By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University
Many common terms are taken out of context. One of them is career development.
We have courses, books, seminars, etc. on how to get through the maze of becoming successful at work. Unfortunately, the focus has always been on “how to make it to the top.”
But what happens when the career ladder comes tumbling down? Downsizing and position elimination are real. There is no such thing today as job security.
Many of us were conditioned to go to college. Once we graduated, our focus was on finding the “perfect” job. After we secured that first position, our attention turned to how to climb to the next level.
Unfortunately, life is not predictable. We have disruptors. If you are not paying attention, your “career” can become derailed.
How do you avoid derailment and find a job that fulfills you? My response is “don’t focus on a career.” So what should you do?
Realize That Your Career Is a Journey
Your DNA makes you unique. Your career path is a unique journey that only you can undertake, so it’s essential for you to find your “career DNA,” which can lead to career fulfillment.
Some people cannot fit into a well-structured career compensation and classification matrix created by a human resources department. Instead, they search within themselves to “bring out” their purpose in life.
Too many people are in dead-end jobs that they were never destined to do. Unfortunately, they buy into society’s hype of what is “successful” and seek a place in society that is acceptable and expected.
People like to chat with me about their hopes and aspirations, especially as they relate to what they want to do in life. It may have something to do with my response to the question, “What do you do?” My response has always been “Live life and enjoy the ride.”
Then, I explain how I have developed a set of skills to make a difference. This way, I’m happy every morning; I have the opportunity to open my eyes and enjoy another day.
Am I trying to be deep? No, but I am trying to make a point. So what have I learned over the years?
If You Have to Do Something 40 to 60 Hours A Week, Be Happy about It
Most people read job advertisements from the perspective of whether or not they can perform the tasks. When they go on an interview, the focus is on convincing the hiring team why they are the right candidate for the job.
Unfortunately, candidates seldom devote equal time to asking questions about the company culture, especially as it relates to their own personalities and preferred work style. How happy can you be doing a good job in an environment that makes you miserable?
Know Who You Are at Any Given Moment
I learned that I like researching, troubleshooting, teaching, facilitating learning, leading rollouts and starting new initiatives. I believe I have the skill set to do all of these things, but I know that trying to do all of them at the same time leads to burnout.
I arrange my time so that I can do all of these things that I like to do, but not at the same time. I only accept positions that allow me the flexibility to carry out what I like to do at any given time during my tenure with the organization.
Note that I did not say position. When I accept a job, my decision is based on how I see myself in the organization versus how well I can perform the job. If I don’t buy into the mission and vision, I can’t perform necessary tasks.
We Cannot Pursue Every Good Thing That Comes into Our Lives
I avoid burnout by knowing when to put the superhero cape back in the box. Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s self-actualization level became real to me when I realized that I couldn’t be Wonder Woman 365/24/7.
Many good things in life deserve attention, but each of us is ONE person. Although many of us can juggle a lot of balls at the same time, there is a chance that some of the balls may drop. The “balls,” i.e. good causes, do not deserve that type of treatment.
To be fair to everyone, we should reflect on what our roles should be in any given situation. One project may require us to lead, whereas another project may compel us to function in a support role. So know your limits.
Being Successful = Being Able To Shift
During the past two decades, organizations have expressed concern regarding applicants’ lack of critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Why are these skills important? Two reasons are particularly important: the ability to adapt and the ability to find a resolution regardless of the situation.
For example, if another business purchases your organization, some departments may be consolidated and you might lose your job. If your job is in a department that is deemed “duplicate services,” how do you make yourself stand out as an asset in the merger? You may not have the opportunity to do the job that you had, but what other skills/traits do you possess to secure a spot in the new regime? What attributes will transfer over? Be ready to shift.
There Are Many Paths on Your Career Journey
When I received my undergraduate degree, I had two goals: to become a director of a Human Resources group before the age of 30 and to perform HR functions in as many different industries as possible to counter the popular notion that you have to stay in one lane.
I became a director at 27 and assisted my organization in revamping the HR department in 30 months. Then I quit and went to graduate school full-time while I thought about what I wanted to do next since going to the level of VP did not appeal to me.
After receiving my master’s degree, I went on to several positions that combined human resources with organizational design (OD). By the time I entered the academic side of higher education, I had performed HR/OD functions in seven different industries. Then it was time to teach what I had learned, but my journey is not over.
There are still many paths for me to pursue. I can’t tell you what they will be, only that I will know them when I see them. That’s the process that has worked for me.
What is your story? Where have you been and where do you think you are going? One of my favorite lines from the Tom Cruise movie, “Oblivion,” is when he shouts with anguish, “Who are you?”
I believe each of us has to ask ourselves that question periodically. We need to check in with ourselves to ensure we are doing the right thing at the right time. Otherwise, we wander through life aimlessly or live a life without purpose.
Remember, no one has the power to determine your destiny unless you give them that authority. Make the most of every moment and “discover” your career DNA!
About the Author
Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.
Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision, and an ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.
Ready When You Are
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