December 1, 2015

Hey GRAMPS, Got Any Career Advice For a Young Buck Like Me?

by mike smerklo

Part 1:

My proven 6-step approach to forging the right career path makes none other than YOU into your own personal mentor with the wisdom of a business tycoon and the investment of a close relative.

grampa and grandson


Sometimes being an ass-kicker can be a liability – but it doesn’t have to be. Allow me to explain…

Yesterday I had lunch with a super talented senior executive who is starting a job search due to some unforeseen changes with his current employer. I hired Robert (not his real name) and he worked directly for me, so I know that he is talented, creative and full of energy. And having worked for a wide range of technology companies, large and small, he also has a strong and varied background.

In short, Robert has the luxury of looking at any number of next steps in his career and is quickly finding that his talent and experience is in broad demand.

But is this a luxury, or a curse? Oddly enough it can be a bit of both. Here’s why:

Here is a senior marketing executive who could help just about any company that hires him. But, amazingly, I became a bit concerned when I asked him the simplest question.

It’s a question that I have struggled with and one I think just about all of us have at some point in our careers. It’s that question that we all dread, even though it reeks of “first world problem” arrogance. You know the one:

“Sure, you have a ton of options to consider…BUT what do you really want to do for a living?”

Now, to be clear, I come from a very humble background and a family that was constantly pressed to make ends meet. So the LUXURY of this statement is so obvious to me that it at times seems laughable or obnoxious – as in

“really, I am struggling with this…what the heck…most people in the world would kill for such a situation.”

But upon further review, I realize that such dismissal of this critical question is really my mind trying to get me to avoid the necessary contemplation that is required to get to an answer here. And once I have gotten past this inner monologue, I have discovered a formula that I think really helps senior executives as they consider really hard choices about their career.

I call this approach GRAMPS and I have personally found it to be a wonderful tool that has changed my life direction in a meaningful way. I have shared this approach with several other senior executives and the response has been similar, making a profound impact on their career trajectory and giving them renewed energy to pursue their goals.

So, it works…but, be prepared because it takes work.

Just like the search for happiness, magic diets, or secrets to financial freedom, the answer is kind of what you already know…unfortunately there is no quick fix or brilliant wisdom to be revealed.

Rather, by using the GRAMPS approach and doing some reflection, you can find a great path forward for your career.

And I also would recommend that as you dig here just imagine a caring, wise old soul – pretty damn impressive himself – who is here to help. Just like your GRAMPS (or the one you wish you had!).

Let’s start with G, R and A. Next post I’ll cover the M, P and S.

G is for gratitude.  

First things first, take a step and look at your past professional experience and recall what you like most about various roles or jobs. Right now you might hate your job – and that is okay – but try to think about some aspect of the job you like (or used to like).

Maybe it was the company’s mission statement, the skills that were required, or the cool office space that you worked in – it really doesn’t matter. The key is to identify what initially gave you energy and excitement from your current job.

What comes to mind is an important clue to what you are drawn to and where you might want to go in the future. Be grateful for your past experience because it will help you think more clearly about your future. AND, it will help you avoid the biggest mistake you can make right now: taking another job just to have a reason to leave your current job.

That is like the guy who leaves the virgin to marry the stripper: a short-term decision that feels good at first but has a very, very low likelihood of long-term success.

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Okay, after you have filled yourself with some Gratitude, now it is time to get your batteries charged a bit before making any decisions…

R is for Renewal.

Ever try to be creative when you’re exhausted? Or make a clear-headed decision after flying on a red-eye to Tokyo? Well, how successful can you be in making a career decision when you’re still recovering from a soul-draining professional stint, especially if the job didn’t play out like you expected? How many jobs actually turn out as good or better than you expected?

As a side note, the Merriam-Webster definition of recruit is: to persuade (someone) to join you in some activity or to help you.” So remember that you got recruited to your current job – and don’t be too hard on yourself if it didn’t turn out the way you wanted.

In fact, almost no job ends the way you expected (or dreamed) it would, so now you need some time to renew your energy base, get back to a level-headed mindset and overarching balance in your life – BEFORE you make any decisions. There are countless books about this and renewal is a highly personal process, so I won’t go too far on this topic other than to underscore its importance. For me, the greatest piece I have ever read on this topic is a speech by John Gardner called “Renewal.” Read it. Read it again. And again. I have read it 10 times, and every time I do more wisdom surfaces.

Now, if you have taken the time to be grateful and get renewed, it’s time to start the really fun (and hard) part: Start thinking of what you really, really want to do next.

I used to think this was all about “following my passion,” but I consistently found this approach to be a dead end. It’s not that I’m lacking passion – likely the opposite, and arguably with too many interests. Rather, I found this notion just to simplistic. As if all I had to do was think about what I really loved and then go follow it with absolute conviction.  This might work for some, but for me that would have meant a life as fly-fishing guide – a true passion of mine – but arguably not the best or most fulfilling use of my time.

Instead I found a much better guide for this by focusing on the next three letters in tandem and building a path forward accordingly.

A is for Autonomy.  

Wow, I found this to be a scary word to consider for my professional endeavors – and most organizations rarely (if ever) use this word in their job descriptions. Autonomy is defined simply as “a self-governing state” and, as such, can conjure up professions that are in perfect opposition to that of a senior executive – say artist, writer or freelancer. But Daniel Pink, in his great book Drive, offers a definition that’s much more senior executive–friendly: “the desire to direct our own lives.”

For me, this means the ability to be engaged in a work product that allows my particular skill set to be utilized to its fullest extent WITHOUT undue oversight or micromanagement.  Said differently, a job that offers the latitude to be successful under one’s own direction.

Figure out what you are good at and how you like to work – and be very, very specific here. Once you have this established, you’ll be surprised at what you feel drawn to and what you want to avoid like the plague.

So there you have it. The first three steps in my GRAMPS method. Take some time over the next week or so until my next post, and contemplate what each of these directives might point you toward. You’ll be well on the way to finding the best path for you right now.

 

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