Every career has a pattern. For example, if you are an international cricketer your career span is 10-15 years on an average, you make most of the money in this time . You go through the ups and downs, you learn, you get your share of opportunities to excel and then you retire. But everything happens in these 10-15 years before you hang your boots.
If you are an actor, your career depends on the type of films you are doing and the type of roles you get. It’s very random, determined by a lot of people you work with and other other factors.
A career of an IT professional or anyone who is doing a 9-6 job is comparatively long and have some stability and predictability. You really work hard and work long to make money. You have a long inning to play before you finally get retired in your late 50s or early 60s.
One thing which remain common in all careers is how long you remain relevant in your professional life.
There is no dearth of people in the market who lose their job because they have got over valued . There is a mismatch in their skill set and the money company is paying, especially in a private sector job. Companies can easily replace employees with cheaper options and automation.
So sustaining at the same level and making to the next level, both are tough. The people who are in this situation and who have an experience of 6-10 years are called mid-career professionals.
After working for 8 years in IT, I see there are many peers of mine who are in this situation today. Their careers are inching towards saturation, they are making decent money but the question of getting replaced have started haunting them and they are finding it tough to go to next level.
I had a lot of questions and I started actively looking for answers. Consequently, I came across this book, The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker, which was suggested to me by a Prof during my MBA days.
The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker delves in to what managers should accomplish and how they should conceptualize their role. However I find this book relevant to mid career professionals because it helped me to rethink and re-purpose what I am doing. It essentially answers 3 questions for executives (I will use the word professionals to make it more relative to many other readers):
- Why a professional must be effective ?
- What 5 habits must be developed to become a productive professional ?
- Why society depends on successful organizations and the professionals who make them so ?
In this summary , I will talk about the 5 habits which you must be aware of .
1. Know your time : By the time you reach your mid-career, you are married, you have responsibilities, if you are lucky to still have your parents, you need to take care of them and you have children. Your personal life has become a lot tougher. Your professional life has its own challenges. You know that your compensation has increased and hence the expectations are obviously high. You also know that unlike your good old bachelor days, you have financial commitments, EMIs, financial goals etc . You are expected to achieve more and do more in the same 24 hours.
If you have not shown an inclination to manage your time, you definitely have become a master of mismanaging it. I can’t emphasize how important it is to understand that there is only this much time you have and it’s all about how you plan and make use of it.
2. What can I contribute : This question is something which one must ask everyday, every quarter. But people often ask this towards the end of the year and most of the times, it’s been forced by the manager. People typically remain constrained to what was expected from them rather than taking a keen interest and ensuring that you go beyond your responsibilities.
I guess it requires a sense of curiosity to understand and be aware of what is happening around and what has to be done. There is always a situation which you and your company will be in and then all we need to focus is what is required to be done. You may like or may not like the situation the tasks the people around etc. But if you direct your action or focus towards the situation you certainly know what can you contribute.
3. Making strengths productive: You may be having best possible communication skills, but it’s of no use if it’s not productive. Similarly you might be having best possible coding skills but if it’s not aligned to business priorities, then nobody is going to value it. Fact is, you need to keep discovering your strengths and be aware of how is it going to create an impact. The effective professional always builds on his own strengths and others’ strengths as well.
4. First things first : Multi tasking is a mistake and never works. You can’t focus on more than 2 tasks at a time. Instead of multi tasking work smartly and quickly on one job at a time. This doesn’t mean working in a hurried dither; it means concentrating and working steadily on the task at hand. According to my experience there is always too much to handle and you will definitely have that feeling of missing out on your commitments often. You will almost always be working on important and urgent tasks, which need your full attention. If you don’t have set priorities for yourself and you have not planned meticulously, you will never be able to be disciplined. You will eventually end up working only what is required RIGHT NOW and there is some consequences to face in case you miss out on that task.
5. Decision making : The dilemma of a person who is in to mid of his career is that he is stuck between two extremes. On the one side you have a leadership who makes all decisions and you are expected to follow and help them in decision making. On the other hand you are not at the beginning of your career that people will expect you to follow instructions blindly. There is also a good possibility that with your experience, you have developed some wisdom of your own and would have your own opinions in everything you are doing or you are a part of. To come out of this situation, Peter Drucker highlights a very important concept. The challenge is to determine when a situation is, indeed, typical or when it is different in some way that needs unique handling. The biggest decision-making mistake is to try to deal with a generic problem as if it were unusual. You need to understand the type of situation you are in. Is it typical or does it really require unique handling. Most often you will be able to assess it over the period of time. If it’s a typical situation, then don’t think much and do what is expected. You always have a limited visibility of the entire situation. Your leaders know much more about the situation than you and they will come back to you if there is a help needed. There might be just 1-2 situations in a half or in a quarter which would require unique handling. Be smart enough to recognize such situations and then do your best when you get a chance.
There is no one who doesn’t have a mid career malaise, whether it’s a sportsperson, actor, businessman etc . We all have times when we wonder, “Am I at the right company ?” Am I in the right job ? What would be my next big “aha” moment in my career ? As a mid-career professionals we all are searching for fulfillment while juggling demands at home and intense financial pressures to earn.
I believe “The Effective Executive” is worth your time and you can use this as a reference whenever you need some expert career advice.