Mentors, career counseling and happiness!

Change is the only constant!

We get to know this very early in our life, adiposity
almost all of us. However, buy
often, side effects
it takes us some time to gather experiences which puts it in perspective; before we really understand change and how it impacts us.

A very close friend and guide suggested writing an article about the change in my outlook about career as I moved from being a fresher to somebody who has spent 4 years working now. So here I am with whatever came across my mind.

Now before I come to the change in outlook, I think it makes sense to give you a brief background about how I started my career and the journey so far.

The Beginning

I started working after completing a professional degree. Like many of us, I walked out with a world view limited by the download I got from various sources who I would lend my ears to and from my own limited understanding of whatever I looked at.

I carried many notions, opinions and walked out with arrogance. The worst was that I was ignorant of my arrogance then!

My first assignment was with somebody who had built his career selling. I used my senses to selectively choose a few things, filter the rest and created a very distorted and useless opinion about him, something that wouldn’t help me get along with him.

Someone told me someday, ‘your reporting manager is not a graduate even’; this made things worst between him and me. He didn’t really fit my mental map of the first boss I wanted to work with. Little did I know then, however, that this man would teach me the greatest lessons of my life! Those lessons later on this blog

Ignorant about my arrogance, as I mentioned already, I operated that way for a long time. I dismissed people and their advice into a trash bin often labeling them unintelligent!

Given the way I was then; what was I destined for? A great fall and a great lesson!

Did I fail?

Yes, I did!

I quit my job in the third month! Do I need to go into reasons?

Given my attitude then, I failed to get support from my team and often when they offered it, I sent them signals that I don’t need it. I was underperforming and unaware of those key principles of performance. Unfortunately they don’t teach all that in an MBA!

What followed was a period of a very deep frustration. I hesitated talking to people about that. ‘How can I go and share this with people’, I thought.

‘What will they think of me; after all they know me as somebody’. Seeking advice would be belittling!

This continued for some time a month or two before I decided to re join the company, I had quit after an argument.

This time, however, I worked in a different office with a different reporting manager. Made friends with him and my team and things started getting better!

Performance went up but it wasn’t long before I decided to move on and work with a startup in the field of life skills development.

Life skills, I needed them the most (I realized this then)! I got to work with the sharpest brains in the business. My reporting manager was the founder himself, an IIT, IIM – A product.

Wow! I was in awe. Just the kind of boss I had thought of. He was closer to my perception of a manager, intellectually at least. Worked with this company for a year and later went on to work with another organization in the field of human development and most of my life / work lessons I can attribute to that gentleman.

Though I am not sure, whether, I can prefix the word ‘gentle’ before the man for him, I am certain that I got my best lessons working with him. The one’s that will stick with me throughout my life!

He was the most difficult boss to be with and yet a very good human being at the same time. I worked with this organization for 2 years. Currently I handle learning & development function of a retail company.

This summarizes my brief career so far.

Career – Then and Now!

When I look back, a lot has changed for me vis-à-vis how I look at my job / career and my engagement with the work. Allow me to summarize it in the following points.

1. From believing ‘career happens’ to ‘career is created’: when I started working I believed that your educational qualification is a passport to success and financial well being and that growth happens automatically.  Over time I have realized that career cannot happen by default. In fact it does not happen; you need to make it happen.

Your qualification may just catalyze the beginning, what matters later is how much of yourself do you invest constantly in your work. What matters is sincere application, persistence and hard work NOT smart work (the current fad).

2. From ‘casual and careless’ to ‘sincere and mindful’: When I look back at my initial days in the first organization, I can recall situations at work where I can easily say that I worked with a casual and careless attitude. It was difficult to realize then.  A sense of ownership was missing, in fact as Steve said it ‘truth be told’, I didn’t know what ownership meant.

I was naïve enough to believe that clocking in and out amounts to work and all the while I approached everything casually before I realized that they mean serious business here!

Now, I believe in sincerity at work and often keep reminding myself of being mindful, keeping an eye upon the objective, not losing sight, staying on track and installing reality checks along the way.

To put it simply, ‘if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well!’

3. From ‘acting responsible’ to ‘being responsible’: In early days of my career I was more focused on the ‘I’ than the work. Be it client interactions, work place involvements, the focus was exterior often – looking professional than being professional, acting responsible than being responsible!

There is whole lot of difference between ‘acting’ and ‘being’. Acting I think is the outer garment and being is the inner character. I often tried to act and show that I am responsible. How do I know that? Because, I often wanted people to appreciate my work and commitment!

I have now come to realize that people need to be trained on ‘being’ responsible. What is that?

You do something and the very thought of people noticing that work of yours is absent. You do something because you believe that it is the right thing to do at that moment and NOT because you want people to take notice and appreciate. You do something because you see it in fulfilling of a larger objective and a purpose that transcends beyond the self and that is what brings you to work every single day!

4. My work is my life: In my second organization, my senior (the boss) would often say that work and life cannot be different, they are one. There is no room for duality, these are and have to be one. In the next company, the gentle – man boss taught me ‘my work is my life’. Well, that was sufficient reason for me to start mulling over the idea.

Hard to stomach when you hear it for the first time. How can work and life be the same? There is a life beyond work after 5 pm in the evening. 9 to 5 is work, boring and sulking!

Sooner, I started to see (and believe) that you are what you think and do, day in and day out. It is your work that lends expression to your life. We know people by their contribution, the work they do; which may be community service, running or being part of a business or government, being involved in social development or something  that adds value to anything existent or creating something of value, innovating.

Whatever you do, you are your work!

5. From accountability to boss to accountability to self:  While I worked, I realized that I was more accountable to boss than to self. The paradigm I worked with was ‘will he (the boss) approve of it / will this make him happy?’ It was acting like a puppet, being driven by mandates, organizational rules, policies and processes and often failing to visualize beyond instructions. It was more mechanical.

