Six Rules for Achieving A Solid, Lasting Career Contributed By Arlene Hirsch Ms. Hirsch is a career counselor in Chicago. This article has been adapted from an excerpt from her book, "How to Be Happy at Work" (Jist Publishing, 2003). Times change. People change. Technology progresses and challenges everyone to adapt to new ways of living and working. The Gold Rush mentality that ushered in the dot-com economy left many people expecting to be millionaires at 25, able to retire to a life of fun and play. So, why didn't Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft Corp., retire years ago? The truth is that Mr. Gates likes the game. He likes to challenge himself and his people to change the world. This "Pope of PC" once said he believes "success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose." These six rules may be better guides: Rule 1: Motivation is the key to success. The key to understanding personal motivation is in knowing what energizes you -- what kinds of activities, people, places, and situations are personally stimulating and fulfilling? For John, a systems analyst, teamwork and a spirit of innovation are the keys to sustaining motivation. John changes careers every three or four years when he feels he knows more than his boss and his colleagues or that his environment is resistant to change. After each job change, he finds himself re-energized by a new set of challenges and teammates. Sally is motivated by the need to make a contribution. She needs to feel like her work matters and makes a difference. This need convinced Sally to switch from banking to fundraising. Both professions involve a bottom-line mentality, but Sally now enjoys using her ingenuity and people skills to raise funds for worthy causes. Rule 2: Success takes hard work. Any meteoric rise takes preparation and hard work. Thomas Edison once remarked that "a genius is a talented person who does his homework." Bill Gates was a computer geek before he was catapulted into the limelight. Michael Jordan was a hardworking and determined high-school and college athlete before he became one of the greatest athletes of all time. These men are rich, but they devoted themselves to their work, have been willing to work hard, and haven't been daunted by failure. They know that success depends on learning from mistakes and overcoming challenges. It's not enough to be ambitious. The world is filled with ambition. And the path to success is littered with discarded dreams and disillusioned people who never achieved the recognition or success they felt they deserved. It would be great to skip having to make investments of time, energy, and money in skill- and credential-building and go straight to the rewards. But as Jack Kerouac once said, "Walking on water wasn't built in a day." There's a learning curve -- the so-called "journey." The lessons and skills you learn on the path to accomplishment can be as rewarding as the goal itself. Indeed, it's wiser to think in terms of "everyday successes" or little wins, rather than focus on the giant jackpot. Little wins add up to big wins and are more easily achievable. They include the satisfaction of resolving a customer dispute, gaining a new skill, writing a report, getting a good performance appraisal, improving on an existing ability, and learning to handle constructive criticism. These little victories are the building blocks of a good reputation, the name you acquire for yourself through your work. Rule 3: Follow your dream. Missions are the values or dreams that drive super achievers to pursue excellence. Clinical psychologist Charles Garfield researched super achievers in business to learn what made them different. In his book "Peak Performers" (Avon, 1991), he reveals that these executives achieve consistently impressive and satisfying results without burning out because "they went and pursued their dreams." In every peak performer, Dr. Garfield found a desire to excel at something the person truly cared about. A number of mission-driven career changers emerged after the collapse of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. In the face of so much individual heroism and tragedy, many ambitious and talented men and women suddenly felt compelled toward more meaningful work. Some switched from for-profit employers to nonprofit organizations in an effort to create more meaningful, service-oriented work lives; others applied to the Peace Corps or similar groups. Sam, a 29-year-old real-estate broker, ditched his real-estate career to go back to school to become a social worker; Katie, a college junior, took a year off from her studies to do volunteer work; and Simon, a 25-year-old teacher, decided to become a police officer. Rule 4: Honor your talents. When Harvard University psychologist Howard Gardner conducted his landmark research on "multiple intelligences," he opened the door to a fuller understanding of human potential. In contrast to society's traditional emphasis on verbal and analytical abilities as the pinnacle of intelligence, Dr. Gardner put forth a more expanded vision that includes linguistic, musical, spatial, kinesthetic, emotional, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligences. The more we are able to develop our many intelligences, the more capable and evolved we will become. Understanding yourself as a multifaceted individual with many talents and possibilities also enables you to expand your vision of your own career potential. Jeremy, for instance, is a dedicated musician who writes