Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Looking at one's career - part 0 of ?

In having a conversation with someone whom I deeply admire, the topic of career planning and progress came up. In trying to summarize my points, I realized that I was having problems explaining my positions, so the idea of putting things to "paper" came to mind.

This post is the prologue to the series of articles I plan to write to help me crystallize the concepts running around my mind. Yes, it can be thought of as narcissistic of me, but I've made my peace with what and how I write (cue in the scene from "Top Gun" where Maverick admits being arrogant... :-) )


I am an avid but not very methodical student. For years I've been digesting all sorts of interesting ideas through books, magazines, articles, audiobooks, mailing lists, webminars, courses, conversations, blog posts, tweets, ... but have only been moderately successful at storing that information in an efficient format. This is a constant work in progress - a common theme to my routine - but some key ideas stick around without the need for elaborate systems.

First and foremost, I am heavily influenced (though not limited by) the examples I had at home when growing up. My mother and my stepfather have had long and distinguished careers in academia, while my two younger brothers have followed on that example much more than I did (both have advanced degrees in their respective fields, while I focused on a career in the private sector). I grew up with mom and my stepdad dedicating a significant amount of time above and beyond "working hours" to studying, preparing lectures, coaching/mentoring others and taking visible satisfaction/enjoyment in doing so.

At some point - after the early career years where everything is a blur - I found myself interested in personal improvement on my own terms: I thought of academia as too stifling and of typical corporate training as too tactical. At the time I considered going for an MBA (still haven't ruled it out completely) but in one of those fortuitous turns of life I came across the "Personal MBA" (www.personalmba.com) initiative. It really deserves its own blog post - coming soon - but for now think of it as a collection of recommended readings on key areas typically found in most MBA programs, with a slight bias towards small-business entrepreneurship. It literally changed my life.

Over the past few years, I've read - in whole or in part - many of the books recommended there. Here are some of the key ideas I have taken as key influences in my thinking:

- From Jim Rohn (motivational speaker), there are several quotes, but two stuck with me:
     "Work hard on your job and you can make a living. Work hard on yourself and you can make a fortune..."
     "Don't wish it were easier; wish you were better. Don't wish for less problems; wish for more skills. Don't wish for less challenges; wish for more wisdom."

- Mastery, by George Leonard
     The basic notion of mastery being a never-ending journey of constant improvement.

- Now, Discover your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton 
     That developing strengths rather than fixing weakness leads to much greater outcomes.

- Getting Things Done, by David Allen. 
     Providing a system for not only managing "to do"s, but the concept of thinking about things in multiple layers (50,000 foot-view, 20,000, 10,000, ...).

- Lead the Field, by Earl Nightingale
     Attitude! - You are responsible for how your life turns out, and your attitude shapes that life for better or worse.
Other influences not from the Personal MBA recommendations include:
- The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Galloway
     After proper deliberate practice, let go of trying to control things and trust your training.
- Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell.
     The incredible results one can achieve with a bit of luck and a lot of practice.

Yes, to many people, all these ideas are relatively simple and straightforward. Great ideas usually are, they just need the right context to make all the difference.

More on next posts...

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