Careering about

Careering about

Careering about

Finance | 1 May 2008

Do you know what you want, and are you prepared to go and get it, Paul Bennett asks.

Spike Milligan's headstone reads: “I told you I was ill.” Even after he was gone he left a fitting legacy of his great comedic insight. In my view this is only surpassed by a famous blues singer in the USA who’s head-stone reads: “Didn’t wake up this morning”, which is incredibly funny if you listen to the blues. Not a cheerful way to start a column,  I know, but looking toward the end of our lives may be a useful place to start examining what choices we can make to ensure our life is what we would have wanted it to be.

I worked for Sir Chay Blyth for a number of years and one of his favourite stories was about imagining yourself lying on your death bed, looking at your toes and asking  yourself: “Did I do it all?” If the answer was no then you had bished it (a clean way of saying you had got it very wrong).

Presumably not many of us are going to be lying on our deathbeds muttering “I wish I had worked harder”, although if you did, it may mean that you really did get your  work-life balance sorted. I am sure there are many people who end their careers and ask themselves “what if?” I am also certain that many people have very fulfilling careers and are at their most productive when doing a job of work that they enjoy and believe makes a difference.

There are a few clever people who manage their career paths wisely and achieve what Maslow called self-actualisation at work. In other words they reach the top of the motiva-tional ladder on a daily basis by doing what they were put on the planet for.Over the past few years there has been a greater emphasis on work-life balance and/or being on a vocational career path. I got into trouble as a young executive coach when ask-ing a CEO what his job meant and whether it added to his overall life goals. After our con-sultation I was summoned by the board of his company to explain why after our session the CEO had resigned and was last seen wandering around Kenya in a loincloth “finding himself”. I was horrified by the summons but in the long-term the board agreed it was the best solution for both the individual and the company. I have had a very recent recurrence of this situation with a married couple on a programme. They both promptly resigned and have gone off travelling as a result of a workshop on personal values. The company were really adult about it and asked them to get in touch when they get back.

What do we mean by a career? John Arnold calls it: “A sequence of employment-related positions, roles, activities and experiences encountered by a person.” This description implies that career can be a very broad concept, encompassing self-employment and learning, and omits any mention of specific occupations or increasing status over time. Arnold takes this stance because of the changing world of work. At an organisational level, in the cur-rent century, we can expect work to be very different from the traditional interpretation of a career. Individual workloads are on the increase. Organisations are de-layering, and more work is being outsourced, sometimes to different countries and continents. The overall population is aging and a higher proportion of women are in the workforce. More people are working on flexible and short-term contracts.

Instead of climbing the corporate ladder, we can expect to be on a climbing frame that spans a number of organisations and may include a range of different roles. We can expect to have to manage our own careers and the contracts we negotiate with our employers will be very different.Next month I will look at a number of tools designed to assist people to make the right choices for their careers and negotiate the right career deal. In the meantime, if you meet a very happy chap in a loincloth in Kenya, ask him if it was worth it.

Paul Bennett is client director at Henley Management College


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