Where’s your career headed?

I had a chance to give a presentation to a bunch of great people in a company in the UK this week, about career development. Like all the rest of us, they’re struggling with the apparent conflict between needing and desiring direction from their employer, versus the desire to have a career which is rewarding and fulfilling.

Not that there’s really a conflict there, but it’s a set of needs which often leave people scratching their heads over what to do next.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t really learn about career planning until about ten years ago.  Before that point,

  • I went into software engineering because it was fun
  • I took my first job because I liked the job and the environment
  • I took a promotion to being a manager because I was flattered by the offer and thought it might be neat
  • I took all kinds of various projects and job positions because I didn’t know I had the option not to

Like many people, I didn’t really plan my career, it just kind of happened.

That all changed back in 1997, when I knew that I had a big job change coming up (moving back to the US) and realized that it wasn’t working for me any more.  I could have probably moved into a job as a lab manager, but I didn’t want the burnout and headaches that went with it.  So I launched out on a voyage of discovery, and haven’t been the same since.

My message to the group this week was really quite simple:  Make the decision to start taking control over the direction of your career.  Honestly, the rest of the presentation was just ideas and how-tos, but that’s all stuff you can figure out once you make the core decision.  The problem is that most of us are still in the state where we aren’t really satisfied with how it’s going, but not dissatisfied enough to put some work into fixing it.  Or you get inspired for awhile, but then get busy and distracted by other things.

I’ll tell you a secret:  Our most popular excuse, “I don’t have the time,” is really just code for “I haven’t decided that it’s worth the time.”  After all, we all have the same quantity of time to play with, and we’re constantly making decisions about how to use that time.  So when somebody tells me they “don’t have the time” to spend an hour on deep thinking, it’s really that they’ve prioritized it lower than the other things they are spending time on.  Fair enough – not everything can be at the top of the list – but let’s at least be honest about it.

So my role this week was to be an irritant, to create a level of discomfort with the current situation, in an attempt to help people justify spending some time on this important area.  Once they’ve made that switch, they’ll figure out what to do.  It’s not that hard.

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