Q. The last five years of my career have been really difficult. I'm starting to think either I'm doing something wrong or I have the wrong goals. How do you know if you should continue to pursue a difficult career or take a different path?
A. You realize that our business culture has the myth that if you are really suited for a career doors will magically open and you'll be quickly recognized as special. If you listen to successful people speak you will even hear many who claim that success and acclaim sought them out.
When successful people make these claims, most people react by feeling inferior and unlucky. The truth is professionals who make these statements are just trying to seem amazing by bending the truth. They realize that if they tell the truth about how hard they worked, how often they were rejected, or how many failures they had, the general public won't admire them as much (or buy their books).
Successful people who tell the truth are happy to admit that achieving anything is a long and arduous road filled with challenges. They will also tell you that they used failure as a mentor to keep beginning again more intelligently. Lastly, they will admit that there were many dark moments when they despaired of achieving anything.
If your heart is in your current career, then it is worth the price of struggling. As long as you are using your difficulties to become wiser, suffering at work is just part of the educational process.
Instead of making your goal to make no mistakes, change your goal to make new mistakes. A good career should keep challenging us to learn, to think, and to innovate or we'll just stagnate as professionals and human beings.
Predictably there will be times when you get into a funk and want to retire to a tropical island somewhere. Be aware that the times when you feel most hopeless generally come right before a breakthrough. If you avoid the hopelessness, you never get to the breakthrough.
I've learned in my own career and watching the careers of my clients for 30 years, that most people quit before they hit the last mile of the journey towards their dreams. They don't realize that, when we give up, the side effect is that we have no hope, no anxiety and no expectations -- all-powerful allies in trying new approaches.
When I walk this last mile, I try things I'd never try before, I say things that didn't occur to me before, and I let go of what happens next. I'm usually so exhausted, and figure I have nothing to lose, that my creativity bursts out.
I have learned that most of the good stuff, in life and on the job, can be found in this last mile. When you feel like you're having a breakdown, keeping walking and you may just find your breakthrough waiting in the last mile of your journey!
The last word
Q. My boss is really obsessive. He wants every report I do to follow his format. Can I tell him he should care more about the information than the format?
A. Not unless you think you'll win a power struggle with your boss.
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(c) 2009 Daneen Skube