Written by Russell Johnson
We begin our careers at a disadvantage, with little if any experience of the world of paid work. As our value increases over time, our perspectives and our awareness of our options typically fail to keep pace.
This has unfortunate consequences for many of us. After a few years of work, most people are pursuing careers contorted to fit a mix of realities and often inaccurate perceptions. Moreover, both will have changed radically from when we first commenced working.
By then, we may also be experiencing issues such as:
- Losing enthusiasm for career paths that over time, have become less attractive than they once were. This may be due to our own growth, changes in the market and our industry or profession, or some mixture of these.
- Feeling locked in by ongoing commitments and the need for a certain level of income. Consequently, it’s difficult to ‘take a step backward in order to take two steps forward’.
- Finding that our marketability has decreased, as a result of the nature of our careers to date.
- Feeling frustrated by practices such as micro-management, which rob us of motivation.
- Lacking perspective on the alternatives available to us.
- Recognizing we have made mistakes that have compromised our options, and our confidence to pursue them.
- Feeling trapped in an elevator that’s going nowhere, with no way to advance our career within our organization. What is more, we may lack the record of progression that seems required to move to an attractive position somewhere else.
- Being disempowered by the acceptance of some widely shared myths regarding career paths and their apparent limits.
The world of jobs rarely provides the deep fulfilment that is possible in a career. Certainly, we need to spend our days in ways that will expand our sense of efficacy and wellbeing. Therefore, experiences such as creation, the achievement of motivating goals and freedom to become the people we want to be, are necessary.
Our work needs to bring out the best in us. In part for our own betterment, but also to maximize our contribution to the greater good.
This happens all too rarely. Is it any wonder that around the world, surveys show that most people are dissatisfied with their jobs?
If you’re ready to begin building a better life through your career, you’ll need to enlist the power of a strategic approach. To do so, we need to keep three key terms in mind and use them correctly:
- Strategy. The Oxford dictionary defines the term as; ‘A plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim’. Clearly, we need to have such an aim before we can develop a strategy for its achievement. So the need for strategy brings us to that vital precondition:
- Clarity. Because we work to create the lives we want for ourselves and others, we need to recognize that clarity, in the context of a career, is about what we want in our lives. Because that’s what our careers are for, isn’t it? We work to build the lives we want. And for most of us, not just the lives we want for ourselves but for our loved ones too. And to help create a better society – perhaps even a better future on broader levels still.
- Tactics. Tactics are the short-term actions taken to implement a strategy. Unfortunately, more often than not, the two terms are confused with each other. And this creates a significant problem because strategy and tactics have very different functions. Importantly, tactics become dangerous if they’re used for any purpose other than to support a strategy. If we mistake tactics for strategy, then we won’t have a strategy.
The consequences are described in the saying (author unknown but usually attributed to Sun Tzu):
Strategy without tactics is the slow route to victory.
Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
If we use the term ‘strategy’ in expressions that are actually related to tactics, such as “my interview strategy “or “my networking strategy “or “my strategy for finding my next job “, then we have simply left ourselves nowhere to go with strategy in its proper context, regarding our career. In reality, it’s a sure sign we don’t actually have a strategy.
Navigating the Maze
Our career journeys usually extend over many decades. They are played out over a period many times longer than the wars and strategies conducted by generals and CEOs. The territory is vastly complex. Furthermore, it will change more radically than those on which generals and CEOs operate, because of the ever-accelerating pace of change as well as the duration.
Our careers profoundly affect our life satisfaction and the lives of those who are near and dear to us. Likewise, we influence the lives of those with whom we work and others in the wider world. In short, strategy, and the career clarity it should support, deserve our deepest attention.
During our working lives, we may have multiple careers, as the term is typically used. However, each career should strengthen our base for what will follow. The level of clarity we need is one that gives us a clear and consistent long-term or overall aim. And within each new career, if there’s more than one, is the appropriate preparatory step for what must follow it.
For lasting success, this complexity can and must be distilled into the simplicity that accompanies deep clarity. You might find it helpful to distinguish the version of your career that serves your greater purpose, and that transcends individual stepping stones, by capitalizing it, as your Career.
- A strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim.
- Therefore, deep clarity regarding our overall aim is a prerequisite for developing strategy.
- When we use the word ‘strategy’ in its proper context, it forces us to consider what we mean regarding other expressions such as ‘clarity’ and ‘tactics’. Also, it forces us to ensure we are bringing all three to bear to get the outcome/s we want.
This is the level of alignment that’s the necessary foundation for a lastingly fulfilling career.
Are You Ready for a Strategic Approach to Your Career?
Career strategy is mostly developed and implemented outside the comfort zone. It is here that we build the awareness, skills and habits that will take us to where we want to be. It’s difficult, and the path is not widely understood. As a result, most people never adopt a genuinely strategic approach to their careers.
If you are one of the few who are willing to commit the effort that’s required, then you deserve to experience the benefits this willingness offers. And the world needs you to do so.
Many effective leaders fail to realize how valuable this willingness makes them. In part, this is because they’re introspective enough to see their own limitations and are burdened by impostor syndrome. Consequently, they are inclined to focus on those limitations. But effective leaders are always in short supply.
If you are the kind of person who is prepared to take the hard actions required to build a truly strategic career, then you’ll enrich your life immeasurably by doing so. And this will benefit all those whose lives your leadership touches.