Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Looking at one's career - part 1 of ?

In a continuation of my series on looking at career (started here), where I describe some of what influences me) I want to address the notion of improvement. Keep in mind these are my thoughts without explicit linkage to existing theories/content/... out there. I'll be more than happy to point out additional resources as I find them.

Continuous Improvement

First and foremost, I am a strong believer in the fact that constant improvement is essential, non-negotiable really, if one wants to achieve and at a minimum maintain (never mind increase) the means to function as a professional in modern society. This does not necessarily mean "working" all the time, taking courses like there's no tomorrow and throwing work-life balance out the window, but the deliberate pursuit of improvement in at least the following contexts:
  • Tasks - The specific actions one needs to take to fulfill their responsibilities to their employer. 
  • Job - The things that are relevant to one's present employer, be they "external" - everything related to how that employer interacts with its customers - or "internal" - how to function effectively as a member of the employer's organization.
  • Skills - Your specific abilities related to your field of expertise or your capabilities to be a functioning individual in modern society.
  • Career - The progression of roles within one or more organizations over a period of time.
  • Area - The broad knowledge field(s) in which one operates.
Ultimately, I think "taking care of one's career" is the constant, never-ending balancing of improvements in each of the areas above. Neglecting any one of them for the benefit of others will result in heartbreak:
  • if you ignore the Tasks, you can't actually *do* what you're supposed to do and may end up dismissed for not adding value.
  • if you ignore the Job, you may end up a sub-par member of the organization, either at risk of losing your job or stuck in the same place until obsolescence.
  • if you ignore Skills, whatever you know or know how to do may not be transferable to other scenarios, be they in your current organization or elsewhere.
  • if you ignore Career, your work history may be a series of roles with no distinguishing growth. It may be OK for some, but rarely the stuff people aspire to.
  • if you ignore your Area, it becomes difficult to identify and understand the impact of larger trends in your industry on what you do and on your plans moving forward.

What do I mean by pursuit of improvement? There's several alternatives, including but not limited to:
  • Formal training: academia, continuing education, corporate training, private courses, tutors, ...
  • Self-study: reading books, joining study groups/lists online, watching/participating online training (I *love* the Khan Academy as an example, or AcademicEarth.org), keeping abreast of developments, news, etc...
  • Practicing: volunteering (offline or online - Livemocha is a good example of online volunteering for language training), internships, hobbies, side businesses, etc...

The amount of time one dedicates to this will naturally fluctuate: from extra-hyper crazy days/weeks at work to dealing with family commitments or even one's own motivation peaks and troughs, there will be times where one can dedicate 'x' hours per week on a set schedule and there will be times when one is lucky to get 15-30 minutes without distractions.

Wrapping up, the key ideas I value are:
- keep improving
- balance it with the rest of life, but don't neglect it
- balance it between all the contexts I mentioned above
- balance it between the ways to improve I mentioned
- keep improving
- keep improving
- ...

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