Sunday, June 02, 2013

Mismanagement of aspirations can cause unexpected and surprising consequences in career

Our aspirations sometimes go too far ahead of our capability and sometimes they are too behind our capability. When they go too far ahead, they cause frustration, cynicism and even resulting into loss of opportunities. On the other hand, when they are far too behind, they result into untapped potential, missed opportunities, and more importantly, lack of growth. In my coaching, i meet both type of individuals, although the majority are the first type of individuals, who are far running ahead of themselves.

Sarabjit was transferred from Mumbai to Delhi.  He stayed in a big rented house, his commutation time was shortened to half an hour, and with time on his hand, he managed to do accomplish his unfulfilled desire: the desire to travel to different places. This continued for 3 years.

After 3 years, he got a  job offer in Mumbai with a 40% hike in remuneration. He eagerly came for the interview and got a hint that he can get the job. So he went to his house in Mumbai which was 1/3rd the size. He got frustrated when he took 2 hours to reach the house from the new office. He got the job offer later, but he refused the job offer. 

What happened to Sarabjit? His Wants got converted into Needs. His Want of big house, which was dormant in Mumbai, got converted into Need. His Want of more available time in the day also got converted into Need. And once his Wants were converted into Needs, Sarabjit was unable to adjust to the new Needs with the new job offer. It happens to us all the time. Sarabjit stayed in Delhi, even when the timing of job change was more appropriate for him !!

Wants get converted into Needs unknowingly

Psychologists tell us that food, shelter, clothes and sex take care of our bare needs, while rest are wants and desires. But once the basic necessities are met, we re-define new needs and seek to fulfill them. Our ‘wants’ are surprisingly similar across the status, religion, and other conditions because they depend on our awareness and exposure.

But their conversion from wants into needs happen due to factors like external changes that thrust on us such as change in economic status, change in location factors, change in our friends, change in our 'neighbouring' locality. Psychologists call this reactive covariance. But they also happen due to the dormant desires that are within us: our expectations from our family, from ourselves. This is called 'active covariance'. In other words, unknown to our conscious mind, the balance between wants and needs change due to active as well as reactive covariance.

For instance, when we shift from a small town to a metro such as Mumbai, items such as cellphone, laptop, decent wardrobe, and car become our needs. Now I cannot function without them.We therefore get surprised when relatives from rural village come to our house and label our spending money on these items as 'splurging' money. I forget that these items are still 'wants' for them.

Many unintended consequences happen due to this unconscious shift of wants into needs. For instance, we change our goals. Marshall, one of my coachee, had planned to start an entrepreneurial unit after working for 10 years abroad. But as he got used to high-standard of living, he was unable to let it go. Many coachees, whom i meet, get into software for the sake of  ''higher salary', planning to go back to their core function, after the initial period. That never happens as their new needs emerge.

Marriage further makes it difficult to manage aspirations. Difficulty is doubled when one marries. A professional gains by taking the trouble to readjust his wants, because his goals get fulfilled. But for the spouse, there is no commensurate gain. Especially if the spouse is the housewife, she loses more as she depends a lot on social and economic status for her 'mental well being'. Losing that social status for the elusive achievement of some distant goals is a very difficult trade-off for her. In my coaching the biggest bottleneck for sustaining outputs is this readjustment of aspirations of the housewife !!!

More importantly, executives Wants of positional power, big office, secretary, and other perks unknowingly become Needs as they grow. When they shift jobs, i have observed them negotiating hard on these Needs, while they hardly 'negotiate' on the content which will significantly determine the path of success for them. Isn't that paradoxical?


Our aspirations change our goals and shift our directions unknowingly. It is so subtle and powerful that even our passion does not keep us focused. We do not even know when we have traded our 'values' for Wants that have become Needs without our knowledge. When we hear the examples of well paid professionals of Enron and Accenture who did a small 'accounting trick', even when they were earning so well, we hastily assume that the cause is their greed. My premise is different. I think this happens because, unable to differentiate the movement between their wants and needs, they justify their actions for the sake of 'company'.

The dynamics of aspirations is so invisible and unconscious that we cannot see its impact unless we press the pause button. Managing aspirations is not a nice-to-do activity for a professional. It is a must-to-do activity. With the advent of Internet and 24/7 media, the scope and size of our Wants keep on increasing. Unless we learn to rein them, we are like a driver who is not commanding his steering wheel.  If a professional wants to be at the driving wheel, he or she must actively manage his/her aspirations. Otherwise he/she will not even know when did he/she abandoned the wheel and has been sitting in someone's car !

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