The Quest For Career Success

Things have changed. On retirement, you buy your own Rolex. We can no longer relax in the comfort zone of guaranteed lifetime employment with the same organisation. The unspoken contract that promised job security in exchange for loyalty has changed dramatically. Retrenchments and downsizing are the order of the day. Managers at a well-known company, one of my key clients, joke that they are restructuring every Monday morning. From what I have seen, they are not far off the mark. These types of organisational interventions leave employees feeling anxious and insecure. Very often the resulting behaviours are a pledge of loyalty to one’s own career at the expense of the organisation.

Needless to say, one should take utmost care to mold a win-win situation between one’s personal aspirations and the goals of the organisation. One needs to realise that as long as your salary is being paid by an organisation, it is only fair to expect that you deliver results. On the flipside of the coin, organisations need to be mature enough to accept that if an employee eventually moves on, there is no sense in treating them as toxic waste. Employees who depart in an atmosphere of goodwill can undoubtedly be the organisation’s ambassadors of the future. Unfortunately, in many cases, exactly the opposite happens in practice.

There is nothing magical about career success. Top achievers apply themselves to a few simple daily disciplines and execute them relentlessly. They choose old fashioned hard work rather than wasting their time on ludicrous philosophies. They understand that future career success requires solid preparation. They prepare themselves diligently for that unexpected moment when preparation will meet up with opportunity.

Realistically major career challenges will also enter the equation, usually at times when you can seemingly afford it the least. This is definitely not the end of the world, provided that one charts a course for your career. A loss of momentum in your career presents a huge opportunity for self-reflection and heightened self-awareness. We need to learn how to sense when it is time to close a chapter and start writing the next one. Every one of us has a functional or positional expiry date. Mature individuals recognise these expiry dates. When they get to that corporate crossroad, they do not shy away from discerning what to win, what to drop or what to swap. This is usually the point, where a person can stay and hold the organisation hostage to one’s ego, or move on to give newly developed leaders the opportunity to change things for the better and lead the organisation to new heights.

In my consulting with companies in the corporate world, I come across yuppies all the time. Many of them are complaining about the anxiety symptoms of a mid-life crisis … at the age of 25! One might dismiss this notion as ridiculous or recognise it as part of the stress, struggle and strain of the modern workplace. It would be impractical to rigidly pin down the “ideal” definition of career success. Obviously this differs from individual to individual. After multitudes of executive coaching and leadership development sessions with executives, managers and employees across industries, I have come to a distressing deduction. Our definition and pursuit of career success has become tragically selfish. It is usually defined only around our own needs with little consideration of the impact of our behaviour on others. The latest luxury car or a postal address in the “right” neighbourhood has become indicative of our severe lack of understanding of true career success. How sad and shortsighted! What about adding value to those around me? How about believing in the colleague down the corridor? How about becoming a little more “others centered”?

There is absolutely nothing wrong to dream, plan and implement our personal career goals. There is nothing wrong with being financially wealthy. The challenge, of course, is at what cost am I pursuing these goals? What is my level of attachment to all my possessions? Have I fallen into the trap of defining who I am by obsessing over my personal income statement? What is the impact of my quest for career success on my spouse and children?

Some time back, I was mesmerised by a television interview with a very successful corporate executive. He was sailing with ease through all the tough questions about career success, leadership and business acumen. After all, he was heading up an umbrella organisation that represented tens of thousands of business people. I was extremely impressed! He was friendly, well spoken and smartly dressed. Then the defining question came: “You are a very busy man … how do you manage to spend time with your family?” His answer knocked me out for a six. I nearly strained a muscle in my shoulder reaching for the remote control fast enough to switch channels. So what was his answer? “I catch up with my family at public functions!”

You have to understand that you cannot rely solely on the Human Resources Department to drive your career. It is not your boss’ job. It is your own responsibility. And guess what? Results rule! Meeting performance targets goes a long way towards boosting your career, ensuring the next promotion and inoculate yourself against a potential job loss.

© 2006 – 2015, Estienne de Beer. All rights reserved.