Those who are fully committed to their careers tend not to be a particularly self-reflective group.
Most "career primary" types determine their goals and ambitions fairly early in their lives (becoming "the boss," or some variant thereof being the most common of these). After this direction-setting decision, the deepest they normally go is to examine the practical decisions and tactics necessary to advance toward the goal. As long as positive reinforcement continues (praise, awards, promotions, raises, etc.), indicating the person is still "on track," chances are the quest will continue on without measurable deviation.
What such people should do, however, is take time out on a regular basis to reflect on the goal itself. Is becoming the CEO of a corporation shaping up to be everything you thought it would be? Or are there aspects to the job you never really grasped, ones you don't particularly find appealing? Is the path leading to such a job the right one for you? Can you stomach the things you might have to do to get there? Do you have the right natural combination of talents and personality to be successful? Or do you seem to be trying to insert a square peg into a round hole, ignoring the pain as your "corners" chip and crack?
Such reflection is difficult. It calls into question the meaning you've ascribed to many of your decisions and actions up to now. It forces you to come to grips with who you really are, and not to continue to carry around an unrealistic picture of your "ideal self." It may mean making tough decisions, and changes of direction that other important people in your life have difficulty understanding and accepting.
But most likely, it is coming at some point in time. After all, how many people are running in the race for your coveted job? How many can win it? The odds are stacked against you. At some point in time, you're likely to come face to face with the fact that your dream won't be realized.
And the longer you wait, the more abrupt and life-shaking that realization is likely to be.
I had my wake-up call at age 47 -- fairly early by most standards. It started with a firing, which I managed to shrug off when another similar job came along a few weeks later. But something was eating away at me on the inside. My carefully adjusted autopilot had been disturbed, and was beginning to oscillate out of control. I began to realize something was wrong, I just didn't understand exactly what it was.
I eventually found myself at a seminar one day, listening to a speaker talk about how we reinvigorated ourselves for the later stages of life. How we could reconnect with people, goals and interests that were important to us in earlier times of our lives -- things that had typically been pushed to the side in the relentless quest for "the goal."
It was the right message at the right moment.
With the benefit of years of experience, better self-knowledge, and the recent traumatic firing that left me feeling strangely uncomfortable, I began to see that my career ambition was looking a lot more like a snipe hunt than the noble quest I had always envisioned it to be.
That started a process of reflection that ultimately changed my life.
But it doesn't have to happen that way for you. You don't have to go so far down the road before your period of re-evaluation and reflection. You don't have to leave it until late in the game to make a big adjustment -- you can perform these checks along the way, making smaller, incremental adjustments, and getting to the right spot sooner and less painfully.
Specifically, I recommend you do the following:
- Take advantage of every opportunity for self-evaluation. Tools, tests, advice, etc. The goal should be self-knowledge for it's own sake, rather than to "make you a better manager."
- Listen to frank feedback from others with an open mind. You will begin to see things in yourself that you've been ignoring or minimizing for years -- things that might make your ultimate goal incompatible with who you really are.
- Develop an appreciation of your core relationships, interests, loves, and pleasures. Focus particularly on things once important to you that you've subsequently pushed aside.
- Dedicate some quiet time at least once a year to reflecting on your ultimate goal, and seriously question your chances of getting there, and if you will really be happy when it happens.
While striving consistently and relentlessly to achieve a goal is an admirable business trait, it probably isn't serving you well as an individual. Turn off your autopilot, at least once in a while, and make sure you're still headed toward a goal you eventually want to reach. 11.5
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If you are intriqued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out my other writing.
Non-Fiction: NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS
Novels: LEVERAGE, INCENTIVIZE, and DELIVERABLES -- note, the ebook version of DELIVERABLES is on sale for a limited time at Amazon for $4.99. These are all based on extensions of my basic experiences in the world of corporate management.