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Want a Career Edge in 2013? Carpe Diem

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In my last post, I promised some pointers for what to do after you've identified your career goals.

My suggestion is to toss them aside. It may seem to defy career logic, but here's why it works: While our definition of success evolves slowly, the specific steps and goals that get us there can and should change with the circumstances. And circumstances are changing ever more rapidly.

For example, a meaningful goal can quickly turn into a waste of time with a corresponding opportunity cost.

I remember sitting down for my first career-planning session when I got into line management at IBM in the late 1980s. My manager and I carefully mapped out a plan that included various entry-level positions, followed by roles in middle management and then executive management. It all looked pretty good. Then along came the great upheavals of the late '80s and early '90s that stripped away entire layers of middle management.

I found myself with a plan that led to a place that no longer existed. I was trapped in career limbo, until finally I was forced into a role as a system architect. Frankly, that didn't work out very well. But in that role, I attended a conference on software development and learned about project management as a profession. It intrigued me, so I sought out more information about it. 

You see, the system architects on my team were brilliant technologists. But they weren't good at planning their own work. Opportunity! I suggested that perhaps I could add more value in the role of project manager. The rest, is history.

Had I relentlessly pursued the goals outlined in my career plan, I probably wouldn't have survived past 1992. But when serendipity and opportunity intersected, I seized the moment. As a result, I've had a rewarding career, one in which I see myself as successful. (In this regard, my perspective is the only one that counts.)

The moral of the story? Where you will end up in your career 25 years from now may have nothing to do with your grand visions of today.

Here are a few other suggestions to keep you on course but flexible:

  • Keep a short horizon. The further out you plan, the less your actual future will look like your vision of it.
  • Seize the moment. Anticipate serendipity. Plan for it. 
  • Stay aware of what's going on around you and inside of you. Revise your goals accordingly.

Systematically pursuing relevant goals and adopting new ones as others become irrelevant is a delicate balance. But the resulting career agility is well worth the effort.


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Career planning, helps in preparation but the goals are realized only with the suitable opportunity comes along the way. I totally agree with you that some roles may not even exists over a period of time. Especially in IT organizations this is very true, multiple roles are being combined and sometimes outsourced to external verdors considering the flexibility. Even as Project manager, I am coming to realize that acquiring more knowledge about the business would give the edge than any other soft skills.

Jim- I would like to add one more point that because CHANGE is happening so fast, disruptive technologies are coming day by day and all this require change in approach of an individual which has huge chances of career shift. Having a plan is a good idea but one do not need to be adamant about it. S/he needs to be flexible enough to mould according to time. I also practice meditation and one thing I have always learnt is that to stay in balance, we need to live in present and that is how I try to live in the moment...Thanks.

Jim - I couldn't agree more. The best parts of my career were roles that didn't even exist at the beginning. What did make sense for me was always shorter-term goals. Making quota - convincing a particular tough client to follow our consulting recommendations, etc.

For the team I lead today, I have the same discussions frequently - trying to help them not get caught up in "here's where I want to be in 10 years"....

Best, jeff

This is really good advice. I'd also add that the skills you obtain as a project manager will help you tremendously in any career transition since the skills are so portable across organizations and applicable to any area, e.g., IT, finance, construction, etc. We are also typically tasked with getting on a project, getting up to speed quickly, and assigning and managing teams on the fly that will help with any career you adopt it to, whether long or short term.

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