As said by Swami Vivekananda, the goal of mankind is knowledge. That is the one ideal placed before us by Eastern philosophy. Pleasure is not the goal of man, but knowledge. If you take the character of any man, it really is but the aggregate of tendencies, the sum total of the bent of his mind. In studying the great characters the world has produced, I dare say, in the vast majority of cases, it would be found that it was misery that taught more than happiness, it was poverty that taught more than wealth, it was blows that brought out their inner fire more than praise.
Ambitious professionals often spend a substantial amount of time thinking about strategies that will help them achieve greater levels of success. They strive for a more impressive job title, higher compensation, and responsibility for more sizable revenues, profits, and numbers of employees. Their definitions of success are often heavily influenced by family, friends, and colleagues. Yet many ultimately find that, despite their efforts and accomplishments, they lack a true sense of professional satisfaction and fulfillment.
Consider a very successful research analyst at a large securities firm who came to see me because he was discouraged with his career progress. This was particularly ironic because he was well known, highly regarded (ranked number one in his industry sector), and well compensated. He shared that, after 10 years, he was tired of his job, disliked his boss, and felt he had no potential for further upward mobility. Most of all, he had always wanted to be an investment manager, but he had started out as an analyst and never really reassessed his career path. He felt trapped. He feared losing his stature and didn’t want to let anyone down, but at the same time he didn’t want to keep doing what he was doing.
He wondered if he’d been so busy trying to reach specific milestones and impress other people that he’d lost sight of what he really enjoyed doing. The truth was that he loved analyzing stocks and assessing management teams, but he also wanted to have the responsibility for making the actual investment decisions and then be held accountable for the results. I encouraged him to take action and speak to a number of investment firms (including his current employer) about a career change. After doing this, he ultimately was offered and accepted a portfolio manager position in the asset management division of his current firm. He learned that his firm’s leaders wanted to retain him regardless of job description and that they were quite surprised to find out he wanted to be on the investment side of the business. He has since become a superb investment manager, and although he wishes he’d stepped back and reexamined his career years earlier, he’s thrilled that he made the switch while there was “still time.”
Taking responsibility for your career starts with an accurate assessment of your current skills and performance. Can you write down your two or three greatest strengths and your two or three most significant weaknesses? While most people can detail their strengths, they often struggle to identify key weaknesses. This exercise involves meaningful reflection and, almost always, requires soliciting the views of people who will tell you the brutal truth. Unfortunately, you often can’t count on your boss to accurately assess your strengths or to be willing to confront you with what
you’re doing wrong. It’s up to you to take control of this process by seeking coaching, asking for
very specific feedback, and being receptive to input from a wide variety of people at various levels within your organization. This gathering of feedback needs to be an ongoing process because, as your career progresses, you will face new challenges and demands
Excelling at Critical Tasks
It’s very difficult to succeed if you don’t excel at the tasks that are central to your chosen enterprise.
That sounds painfully simple, but many executives fail to identify the three or four most important activities that lead to success in their job or business. If you’re a medical researcher, the three keys are likely to be conducting cutting-edge research, getting published, and fund-raising. If you manage a large sales force, the crucial tasks might be attracting, retaining, and developing outstanding salespeople; customer segmentation; and client relationship management. If you’re assessing a potential job move, you need to know what will drive success in the new position and, then, ask yourself whether you enjoy those key tasks. In your current job, identifying critical tasks helps you determine how to spend your time and develop your skills.
Demonstrating Character and Leadership
While seemingly amorphous, character and leadership often make the difference between good performance and great performance. One measure of character is the degree to which you put the interests of your company and colleagues ahead of your own. Excellent leaders are willing to do things for others without regard to what’s in it for them. They coach and mentor. They have the mindset of an owner and figure out what they would do if they were the ultimate decision maker. They’re willing to make a recommendation that would benefit the organization’s overall
performance, possibly to the detriment of their own unit. They have the courage to trust that they will eventually be rewarded, even if their actions may not be in their own short term interest.
Every rewarding career will bring ups and downs, bad days, bad weeks, and bad months. Everyone will face setbacks and discouraging situations. Some people abandon their plans when they hit one of these bumps. They lose their way and ultimately undermine their own performance—and the wound is all the more painful because it is self-inflicted. The advice in this article is intended to help you avoid such self-inflicted wounds. There’s nothing anyone can do to prevent you from reaching your potential; the challenge is for you to identify your dream, develop the skills to get
there, and exhibit character and leadership. Then, you need to have the courage to periodically
reassess, make adjustments, and pursue a course that reflects who you truly are