Many MBA, BBA, and executive MBA students come to me for career advice. And over the years, I have advised hundreds on their career. For most people, my message is very much the same: you need to chart your career deliberately. Until you do so, you are not driving your career. And to chart your career, you need goal clarity. The following will help you understand why goal clarity drives your career success?
It is also true that now and then, there will be a speed bump that may veer you off your path. If you have charted a way, you will be able to get back to it even after a few setbacks. But if you have not mapped a path, you may see every speed bump take you to down a different path.
Three Career Advice Seekers
When I step back and look at the advice seekers, I can put them in three categories. The first don’t know what to do with their life and want some guidance on what is a good goal. The second has some inclination about their goals, but they also have some impediments that stop them from getting there. The third know for sure what they want and need advice on how to get there.
You may see yourself in one of these three situations. And there is nothing wrong with being in any one category. I have been in circumstances when I was 110% sure about my career goals and have also found myself in situations when I was not sure about it. The interesting part is that you can go from absolute clarity to a state of being clueless and vice versa.
The ‘Absolutely Sure’ Ones
A small number of advice seekers know what they want precisely and all they need is some guidance on what else they can do to get there. I recall a very bright student who was in my strategy class during the Great Recession. He was sure he wanted to be in investment banking. But, back then (in 2009) every financial services company was firing people. He stuck to his guns and worked without pay as an intern and got the exact role he was looking for when he finished his MBA. Although I knew that he was very talented and will do well in an equity analysis role, I was also well aware that the market conditions may be too distressed for any position to come his way. I was so happy to see him get that role in spite of all the obstacles he faced. I have seen many others who stuck to their guns and got exactly what they were looking for, in spite of poor market conditions.
A Deeper Distinction
Even those who are absolutely sure about their goals, I have found a distinction among them. Some of them want to achieve those goals or be in those jobs or career positions for intrinsic reasons. Others want to get there for extrinsic reasons. I remember another bright young woman from one of my classes who was also interested in a financial services career. But she was motivated by extrinsic rewards. When things didn’t go her way, she took up something entirely different. And she was happy with that career choice. Since extrinsic rewards motivated her, she was happy with another career choice where the rewards were similar.
The ‘Not so sure’ Category
A vast majority of people do not have a clear goal. They have not reached a stage where they can commit to a career goal for any number of reasons. Some of them have no idea where they want to be while others find the obstacles to be daunting.
I recall an executive MBA student who was in the information technology field but wanted to get into a business role as a product manager. He worked in a huge technology company and was doing well as a system architect. As he was married and had a kid, he was unsure about whether it made sense to take the kind of risk involved in a career change. He didn’t make the career change.
Then there was a student from India in my undergraduate class who wanted to stay back in the US and work a corporate job. But his parents back in India wanted him to come back and pursue a family business. He was deeply conflicted about which path to take. He eventually returned to India.
But there have been others who took the plunge towards their goal. The reason why they took the plunge was their passion which was based on clarity of goals. I had a dynamic mid-career professional in my executive MBA class who wanted to join a startup. He was doing well in his career as a product manager, but the startup bug wouldn’t let go of him. He did leave a very lucrative career and join a start-up as the CTO.
The Lost Souls
But what about the third category? The ones who are genuinely clueless? What about the ones who tell me that they have no idea what they want to do with their life.
Often, people are clueless about their goals because they are answering the wrong question. They are trying to answer the question “what do you want to do if that is the only thing you can do in life.”
They assume that they can make a choice only once and then they have to stick with it forever. The fear of making a wrong decision often makes people wonder if they can ever find something they can do for life. That is a dangerous question, and not everyone can answer it. Nor does everyone need to answer it.
The Answer When You Have No Goals
So, my suggestion to those who come to me with this problem is to not think of this as a life decision. Think of it as what do they want to experience, grow into and become in the short and medium term. This helps people get out of this stuck position into something easier to deal with.
Some folks who are unsure have an internal struggle going on. They either do not know what they are good at or have an inner dialog going on about who they are. The solution to this is rarely more internal dialog. It often requires action, exploration, and learning. It is better to try (and fail or hate what you do) and learn than to keep waiting for a mental clarity before trying.
I recall meeting a marketing professional who started his career in finance. He was neither interested in finance nor doing well in it. But by taking more action in his finance role, he demonstrated to his organization that he had some valuable marketing skills. As a result, the marketing organization hired him, and he started thriving. Only in the marketing function did he find his calling. Had he continued to wonder what he wants to do and only take action after inner clarity, he may not have found his calling.
Why Goal Clarity Drives Your Career Success?
So, when I step back and look at hundreds of professionals I have advised over the years, I find one common driver of success. People who have clear professional goals tend to take firm action and are more likely to get to their goals. The ones who are not sure benefit from taking action. This is why clarity of goals can be a key driver of your career success.