Think back to when you were a kid in the presence of adults. I’ll bet I can predict the question you were asked more than any other.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
From a very early age, I remember the adults around me regularly making this inquiry. For a while, the answer was a ‘majorette in a band’. Then I aspired to being an ‘elevator operator’ before graduating to ‘teacher’. I always received the best response to ‘doctor’… so I stuck with that for quite a while.
And so my training began. I learned that work and success were all about these artificial labels. You probably did too. As a result, our default settings point to titles when we consider career objectives or accomplishments.
Tangled in Titles
The problem is that this kind of title-based career thinking is completely inconsistent with today’s business landscape.
- The narrow focus sets us up for a sense of failure and frustration because the specific positions we might have in mind may not be available when we feel that we’re ready for them.
- Given the fluidity of today’s business and organizational environments, the positions we have our hearts set on might be eliminated before we ever ready ourselves for them. (Imagine my disappointment that elevators now operate themselves!)
- New technologies, innovations, and possibilities are always evolving; yet myopic attention to a particular title on a business card or door blinds us to the opportunities.
But most importantly, the pleasure of arriving in the desired position is fleeting. The joy and excitement pass very quickly. Then, what are you left with? Doing the hard work associated with the role.
Develop a Snapshot of Success
Perhaps it’s time to stop focusing on what we want to ‘be’ and instead shift our attention toward what we want to ‘do’. Maybe we should start asking kids – and ourselves – about what success looks and feels like.
I like the idea of thinking of someone’s definition or vision of success as a snapshot that develops, evolves, and becomes clearer over time. But getting at the heart of this requires some updated, more multi-dimensional and nuanced questions:
What will career success look and feel like to you?
What kind of work will you be doing?
What will you accomplish? What difference will you make?
What kind of people will you work with?
What kind of working conditions will serve you?
What talents, skills, and strengths will you leverage?
Unbundling career success from a specific position ensures that people don’t become pigeon-holed or slotted into a track. And, it opens everyone’s (employees and leaders) eyes to considerably more opportunities.
So, the next time a child tells you that she wants to be an astronaut, ask a few questions to get beyond the ‘be’ and explore the ‘do’… and open up a universe of possibilities.
What about you? What’s your ‘do’? What’s your snapshot of career success?
Image: www.freedigitalphotos.net, www.123rf.com, and Liz Price