Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Re-Defining a Successful Career

This week, the Wall Street Journal had an article titled "You Might as Well Face It: You're Addicted to Success." The article, while somewhat disjointed with a couple of bizarre examples, points out the extent to which many in Corporate America define themselves by a job. In a time when lifetime employment was much closer to the norm, this might have been a safer bet. But for the current generations in the workforce, you will find yourself tied to a tenuous line. As a friend of mine once commented, "Be careful about loving your company, because it can't love you back."

This is a nuanced problem, to say the least. Why are we addicted to the success? On a practical level, people at all levels of the pay scale find themselves addicted to their paycheck. At the one end of the scale, it is understandable out of necessity. Above a certain point, however, it is simply shocking the extent to which a life (not just a lifestyle) is wholly dependent on the ongoing presence of the next paycheck.

On a psychological level, which I will avoid trying to explain, the addiction to success can fill a need for individuals to prove their worth to themselves or others. On a simple level, using your career as a benchmark provides handy, quantifiable metrics--pay, bonus, rating, title, etc. These black-and-white solutions are much easier to spout than the nuanced and challenging aspects of life outside of work. This may also be why the time spent on work often so easily consumes the time previously spent on those other areas. From here, I will leave the rest to Freud or others.

I will bring this back, though, to the need for your own definition of success. For those itching to leap into an entrepreneurial venture, you had better not covet the titles, pay, or other perks associated with a cushy corporate role. You have to be in it for the long haul, the longer-term rewards, and deeper motivations. Can you live with the new identity that comes with an entrepreneurial venture? Can you embrace it and be proud? You should.

If you truly can, the results will be evident. In fact, this month's INC Magazine has an article on angel investing in which one investor commented that money is still there for managers who clearly are passionate about and committed to their business. Get-rich-quick me-too's need not apply. If you can define (or re-define, if necessary) yourself and your measurement of success, then you have the beginnings of a can't-miss career.

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