songs, plays with a band and would like to make music a full-time career. By day, he works as a customer-service representative. Realizing that he needs to develop another talent to land a more satisfying day job, he decided to educate himself to become a software engineer because he's good with his hands and enjoys computers. By developing several of his different "intelligences," Jeremy has been able to build a life that includes a successful day job and his passion for music. Many ambitious people don't invest fully in their own talents. When you commit yourself to developing your full potential, you'll enjoy the career-building process more because you won't be focusing exclusively on external rewards. The process of growing and developing all your abilities can be inherently satisfying and allow you to create a unique and meaningful career path. Rule 5: Manage yourself. There's no direct correlation between success and mental health. You can be an S.O.B. and still be successful. You can win the rat race and still be a rat. But if you manage your self well, you can win the rat race without turning into a rat. This involves developing a good working relationship with your thoughts, feelings and actions. Selene, 50, has worked hard to achieve success in the male-dominated engineering world. She values her ability to lead and mentor her team members so that they develop their talents. What's harder for her is asserting herself and her authority. When a younger colleague began stealing her work, Selene's first impulse was to wring the woman's neck. Her second impulse was to cry. Her third was to feel shame. What Selene needed was permission to fight back. After a career counselor helped her to feel comfortable with asserting herself, she wrote a memo to the woman's manager detailing the thefts and why they were inappropriate and wrong. She then met with the manager and elicited his promise to monitor the woman's actions. By defending her rights and territory, Selene could return to work feeling comfortable and confident she could succeed in the face of threats. Your feelings can be your ally or your enemy. Use them to create and accomplish meaningful goals, rather than engage in self-sabotage. Between feeling and productive action lies rational thought. Before acting spontaneously on negative feelings, calm down and then develop and implement an effective action plan. Rule 6: Take calculated risks. Most of us were raised with rules and knowing the consequences of disobeying them. Look both ways before you cross the street (you could get hit by a car). Don't talk to strangers (you might get kidnapped or worse). Don't eat unwrapped candy at Halloween (you might get poisoned). Sound advice from concerned and responsible parents who want to protect their kids from danger. But if those rules have taught you that it's dangerous to take risks, you are limiting your rewards. When building a career in the competitive work world, you must be willing to take risks to reap the rewards you seek. This requires knowing how to differentiate real danger from fantasy. Not every stranger is dangerous, nor is every job or career change a high-wire act. A key to successful risk-taking is knowing your risk tolerance. To do that, you must be able to evaluate the potential consequences of your decisions and live with the worst-case scenario. What many otherwise ambitious careerists fail to realize is that not taking a risk is also a risk. There's a risk involved in not trying and along with the risk of failing, there's the risk of regret. Archimedes believed that only two things were needed to move the world: a lever and a place to stand. Your lever is yourself: the sum total of your personality, talents, interests, and values. Vocationally speaking, your place to stand is wherever you decide to plant your feet in the world of work -- whether in the courtroom, laboratory, classroom, on stage, or in front of a computer. It's where you feel comfortable enough to practice your craft, exercise your skill or demonstrate your leadership. [ January 16, 2004: Message edited by: Ashik uzzaman ]
Ashik Uzzaman Senior Software Engineer, TubeMogul, Emeryville, CA, USA.
Hi, It is nothing more than common sense. The ironic about those so-called career counselors are nothing more than curtailed wisdom. It is in the same level of money-making teachers. If one knows how to make money so sucessfully, why's on earth he/she tells you. Be selective! read books from successful people not those making money from selling books. For case in point, have anyone of you noticing when we have something interesting discussed on this forum, someone will post an article whether on Monster.com or any career strategy related sites? But their words are more convincing because of so-many liberal degrees attached to their names. Regards, MCao [ January 17, 2004: Message edited by: Matt Cao ]
The secret of those things is that they are easy to understand, but not easy to really put into practise. I sometimes (not very often) read such stuff. Switches my brain in thinking-about-myself-mode. Its more difficult to understand how to use those MDBs in Websphere (for example), but sometimes its good to reflect about what you are doing, I believe. regards Axel [ January 17, 2004: Message edited by: Axel Janssen ]
The problem is that there is no such thing as "a solid, lasting career". If there were such a thing that existed, I am sure that your rules would apply. Kevin [ January 17, 2004: Message edited by: Kevin Thompson ]