Many of the people I coach have worked over 20 years. They’re halfway through their career trajectory (yes, about 40 years or more of working is about right) with enough variety in their jobs and locations to know what they do well. Moreover, they’ve been around long enough to have built a varied and professional network.
Yet, when it comes time to consider their next role in their career path, many are frozen. Stuck.
Instead of first looking backward to reflect–just for a short while–before moving forward, they scramble. Fast. To give actual thought, do some heavy lifting and yes, soul searching to “my career” is often viewed as superfluous. They know what they do, have an expertise, and will ply their trade at one company or another–highest bidder wins.
But shaping a career is something different, analogous to putting money away regularly. It requires a different type of discipline rather than showing up and doing the job. I’ll quickly add that this is not a blog about ‘finding your passion’, not what I write about..
I’m addressing a discipline of understanding more deeply or accurately what you want to build for yourself; the kind of career you envision, putting a plan in place to regularly check progress. Careers are never straight lines. Never were. In the future, it’s guaranteed that line will undulate a whole lot more–all the more reason for some studious forethought.
But that’s commentary, not action. Planning a career roadmap is best done when you can map/draw/write/sing what you aim to do and explain why. That can only be based on how much you truly know about yourself.
So, we’re back to that time of reflection, which doesn’t surface in an hour.
I’ve had many such conversations with executives, transitioning out of a company and full tilt at the next job. As mentioned above, they’re mostly uninterested in hearing anything about ‘reflection’, sounds almost squishy.. ‘Once I get another job, I’ll be fine..’
I understand that sentiment extremely well, and everyone has a different tipping point. Indeed, there are a few who need no counsel, they are in demand, know where they want to work, in what capacity, and get [good] offers quickly. But for the majority, there is utility and reassurance in taking stock of next steps–even for a short while– before jumping in head first.
This past week, a friend of a friend, Sam, contacted me. He’s worked for a large tech MNC for many years, recently re-structured out. Hard at work looking for another job, (which is the right thing to do) he has both an outplacement firm and recruitment agency in Europe shopping his CV to other tech companies. No doubt he’ll get another job soon.
Sam has some time to think about his career. I asked whether he was going to reflect as he starts to look around. He agreed very much with what I said, but has never been between jobs in 25 years, and would feel much better just nailing down the next job asap.
A job is not a career. It’s a job. Yes, with good pay, good status, good brand, looks correct externally, but internally can often be out of whack.
How many more times do we need to hear about the professionals who make a very good salary and intensely dislike their job?
Career management is important both for individuals and corporations. We’re not robots (yet), and part of career management is to test, explore and gain personal insight on managing what you excel at, map it out and invest in it regularly. You’re building your intellectual capital, not taking a ‘job.’
I guarantee that for those in mid-career, fussing about what they should be doing next, there are paths to clarify direction, goal and outcome. Manage it yourself, not outsourcing it to someone else who will decide your career direction. Know where you’re headed because you’re steering your career, not riding in the back of the bus, looking out the window and watching the scenery whizz by..
As the late Hal David wrote, ‘a house is not a home.’ It needs to be lived in and occupied in order to be a home. Otherwise it’s merely a structure, nothing more.
Neal Horwitz is an Asian based career management coach, and the author of The Art of The Smart, How to Steer Your Career.
The book can be purchased on Amazon here
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