Thursday, February 25, 2010

Am I What I Am? Or, Am I What I Do?

Over the last decade, research has shown that young professionals choose where they live based on quality-of-life before career. With our difficult economic times, no one can predict accurately how that might have changed, if at all. But, the actions of the next generation workforce raise a good question: What if professionals decided to do what they are rather than what the market tells them to do? In this economy, and especially as an executive, there is little room for error. However, there should be room for both using our experiences to expand our areas of expertise, and to develop critical skills, which might have atrophied over the years. Consider it a "me improvement" project, one that could save your career.

In an article in the June 2009 issue of The Career Development Quarterly entitled, “Adaptable Careers: Maximizing Less and Exploring More,” the authors (van Vianen, De Pater and Preenen) state:
Career adaptability rather than decision making should become the focal concept of career theory and practice.

They are in agreement with H.B. Gelatt, a career and organization development professional who advocated a “positive uncertainty” framework, which says we need to become positive, comfortable and confident in the face of uncertainty, rather than allow ourselves to become pigeon-holed into a specific career or market sector. As executives, we can do this by making sure we still have the full compliment of skills we need in a 21st Century career marketplace.

As an example, imagine the primary tool of an experienced chef, the knife. If it’s not sharpened regularly, it’s of as little use to him/her as a sledgehammer would be and can make things messy. Similarly, if we pay no attention to honing our skills, they become just as useless and can make a mess of our career.

According to a recent survey (U.S. Hiring Forecast, Q1-2010), nearly 40% of employers are looking to release underperforming staff and replace them with higher performers. Whether or not you’re one of the fortunate majority, you need to take stock of your skills and abilities, and you can start by asking yourself four questions:

 What do I do best?
 What am I expected to do?
 How do I bridge the gap?
 Do I even want to bridge the gap?

The answers to these questions will lead you to a place where you can determine your future path and create a plan for achievement. If you weren’t able to answer one or more of these questions, or weren’t able to answer them to your satisfaction, then it should be like looking at a path cut through the deepest snowdrift; you know where you need to go and what you need to do.

So, what’s more important? Making a concrete career decision to cement you into a certain market sector or career path and hoping you can keep up with the Jones’? Or, improving your marketable and transferable skills to adapt to a volatile job market? If recent published theory is correct, then let’s get ready to start a little “me improvement” project.