Monday 30 December 2013

What is your career related New Year resolution? My advice is to keep it real in 2014!

At this point in the year people at work are talking about making resolutions that are either personal or career oriented. I have a pretty bad track record with New Year resolutions as they always run out of steam a few weeks into the New Year. 

As I thought about this I felt that this was because I (like most of us) tend to overload future planning with the carcass of failed expectations from the past and because most of us are good at outlining the “what” of the resolution but leave the “how” to chance or divine guidance.

If I look at the objectives or resolutions that people typically outline around careers at this time of year they are predictably about getting a raise or a promotion or for them to look for another job or role. There is a great list from Jacquelyn Smith (writing for Forbes) that you should have a look at!

I am constantly amazed by the high proportion of individuals who fail at resolutions in their personal life but attribute that failure to themselves; however, change the context to resolutions related to careers and I notice that for each failure the “resolutioner” invariably apportions blame to someone else (boss, company, peers etc.) or something else (economy, performance of company etc.). Yes, there will be a few that can truly attribute their career related resolution failure to a circumstance beyond their control but conversely there is a vast majority that needs to be honest when assessing or attributing failure.

As we approach 2014 and if you have adopted career related resolutions then my advice would be to step back and spend some time on the “how” you will go about achieving your career related resolution and also determine the criteria against which you will judge achievement or not.

It is critical to define achievement against a resolution. More importantly when you focus on the "how" you will start realising that sometimes an over-arching resolution may actually need a series of interim resolutions. This advice also highlights the unnecessary nature of pegging your resolutions to either the start of the year coupled with the artificial boundary of a year! We do severe injustice to ourselves by adopting a resolution at the start of the year as career related resolutions are not akin to how we celebrate Valentine’s day (i.e. once a year!). My wife views Valentine’s day as follows - “What is the point of celebrating your love for one day when the remaining 364 days are spent in disrespecting or not paying attention to the one you love?” The first prize would be to link your career related resolutions and link them up in a “build-on-the-last resolution” basis rather than as a knee-jerk reaction to the emotional need to do better than the past year or gain “closure” to the past year.

For me a great career resolution would be developed keeping the following in mind:

  • Get some purpose to why you are deriving the resolution. Purpose is critical. It is something that makes you wake up at night and makes you clench your fist in anguish or triumph! Having a clear purpose will help guide you through the darkest of times. Do you want a career for money? Do you want a career to create a reputation? Some want a career that appeals to an inner voice or calling. What is that inner voice for you? No need for a glamorous answer or a definitive answer as one’s purpose in life can be fluid. I am sure Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa were not sure of their purpose and perhaps only figured it out after they had achieved it?
  • Understand that the outcome of a resolution may not be static or binary. It can be a series of dynamic achievements or indicators showing positive directional progression (For e.g. losing a small amount per week rather than a large number over an abstract timeline!) Commit to a learning schedule and sign a personal contract with yourself. An interesting way to assess progress is to check your resume or CV every six months. If you don’t see progress though achievement or skills acquired then you are stagnating as your CV is stagnating. 
  • Making resolutions is easy. Achieving them requires time and resources, which needs sacrifice. It means swallowing your pride, less time with your friends, less time at the movies, less time for holidays [But within meaning as I don’t want you to blame me on your deathbed and you realise that my advice made you miss out on the good things in life!]. Assess the sacrifice required carefully!
  • Be realistic in your resolutions by knowing yourself very well. Don’t be frustrated by any limitations arising from your DNA as it is difficult to change it, however, you can use your personal strengths to overcome what god did not give you (this is important as it comes from a bald, average looking guy with a weight problem!)
  • Validate your resolutions with mentors and other like-minded people. Leverage your network of relationships in and outside of your organisation to assess the realism of your resolution and to seek guidance on how to achieve it. Find sounding boards. If you are not leveraging this aspect then it is likely that your resolution will remain on paper
  • Does your resolution position you uniquely and makes you distinguishable in how you go about building your career. This is critical as the manner in which you develop skills and take steps towards your resolution then that sets you apart. It may take time but eventually the inner light will shine through and position you for that next move forward. Have passion in how you go about working on your resolution. Always remember that passion trumps expertise. People want to be around people that exude passion. Passion exudes commitment. Passion excites. Passion ignites. My advice “run to the fire”! and remain slightly paranoid about your career!
Hope this helps. Have a great 2014!

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