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That’s Life

Years ago I was asked to define my career goals as part of a major corporate development planning initiative. I had no idea why, as I was enjoying what I was doing and that was all that seemed to matter. As this was an HR initiative I was told ‘I had to have some idea’ so I was sent to meet a few people to talk to them about their careers. I found some of them quite scary -with a single-mindedness that made them sure what their career end goal was and what the next three jobs had to be to get there. It seemed that life was scarily organised and controlled where in my mind there were a number of jobs that would have contributed to my skill set on the path to three of four potential career end goals, all of which looked interesting to me. In the end I was told that I had to pretend I knew the answer and just put something down.

Years later I’ve learnt a lot about those two different approaches and understand that it’s just different thinking styles and value structures at play. Now as a coach I firmly believe that there is no right or wrong answer there is only right for you (and you define what makes it right) but in coaching the two approaches (career opportunists and career fixers) I’ve learnt that both could learn a bit from each other.

Career Opportunist:
If you have tended to do well in one job and the next job has ‘just turned up’, looked interesting so you’ve taken it, you could be a career drifter. You’ve likely been successful and promotions have come your way, so you’ve resisted calls for a bit of career management from other parties. After all you are doing well aren’t you?

There are a few things that people of this style can come up against. There can come a point when the next role cannot be achieved by accident, or some very clear and specific skills are required for it or in taking it the die is finally cast and the ability to jump to another interesting thing can become limited.

In the former case, the career drifter can find that their lack of career management means that whilst they have attributes and attitude, they also have a skill shortage so the exciting job opportunity is missed. This can cause much hand-wringing over ‘what I could have done’.

In the latter case, the career drifter can become concerned that as the next job casts the die, what if they don’t like it. Their years of being footloose and fancy free mean that they’ve become accustomed to that and the loss of it can be a concern.

In both of these cases the opportunist could benefit from a bit of the fixer’s attitude. Taking stock of where you are in your career progress so far and looking at the two or three paths ahead of you and the potential roles they could lead to means you can test early whether they look interesting and if so what skills you need now to make sure that all of those potentials can still be achieved.

In checking in annually, you will also be a little bit more knowledgeable about whether any of those could be crossroads moments where the next step fixes you in or opens up other roads. Doing this thinking dispassionately and without any pressure is way better than having to make a call when the job offer is in front of you and its ‘choose it or lose it’.

Career Fixer:
If you are the kind of person who has always had total clarity of where they should get to and feels in control of their life by having the steps laid out, you have likely navigated your career through well timed streps, co-ordinated role changes and focused attention to when the right roles come up. Your success has been that certainty and the preparedness that it brings you when you gone to interview etc.

The problem that the fixer can come up against is when they get to a stage of that well planned career and find that one of those roles isn’t that enjoyable or actually isn’t matching their skill-set.

By taking a role that matches where they ‘should’ be going in their career they take a role that puts that plan at risk by taking them too far away from their talents or attitudes. A well-planned career cannot tolerate too much failure. The fixer can then find that the whole career path is called into question because that one role didn’t work out.

Alternatively they find that a less than enjoyable role puts strain on them and their life. Instead of the career fueling them it becomes something to endure. If endured too long then the performance is at risk as motivation is a key factor in performance (no motivation means no extra mile and it’s that extra mile that gets the promotion).

The fixer can find themselves stuck in both roles and not know what to do, after all this is the right role on the path to where they should be heading. Their ‘shouldness’ comes into question and they don’t know what to do about it.

In this case the fixer could learn from the opportunist by factoring into their career plan a few timely re-evaluations where the end goal is tested and the path to get there is analysed against the criteria of who they are now in their life and what that means in terms of personal satisfaction. In addition when it’s time for change the fixer could take a leaf from the opportunist by considering whether two or three different roles could give them what they need to get where they are going next and be a little bit more open to the possible pathways.

In both cases, being aware of their personal values structure and drivers would help them relax the constraints of that way of thinking and open up alternative ways of looking at themselves that perhaps makes more of their career than by only looking at it the way that seems obvious to them.

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