“It’s Your Career”
My first few posts have been a bit philosophical with topics like “dreams” and exploring what we want and why. This post is intended to start laying out some more practical suggestions for career management. I will gradually lay out a basic framework for thinking through the way you work, relate to people and the choices you make.
The first step towards effective career management is to be proactive and accept ownership of your own responsibility. I feel the most important idea is that this is your career, it’s up to you. No one else will “make it happen” for you if you don’t. Everyone has a different style and may operationalize this differently, but ultimately it’s up to you.
Don’t be a victim
I can envision lots of examples where someone might say, “so and so got promoted because they sucked up to the boss” or “I posted great numbers and didn’t get credit”. I tend to tell people “don’t be a victim” in these types of situations. It is naïve to believe that things take care of themselves. Nothing does (at least not consistently). The people who got underserved credit understood the system and managed others’ perception of them within that system. The person who didn’t get credit didn’t do the same. This isn’t to say that things should work this way. But they often do. You need to understand the environment you are operating in, whatever it may be.
If you need to be the boss and aren’t tracking towards it…
It’s OK to accept that you don’t want to do what it takes to be successful in a given organization. There are a limited number of outcomes in this situation. Settle for being marginalized, leave and go to a place where what you offer is more valued, change your behavior to model what is rewarded or stay and try to change the culture to meet your needs. Those are the choices. Understand them, be clear eyed about it and commit to a path. Any of them is reasonable and can possibly lead to success if you are committed. But understand the implications of each. Staying and accepting marginalization is difficult emotionally, but may be worthwhile financially and from a lifestyle standpoint (eg; flexible hours, great benefits etc.). Leaving may be emotionally rewarding but cost you perks and long term incentives at your old employer. Staying but behaving differently or trying to change the culture may be difficult emotionally, but rewarding in other ways.
But everyone doesn’t want to or need to be the boss…
This goes back to goal definition. If “success” for you means upward mobility in an organization, then maximizing your performance reviews and understanding all the politics are important. But if you genuinely don’t care than you have the luxury of not needing to worry about it…to a point.
My mom has always been a great example of this to me. She was an editor for decades before she recently retired. While working at the local newspaper for years she was always the assistant editor, the perennial #2. In that job, she was left to actually edit. Her series of bosses all had to run the paper and didn’t do nearly as much editing. Some might view her as the perennial bridesmaid, but my Mom was happier editing than managing others. (Note: she was offered the editor job every time an editor resigned and always declined). Fast forward to the last ~15 years of her career. She worked as a well paid writer/editor for a large investment fund. She compiled their quarterly and annual reports to investors as well as other communications. She was a valued employee, earned good money, had great benefits, enjoyed her work and generally worked a 45 hour week. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Point being that for many, other considerations dominate steady promotion and greater managerial and financial responsibility.
Take-away: Take ownership of your career in the context of success criteria YOU define.