I have always been a fan of Popeye. My relationship began when I was 5 and my family lived in Japan. The only two programs broadcast in English were Popeye and The Untouchables.
One of Popeye’s favorite phrases was: “I am what I am” a phrase that I often repeat (out of habit) and one that I realized should change the closing from “and that’s all that I am” to “until I’m not”.
I realized how important the choice of closing is when I was speaking with my thirteen-year-old niece. I added “until I’m not” to the phrase she had heard me utter so many times. Interestingly, she caught change in the closing and seemed a bit thrown off by it and asked: “what did you just say”? A discussion ensued where I explained how important I think it is for people to assess their situation, question their beliefs and change when it makes sense.
In fact, my position on this is much more comprehensive. Since I got my first post-college job in 1981, I have always had a personal five-year plan. The plan:
- Provides a vision of where I want to be (and what I want to be doing) in five years;
- Indicates the training, experiences, and changes I will need to make if I am going to realize my vision;
- Is updated annually to reflect the inevitable changes in circumstance that inevitably occur.
It has generally worked pretty well. I got my MBA, made Partner at Price Waterhouse, led the System Integration Practice for PwC in the Americas and have been quoted in Business Week (i.e. was generally considered to be an expert in my field) among others. There have also been unforeseen issues: my failure to get admitted to the PW partnership on my first try and the sale of PwC Consulting to IBM are to good examples.
But generally, the strategy of maintaining a plan has paid off. But just having a plan was not sufficient. The plan had to:
- Be realistic. Be aggressive, but not an overreach. The goals you set are going to require that you get experience, develop skills, and are generally positioned to take full advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. In fact, while I was at Price Waterhouse, we developed a directed graph that described the various career paths that our staff might take. And, it included recommendations for training and experiences (roles that would help provide knowledge and understanding) necessary to successfully advance one’s career.
- Account for changes that you will need to be willing to make for the plan to be successful. I did not plan on IBM buying PwC Consulting, but I took advantage of that unforeseen event and used the disruption positively (and as a kick in the butt) to join a couple of my Partners and founded Textura;
- Be flexible and deal with the inevitable bumps in the road that a multiyear plan is bound to encounter. I did not plan on being passed over for admission to the PW partnership. It was a pretty severe slap in the face. And there was no assurance that if I stuck around for a year that I would then be admitted. Had I just stuck around for a year I probably would not have been admitted. I doubled down, work my butt off and achieved my goal; and
- Play to my strengths (tenacity and a willingness to work hard enough to overcome some of my shortcomings) and temper my weaknesses (arrogance, impatience, and a severe case of not being a good listener). I found that the things that held me back were generally fixable. I just had to recognize to issue and be willing to invest the energy and time to make a correction. I joined Dale Carnegie, developed and taught a graduate business school course and took professional development training (the same one at least 4 times, which is when it started to really sink in) in an effort grow so as to be ready when the next opportunity to advance my five year plan presented itself.
There are people who are able to succeed in meeting their career goals without changing. They are notable not only because they can, but also because they are so few and far between. They are the exceptions.
So, if you are:
- Beginning your career, put together a five-year plan and work it. I guarantee that that you will accomplish more and your chances of achieving your career objectives will be higher using my guidelines.
- In a position of mentoring your employees, the process of helping them to build a realistic (but aggressive) plan as part of your general mentoring activities will result in higher performance and better outcomes.
Finally, I would counsel you that some things just take time. I have taken some training multiple times over multiple years to develop skills that come naturally to some people. Going through the training allowed me to go through exercises that incrementally raised my game and helped me make the changes that I was trying to achieve.
So, aim high. Work hard. And persevere. Anything really is possible.
— you can find this (days earlier) and other posts at www.niden.com.
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Martha Gershun says
Real wisdom here, Howard – will share with our kids. I think the humility to see gaps – and to pursue training to bolster those areas – is excellent advice! Nobody has it all out of the gate. And the people who think they do are missing opportunity.