Thursday, September 13, 2007

Swimming along for an efficient career

posted by ShyK at 09:30

Think back to your first real job. Not the summer job you took up as a precocious kid emotionally blackmailing friends & relatives to buy Lemonade. Nor the errands you ran as a college kid enabling you to take a girl out for a dinner in places better than Burger King or Denny's.

The first real job - your start in corporate rat race. When you started that race, did you have a destination in mind? And I don't mean the kind where you planned to be a CxO in 10 years. I am talking about having a career plan, a plan created post a self SWOT analysis. I for one - did not have any such plan chalked out. I did have vague ideas of making money and having a nice home and a car and other assets, but did not really have a notion of how I was going to make it. It’s perhaps a surprise that I have made it to where I have.

It's always easy to look back over a journey you have already made and claim that you have had a strategy to get where you are. But really, how many have a strategy that is not invented post facto. For most, I think a career is like falling in water. All that years of schooling have achieved is to teach people about how to not drown when that happens. But sitting in a comfortable theater watching somebody else swim is always different from having to repeat the same motions yourself.

A lot of people nevertheless have grasped the basics of floating in water. This is essentially all about not panicking. If you fall in water and don't make any hasty movements - you will float, assuming your BMI is not something absurd. Most do. If you are lucky, you fall in water that is flowing gently when you fall. So you get time to get your bearings and acclimatize your mind to the idea that you do not really need to do nothing, except not panicking. And then the water continues to flow - taking you along in the direction it flows. You are on your career path. More often than not, the stream that you have fallen into is a tributary to a larger water body - a river with a stronger flow. If you are lucky, you get caught in the right current and bingo! You are on a fast track and soon you are a VP. If you are unlucky - you get stuck along some rock in the river and your career plateaus. Worse, sometimes you get caught in an eddy and your career sinks without a trace. On the other hand, it’s equally possible that the centrifugal forces actually throw you farther than you would have reached otherwise. And you arrive with a Bang.

Then there are the intrapreneurial ones who aid there career by actually swimming. The problem is its a bit difficult to judge which is upstream and which is downstream when you have fallen into water suddenly. More so if it’s a calm water body and if you, fresh out of school are full of energy and enthusiasm but lacking street smarts. There is an equal chance that after a while of swimming in a given direction, you discover you are actually swimming against the current. Then off course you have the choice of changing directions or changing the stream you are swimming in. It sometimes seems that you reach farther by just floating rather than swimming. If you are somebody who feels defeated by that thought alone, then curb your spirit and go with the stream.

This is not to discount the achievers who have the endurance to carry great distance through their breaststroke, the few whose brilliance shines through their beautiful butterfly stroke or even the mavericks who go freestyle to achieve wonders. Its just unfortunate that people make a choice to swim and then choose the relatively easy backstroke - and then stumble along since they cannot see where they are going.

Finally, there are the unfortunate few who panic when they fall in water. They make all kinds of desperate gestures and that only expedites their sinking.

So, if I were to make a valedictory address, my advice would be to bet on the right horse - or rather river, and float along. You will soon be a VP if not a CxO. But come what may, go with Douglas Adam's - Don't Panic.


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