This article was born as a letter to Dylan, the soon to be 23 year-old in our family. He’s made the decision to follow his mother, father & step-dad into a career in sales and he’s forced to listen to my unsolicited advice. While he’s always polite, this advice was the most enthusiastically received, ever. Here’s hoping it means something to you or someone you know going thru the same career challenges.
I’ve witnessed you at your absolute best.
You participated in organized EVERYTHING, so you’ve spent the majority of your life competing in one way, shape or form. At the apex of your competitive life, I witnessed you overcome challenges (both mental AND physical) and realize a goal. It’s a joy to watch someone perform at an elite level doing something they love, especially when they sacrificed and persevered as you did to continue to play the sport you loved.
Those days are behind you now, and you’ve entered a much more difficult and time consuming challenge, your professional career. Since graduation, you’ve not yet hit your stride and at this point you’re wondering about the meaning of things and what the future might have in store.
It’s not uncommon to wonder if the “best days of my life” as a competitor are behind you.
I can assure you they are not.
If you can take a purposeful look at the path you’d like your professional life to follow, you can begin to reframe the competition from the lacrosse pitch or classroom to the competitions presenting themselves to you every day. If you know where to look, there are ways to compete all around you, it’s just the nature of competition has changed. It’s more complex and requires command of many different skills to master.
Remind yourself of the journey you took during the arc of the time spent competing in your previous endeavors. Very infrequently was success instantaneous, and often a number of obstacles presented themselves in the pursuit of EACH of those goals – why should you expect something different now? Your damaged confidence is for a lack of knowledge, not capability. It’s high time to give yourself a little more than instinct to go on. You practiced to win in everything else, so why not follow the same game plan, put in some new plays and get back to competing.
You’re not alone in having an unclear picture of things at this moment in your career. While it may be difficult at this point to consider HOW to take on this purposeful path exercise, know that many before you have been confronted with the same challenge, and you coming to this particular realization at such an early stage in your career is a signal I’ve seen from many on a path toward success. Having a mentor and people you trust on your side NOW can be the antidote to your shaken confidence. Don’t be afraid to share what you’re thinking with people who show they care about your success. Seek their counsel. It will be some of the best advice you will ever get.
Once you start working at it, though, the path you’d like your journey to take will start to reveal itself and as a result your sense of the potential value of your work will sharpen. Understanding how your contribution might be more valuable will spur you to work harder, knowing there is a purposeful conclusion to what you’re doing. Once you become accustomed to the notion of working for an outcome and not a paycheck, it’s SO much easier to understand where (and where not) you might add to your own abilities, you’ll have an easier time understanding what work you should (and should not) pursue and in the process, that which was previously unclear will be more clear to you.
Lastly, if you’ve chosen the right people with which to work, all that hard work generally creates (2) outcomes:
- You get noticed for your hard work.
- You’re rewarded.
Should neither of these things happen, you know it’s time to move on to the next step in the journey and whatever that next step might also provide you. You’ll worry less about money and more about fit, culture and the people you intend to learn from, which will strengthen your working relationships – all of which will give restore your sense of competition and provide you the satisfaction you’re desperately missing right now.
Here’s your homework.
Write down in one paragraph what you would want to do with your life in money were no object. What would that version of your life look like? Where would you spend your time, and whom would you spend that time with? What would you be doing to leave a contribution behind your the next generation of your family?
Save your work and leave it for 48 hours. Go back and re-read it again, cutting out as many words as you can while keeping it understandable. See if you can reduce the number of words by 50%. Save your work. 24 hours this time, then re-read and see if you can reduce what’s left to a checklist. If there are major categories you can identify, re-arrange your checklist into those categories and then re-organize the list.
Next, complete the checklist as it pertains to your current job. How many of the boxes are checked? If it’s none, that’s ok.. The most important part of this process is creating a way for you to know whether or not that is the case. The second most important part of this process is creating a vehicle by which you can guide future behavior. It’s not OK to quit your job that has 0 checks on the checklist. It IS OK to quit if you have something to replace this job with something that will check boxes.
Share your list. Don’t post it places you wouldn’t want it seen, but don’t be shy with sharing how you make decisions with others. Lots of your peers would benefit from a little purpose in their work and a re-ignition of their competitive spirit, and the world isn’t doing a whole lot of sharing on how to do that well.
I look forward to what you’ll share with me.