Sooner I began to ask myself.

-          Is this something of value?

-          Will this contribute to or enable the result we are looking at?

I respect policies, mandates and instructions today as well, however, I also believe that we need to learn to go beyond instructions and empower ourselves to deliver without supervision of the boss. We need to learn to be more accountable to self than to anyone else.

6. From Boss designing your engagement to looking at ways and means of keeping yourself engaged: I once remember asking one of my seniors whether I could leave for the day (at about 6:30 in the evening, if I can recall it right).

‘Why are you asking me? If you think your work is done, you can leave; if you want to stay back you can stay back, the choice is yours’, came the reply.

I looked at him with puzzle and before I could say a word, he started again in a low voice with a gaze fixed at his work desk, ‘you have joined recently, you should be focusing more on understanding the business here and nobody will guide you on that, people have their own work to do.’

He taught me a lesson that I cannot depend upon anyone to design engagement for me. The HR may hand over the KRAs (Key responsibility areas), it is but ‘me’ who has to ensure that I stay engaged productively during my career.

Later, I came across ‘managing oneself’ by Peter Drucker that had appeared long back in the HBR, my belief got stronger!

7. From ‘reporting problems’ to ‘enabling solutions’:  I now have a set of people (small in number though) who respond (report) to me and what puts me off often is when they come to me with small problems, seek solutions and demand my intervention.

What can’t people deal with things themselves? Why do they always have to pass the buck, expect that he will solve it for us? I keep asking myself. Often the answer that comes back is that you also acted the same when you were at that stage! They teach me a lesson every single day.

I ‘now’ increasingly believe that to be effective in the modern workplace, it is extremely critical to be solution oriented than problem minded (search for growth mindset versus fixed mindset on Google for more insights).

Solution orientation requires commitment, ownership and a habit of coming up with new ideas frequently. And then the ability to design an action plan for implementing solutions and get work done, rather than report obstacles or excuses.

We all know it! Don’t we?

So these are some of the ways in which I think my outlook about career has changed in small but significant ways. I live my life with these principles and I am open to change if I come across anything better.

Though I may not be practicing everything I mentioned above daily but often I remind myself of renewing my commitment. I fail often but I have learned to rise up each time I fall.

Good luck!

If you have reached here, I owe you a thank you already! You may agree or disagree with my viewpoints. I would be glad to hear from you, how your outlook about career has changed over years.

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Most of us want great careers!

You want it. I also want it.

We aspire to make a contribution, more about
get rewarded for it – materially, salve
psychologically and spiritually. We want to have a life which allows us to enjoy these rewards and at the same time extend it to people we love and care.

However, not everyone gets rewarded the way he wants. In fact, even those who ‘we feel’ are doing great may not express great joy and satisfaction about what they do.

Some attribute this dissatisfaction to lack of purpose in their lives. Some say ‘things should have happened faster, I toiled but did not get the desired outcome’, others complain ‘It happened a bit too fast for other aspects of my life to catch up’.

Everyone has a reason or two to express his discontent, not be happy with his career and life as a result. Sad but true!

Why is it so? Why do people express dissatisfaction about what they do?

Do careers lack promise nowadays or are individuals who pursue careers to be blamed? Are careers resulting into greater prosperity for individuals or increased social anxiety? Why do some people do better than others? Why? And finally ‘are there any remedies / any answers?’

While I may not be able to offer any solutions, I will however offer my perspective. You may or may not agree with me, the choice is yours!

So here is what I feel.

One of my mentors would often say, there are three things to employment – getting a job, keeping a job and growing in a job; and he would add that most of spend our lives ‘getting and keeping a job!’

If you look around, you will find that this is true for most of us! Almost all of us are so much consumed by the day to day living and the feeling of insecurity about everything in our lives that we always live in a constant fear of losing a job or not doing well for that matter. Only few rise the career ladder!

Does that mean a select few are competent and deserve to grow in a job or that a select few are working at the right places and large numbers spend their lives working at the wrong places, trying to understand what they are supposed to be doing? Not really!

As a human resource BELIEVER, I believe in the power of human beings and in what they can result by right application of their intellectual abilities.

Unfortunately, however, only a select few are able to apply themselves towards understanding what career they are supposed to choose and how they can grow in their chosen career. This is not to demean the rest, but to say that most of us require people who can supply direction at different stages of life. Technically, they are called as mentors.

When I say mentors, I mean people who can guide you to a path, essentially help you in developing awareness about yourself – your likes and dislikes, your working style and the working styles of others, your learning style, which eventually helps in deciding an action plan for treading upon the path.

But how can a mentor bring happiness and satisfaction in my career?

Two things, one – when I say mentor I do not necessarily mean a spiritual guru but someone who has dirtied his hands reasonably enough to offer an advice / insight that helps; two – happiness is a resultant of the decisions we take, choices we make in our lives.

A choice / decision that is based upon an insight (what is called as a well informed decision) leads to a series of events where happiness emerges as a byproduct. The reverse is also true, which means a random decision making process generates anxiety over a period of time resulting into dissatisfaction.

Your mentor feeds you with just the right information to ensure that you make well informed choices. Remember he may not make decisions on your behalf (ideally he should not); instead he equips you to take decisions for yourself, back your decisions and assume responsibility of the outcome.

A right decision combined with the right timing ensures you stay on the right track always, live and work with a purpose, contribute resourcefully and get time to nurture your relationships – the key to upping your happiness indices!

I am sure you are wondering ‘how and where to find the right mentor?’ Well, that’s the question I leave you with. If you get your answer, great! If you experience trouble still, read my article on finding the right mentor.

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