automation or outsourcing. There are also additional opportunities that did not exist for prior generations, although that multitude of opportunities can be a stressor.

It was Kant who said that the existence of choice is itself a restriction of choice. If everything is possible is anything really possible? There needs to be some method of making sense of it, deciding your intentions, prioritizing where to put your energy and then moving forward.

The paradox of strategic thinking

Dorie Clark: There was a study done of 10,000 execs and 97% said that strategic thinking was crucial to their work. It was one of the most important qualifications and things you could do as a leader. 97%. There’s almost never such unanimity about anything. So we know it’s important. 

And yet in a different study, 96% — literally almost the exact same percentage — of leaders. “Oh gosh, I don’t have enough time for strategic thinking.” The thing that everyone agreed was so important

And so I was fascinated by that pair of statistics. Why is it that we don’t have or we aren’t making time for the thing that everyone agrees is mission critical? So what I really came to understand is that there are a lot of different barriers. Of course, duh, we’re all busy. That is true. But there’s more than that. Part of it is a desire to throw ourselves into work because it means that we don’t have to ask painful questions or to admit that we just don’t know what we should be doing.

Part of it, psychological studies have shown, is a desire to make ourselves feel valuable through being busy or wanted. There’s a lot we have to peel away.

One powerful question to ask yourself

Dorie Clark: When you ask the question, what is one thing that we can do to be more effective, I like to ask the question: what is one thing I could be doing now that will make my life easier several years from now? 

I like asking that question because strategic thinking is inherently about long term outcomes. Oftentimes we can’t change our reality on a dime. We can’t change it that fast. But there’s a lot we can do if we slowly start making changes to head toward a direction that we want. 

But we’re never going to do it if we don’t lift our heads up enough to look around and actually ask what would it look like if things were easier for me, or if I was making more money, or if I had more white space, or if I was enjoying my career more in three or fives years. 

If we do ask that question and we can look to the horizon, there are oftentimes small but powerful things we can be doing right now to get us to that outcome.

Michael Melcher: It’s a beautiful question. I love the way you said “just to make your life easier or better” rather than aiming to accomplish huge, massively important things. But by asking it this way you may in fact accomplish something really big. It creates this freedom to think and freedom to come up with these smaller steps that are actually doable in the course of our lives rather than waiting for some time when we have oodles of space and lots of energy and lots of support to do it. That probably won’t happen and it’s not even necessary.

Listen to the whole episode

Over the course of our 30-minute conversation, Dorie and I discuss how to play the long game to transform your career – and it’s an episode full of science-backed wisdom. 

About the Career Stewardship with Michael Melcher podcast

This 5-star podcast from career expert, Michael Melcher, will help you figure out what to do to advance your career.

Each episode offers best practices, stories from the field, and bite-sized tips to help build your career success in both the short and long term. 

As one of the partners at Next Step Partners, Michael is a seasoned expert on developing leaders, building inclusive work environments, and helping senior professionals make career transitions. A former lawyer, foreign service officer and startup CEO, he has navigated several career transitions himself.

Subscribe to Career Stewardship with Michael Melcher on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcast or your favorite platform. You can find additional resources on the show website:

About Dorie Clark

Dorie Clark has been named one of the Top 50 business thinkers in the world by Thinkers50, and was recognized as the #1 Communication Coach in the world by the Marshall Goldsmith Leading Global Coaches Awards. She teaches executive education at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Columbia Business School, and is the author of Entrepreneurial You, Reinventing You and Stand Out, which was named the #1 Leadership Book of 2015 by Inc. Magazine

A former presidential campaign spokeswoman, Clark has been described by the New York Times as an “expert at self-reinvention and helping others make changes in their lives.” A frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, she consults and speaks for clients including Google, Microsoft, and the World Bank. Learn more about Dorie at



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