Sunday, July 30, 2006

Pitfalls of sequential career

Makrand, one of my coachee, works in UAE in a bank. Being a MBA he earns a good salary, and due to tax savings, the savings are substantial. His family has returned back because of his son’s education. We met when he was last in India. When I asked him what he is planning next, he said, he is planning to live alone without his family for another 4-5 years in UAE, return with substantial savings, and start a second career in teaching. Can one plan such sequential careers?

One of my doctor friend, who is a busy surgeon, is an exceptional musician. He plans to ‘retire’ early from his work life and launch his second career in music.

What are the pitfalls of living careers sequentially?

All of us live career with different objectives. Objectives also evolve or emerge as we move ahead. What was significant first becomes insignificant later. Money, which is very significant in the early part of our careers, becomes less important. Job satisfaction becomes more significant. We all see mix of objectives such as money, job satisfaction, happiness, and living life for significance at different times of life. This is a natural part of our growth. Sometimes, we cannot fulfill our new objective because we are locked-in a situation. For instance, one of my MBA friends started his first job with a huge salary. However, when his immediate money objectives were satisfied, he wanted to move out. He could not, because he was locked in due to his commitments of housing loan. Many of these lock-ins can be avoided with planning, some of them cannot.

In all these situations career objectives emerge forcing us to take a different decision. Let us call them evolving careers.

But planning a sequential career is difficult, because we are holistic beings. We cannot ‘start’ and ‘stop’ the evolution of our ‘Self’ by the press of a button as though we are a machine. Our self evolves as it engages with the external environment- situations, relationships and events. Every ‘engagement’ helps us discover of what we are, and what we are not. The denser the engagement, the better it is for discovering our Self.

Makrand is making three assumptions which, instead of producing the desired result, can lead to unexpected consequences. One, he plans to restrict his engagement of life ‘only with job’ so that he can earn the necessary money. He is underestimating the resulting frustration with which he will live his life and the ‘compensating’ practices he will develop to thwart the frustration. In such situation, people are known to develop many practices such as drinking, smoking and others which can completely derail his later plans. People also develop other lock-ins that can completely restrict their options later.

Second, he believes that his restricted engagement will still help him ‘grow’ his other parts of self and help him ‘really’ make a shift to teaching career later when he returns to India. As we grow, we find difficulties in learning new skills, new attitudes and mind sets. The initial hump of moving into new areas becomes difficult to traverse. If we are out of practice, we find difficult to learn anything new. Our age and stature does not further allow us to do certain things which we find very easy to do at an early age. For instance, a colleague of mine cannot do any consulting at low rate because ‘market’ cannot accept him at that rate. There are many more ‘stock’ factors that thwart a person’s ability to move into another field in later life. Unless those ‘stock’ factors are addressed, one cannot negotiate them at later date. For instance, if Makrand can start some teaching assignments in UAE, it will help him cross that hump easily.

Thirdly, Makrand is wanting to ‘stop’ life. He is hoping that his current option of ‘teaching’, which has emerged out of his past engagement with life, will still hold good. It is important to remember that his option of ‘teaching’ has not emerged out of his ‘teaching experience’, but more out of ‘necessity’. By limiting his engagement, he is not allowing life to emerge with other options. Many individuals get stuck with their earlier options, not because they are more appropriate, but just because they emerge out of the ‘wish list’ of early years. This may decrease his chances of succeeding with teaching career, as and when he moves into it.

The chances of succeeding with sequential careers are very limited because of the systemic structures in our lives. Although it looks like a nice option on the ‘paper’, the certainty of that option is illusionary.

I have seen many individuals who retire early from their corporate careers to do some ‘different work’, but they are unable to do anything significant due to this dynamics. The second career remains a dream. Money is not an issue with them. Doing something with their life however seems impossible for them, despite their money resources, their network of contacts, and their wisdom. Unless lot more planning is involved in launching the second career, it is almost impossible to overcome this dynamics.

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