In a candid interview with Harvard Business Review, Spacey talks career moves, growth and the beauty of the entertainment business itself. We broke down five of his drive-home points about what it really means to be in control of a career that's just as dynamic as it is successful.
On jumping between job roles:
I didn't want to spend another 10 years pursuing the same dream. I had done what I set out to do, and I wanted to be challenged on a different level.
After 12 years pursuing on-screen acting and succeeding tremendously, Spacey knew it was time to shake things up. Sometimes in our careers we reach thresholds where we know that our options are to either level out and stay comfortable where we are, or go in a completely different direction and in a sense, start anew again. When Spacey moved to London to direct theatre, he did just that.
I was very fortunate to have mentors who were great examples, not because they sat me down and gave me lessons but because of the way they behaved. There's a different kind of leadership in running a theater and staff, a company, productions, fundraising, educational and community projects. I learned as I went along. I read. I asked questions of leaders I admire.
Ask any successful entrepreneur, entertainer or businessperson alike and they'll probably all tell you that they couldn't have gotten to where they are now without a strong mentor. We can't learn everything on our own, especially when it comes to master company goals, job roles, even industry-specific ins and outs. Spacey is spot on here; finding a good mentor is pertinent to success, as is striking a balance between learning by their example while also being interactive. Always be curious.
Kevin Spacey at 22nd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards after winning the award for Outstanding Performance By a Male Actor in a Drama Series, 'House of Cards' (Getty)
There's a creative team, and we make all the decisions. That doesn't mean we don't have arguments or disagreements. We challenge one another all the time. But no ego enters the room. It's all about wanting to make the best show we can. It's not "What's good for me?" It's "What's good for us?"
Spacey explains that the process of developing his hit Netflix series House of Cards is a highly collaborative effort in all of its stages. Here, Spacey sets an example for what healthy collaboration looks like and how it's crucial to creating the best possible result for a company (in his case, the best possible television show). When a group of capable, hardworking people come together to make something great happen, that shared goal has to be the overarching motivation. When you acknowledge yourself as being part of a whole instead of an individual amongst other individuals, that's when that greatness truly starts to happen.
On industry fluidity:
All I know is that I don't want to do what I've done before. I think there's a whole new world opening up in terms of how entertainment is captured and viewed, and I hope to be a part of it.
Don't stay stagnant, regardless of what industry you work in. Though Spacey may be in the ever-changing industry that is the entertainment world, every industry changes. Be aware of where you can jump, how you can grow and how you can adapt to the changes and developments that are taking place around your career, whether it's within your specific job role, company, or even industry-wide. As long as you keep your hunger for growth and development as you go through your career, you'll be equipped to handle and excel in any changes that come throughout the course of your career. Be open.
I look at these young people and see myself. I know what they're going through. I understand their desire and ambition and all the questions they have. No matter what happens in my life, no matter what success I achieve, I don't want to ever be out of touch with that.
Stay humble and remember the person that you were when you first began your career, no matter how successful you may be now. Spacey's ability to put himself in to the shoes of younger actors who are standing where he once stood is the quintessential quality of a strong leader: the ability to innately relate. Being a strong mentor or leader doesn't mean simply delegating tasks or rattling off advice; it takes patience, it requires understanding and empathy. As his mentors did for him, Spacey knows that the best way to lead is by example.
Oh, and on where he'll go next:
Vegas, baby, Vegas.
Us too, Spacey. See you there.
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Minimize the stress of your first week in a new job by taking time to organize your personal life.
"Any projects around the house that have been nagging at the back of your mind? Now's the time to get them done," says Ryan Kahn, the founder of The Hired Group and creator of the best-selling How To Get Hired online course.
Miriam Salpeter, job search coach, owner of Keppie Careers, and author of "Social Networking for Career Success" and "100 Conversations for Career Success," says your break between jobs is the perfect time to schedule doctor appointments and deliveries that require you to be home, and to run any errands that may be difficult to get done once you start your new job.
"Take advantage of not having to be reachable during the day, and stop checking your email or looking at Facebook for an afternoon or two," says Sutton Fell. "This gives you a chance to reset your brain."
Instead of staring at a screen for hours on end — which you'll probably have to do as soon as you start your new job — pick up a book you've been dying to read, or go take an exercise class you've been wanting to try.
"Before starting a new job, take the time to ensure that you are maintaining the relationships you had formed at your previous job," Kahn says.
Make sure you have contact information for the people that you worked with in the past, and plan on checking in with them on a regular basis once you're in your new role.
We know we said earlier you should take a break from technology — but it's okay (and advised!) to take an hour to two during your time off to update your LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook profiles with your new company and job title.
You might not have a chance to do afternoon lunches with people for the first few months of your new job, so your break is a great time to do these, says Sutton Fell.
Nicole Williams, LinkedIn’s career expert and best-selling author, suggests using this break to spend time with family.
"When you start any new job you should expect to work longer hours — at least the first several months," she says. "Utilize this time to make the most of being at home."
Whether you can get away for a night or a week, take a trip somewhere to recharge, see new sights, and take full advantage of your time off, Sutton Fell says.
In today's competitive job market, the more senior the position, the more you will be scrutinized in those first few months, Kahn says.
"You'll be expected to hit the ground running versus spending time learning the ropes. Get a head start by researching the industry and the company, and learning as much as you can about the position and the team you will be working with," he suggests.
Give some thought to what you want to do differently from the start in this new job, Williams Yost says.
"Are you going to try to wake up earlier and get to the gym a couple of days a week? Are you going to try to schedule a networking lunch outside of the office once a month?" Use this time to establish a plan.
During this rare lull between jobs, think about where you are headed. Where do you want to be in five years? In 10 years? How will this job help you get there? Coming in knowing where you're going will help you stay on the right path from day one, Kahn says.
If your work schedule is shifting at all, it's important to organize things like childcare, household responsibilities, and your personal routine, Sutton Fell says.
Salpeter says if you altered your sleep schedule at all during your time off, you should try to get into a "work-oriented sleep routine" a few days before starting your new job.
Don't forget to spend some time on yourself. Take time to relax, get plenty of rest, and indulge in some pampering.
"Congratulate yourself on a job well done," Williams Yost says. "Treat yourself to a massage, new power outfit, or a nice dinner. You landed a job in a dim market; you should take the time to be proud of yourself."
Worried that it may be difficult to get back into the swing of things if you’re too relaxed during your time off? "Work is like riding a bike; once you start that first day, you'll click right back in," Williams Yost explains. "So don't worry about being too relaxed during your break. Drink it all in. Enjoy every minute of it. Then dive into your new gig with a new outfit, fresh outlook, and happy heart."