A career means different things to different people. To some, it is an end point: it is a statement of ambition e.g. I must become the CEO of this company. To others, it means the landmarks on the way e.g. I must become regional manager in two years and general manager in three years thereafter. To most it is a combination. However, these are all ‘destinations’ and not the ‘journey’.
To the wise, it means the enjoyment and experiences of work. A career is not a destination, a career is the journey.
So what kind of a journey must you have? The answer is, ‘a journey which you enjoy’. You can excel with consistency only at tasks which you enjoy. Conversely, you cannot excel with consistency at tasks that you do not enjoy. Enjoyment does not mean that the task is easy, or that you know how to do it, quite the reverse.
You enjoy doing things that challenge you sufficiently, yet are instructive to you, that engage you e.g. selling to a difficult customer, debugging a production issue, configuring a least cost solution to a problem etc. It is engaging to you for your own reason, some others may hate the same tasks.
Dev joined HLL as a young manager in sales and marketing. He had studied in an excellent school, had a fine degree from a great college, was intelligent and articulate, and had cleared the tough series of HLL interviews. He had all the characteristics to become a successful manager in the sales/marketing function. However, recruiting and developing managers through characteristics is fraught with risks.
One of the preparations before he could be assigned his first responsibility was field training. This meant that he had to work on a salesman’s beat with an experienced salesman for sixteen weeks. This involved visiting grocery shops and booking orders all day long. The idea was for him to learn the routines, pains and tribulations of a salesman.
Dev was miserable. He found it boring, in fact, as he called it, it was ‘demeaning.’ After spending some time with him, his boss wondered whether Dev would ever make a good sales manager. That did not per se make him a good or a bad manager; it just meant that Dev had to rethink what kind of work he should do to enjoy himself. The HLL job was quite a prized one: getting such a job was prestigious, conversely not being successful was considered by many to be a negative.
As Dev thought about it, something kept telling him that he had joined HLL just to prove to the world how smart he was; the salary was a huge added attraction. It was not that he understood this career, and that he wanted to try it.
What he truly enjoyed was to spend time with school students– telling them about things they did not know, and some things that they might never know. He wanted to be a school teacher!
Implementing his idea meant sacrifices of salary, and image among his family and peers. He was courageous, and took the plunge.
I met him twenty years later. By now, he was the Headmaster of a prestigious public school, probably earning a fraction of what he might have if he had stayed on at HLL. He was really enjoying himself, doing all sorts of new things in the school and those gave him a sense of satisfaction. He told me that he had found his calling, his journey had been exciting and he looked forward to each day as the sun rose in the east.
Dev had understood what a career meant—doing what you enjoy and enjoying what you do. Dev had realized that what was important was the journey, not the destination.