What if I told you that you only need three things to have a successful career. Only three. Would you believe me? Probably not. Let’s try it anyway. You need to be able to adapt; you need to be a learner; and you need to be self-reflective. That’s it. If you have those, you can have a successful career. But, you say, what about finance skills, strategic skills, negotiation skills? As long as you are a learner, you’ve got it covered. What about leadership skills, EQ, presentation skills? If you are self-reflective and a learner, you’ve got it covered. What about managing change? Mergers and acquisitions? Financial crisis? If you are adaptive and a learner, you’ve got it covered. You see where I’m going with this, right?
A Life Long Learner
To have a successful career these days, you must be a life long learner. A Bachelors or an M.B.A. won’t do it. You can/will learn very important things in the process of getting those degrees. Certainly they aren’t a waste of time. They aren’t necessary to having a successful career (Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates), nor are they a be all, end all. Maybe in the wayback days a degree was enough, but not any more.
If you got out of college more than 5 years ago, you didn’t do marketing with social media. Your IT skills didn’t include any ‘clouds.’ LinkedIn wasn’t used to recruit employees. Nobody ever heard of a TARP. Iphone apps weren’t a business, to say nothing of iPads. They weren’t reading XRays for your hospital in India. You see the point. You HAVE to keep learning. If you approach your career as a learner, then the problems that arise are just opportunities to learn. They aren’t overwhelming barriers. If you have the belief that you can figure it out, you can. If you’re a learner, you know you can.
All of us at one time or another get stuck in our rut. Your career can’t be a rut, though. Does anybody remember what happened when the housing bubble popped? When mortgages cratered, construction stopped, and unemployment started growing? If you were lucky enough to be unaffected, you may not be next time. If you were affected, you came out better if you were adaptive. Things are speeding up quite a bit. Unadaptive people will be run over by the next crisis. The new book, The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, by Hoffman and Casnocha, recommends that you do ABZ planning. This can apply to either your career or your company. Plan A is based on your competitive advantage and you iterate the plan, making moderate changes as necessary. Plan B is a pivot, changing either the goal or the route, as necessary. And Plan Z is your safety net, your fallback if all else fails–how you keep a roof over your head and food on the table if other plans don’t work.
When you are dealing with the ups and downs of life in a corporation, flexibility is essential. Reorgs, company sales, downsizings, new projects, killed projects happen constantly. You need to be in what Hoffman and Cosnocha call “constant beta.” Nothing is end state–it is always a work in progress. If you can have this mindset, you’ll be ready for anything that comes.
Being self-aware through self-reflection is like having a personal level tool. It will help you figure out that things are out of kilter and help you figure out what exactly needs to be redirected. Self-reflection is essential for being able to manage the only tool you have fully in your control for a successful career–yourself. Howard Gardner, an expert on developmental psychology noted “it is important that the leader find the time and the means for reflecting, for assuming distance from the battle or the mission,” in his book, Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership. You learn as much though self reflection as through any other method–if you take the time to do it.