dog-from-behindA couple of weeks ago Nicole, my youngest, completed work experience as part of Transition Year. We’ve always had dogs in the house and she loves animals.  Over the years, we’ve paid Denis the local Vet enough money to buy an island (I’m surprised that he’s not already living somewhere more exotic). So he agreed to let Nicole work in the surgery to get hands-on experience. Eating dinner, rather stupidly, I made the mistake of asking: “How’d you get on today?” She proceeded to ‘walk us through’ a Rottweiler vasectomy along with instructions on how to ‘put down’ a pet Guinea Pig. I could barely finish the Chicken Jalfrezi without gagging (having been reliably told by a Brazilian friend that Guinea Pigs “Taste just like Chicken”).

Working Hard:
What struck me forcefully is how much Nicole had learned by ‘doing’. The Chinese saying: ‘I hear and forget; I see and remember; I do and understand’ captures this. In the US the phrase in vogue is: “You go to college to get an MBA.  Then you go to work and learn the rest of the alphabet”.  Imagine you’d been asked to teach a kid how to ride a bike.  I’m guessing that you probably wouldn’t start with an overhead projector and an explanation of Newton’s law of universal gravitation.You’d drag the kid and the rothar over to the local Park for a practical lesson. We know this already because it’s how we all learned to do stuff. But, here’s the point. We don’t apply this simple logic of  ‘learning on the job’ when it comes to growing our careers.   Why?

Milking Opportunity:
It can be a fear of change; we get comfortable with what we’re doing and don’t want to migrate onto new stuff. In a sort of ‘self-inflicted disempowerment’ (there’s a mouthful) we want to believe that our HR or Line Manager is busy charting our future (contradicting all available evidence which indicates that ‘you own your own success’). Note: send a reminder to yourself  as follows: ‘My mother/HR/Boss is no longer in charge of my career!’  Yes, some organizations have ‘high potentials’ and you can access V.I.P. development if you’re in that net. But, even if you’ve been anointed as the ‘Great One’ (to watch for the future), should you just lie back and delegate your career to someone else? Paddy Kelly the property developer had a slogan which captured this: “If it has to be, it’s up to me” (while Paddy’s more recent fortunes have been mixed, he’s one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met).                   

I’m Busy:
Sometimes it’s a concern about being overly busy. When is the last time you met someone who said they were ‘Not busy’?   At a slightly deeper level, setting your sights high can tap into an inner seam of doubt. Perhaps you wouldn’t be ‘good enough’ in a bigger role? An inner disbelief in ability tends to leak, regardless of how well you think it’s disguised (here’s the real Secret: we all have inner doubts; the trick is keeping the anxiety level manageable. Send that message out to the Universe).

Champion Jockey:
In my experience <10% of people ‘jockey’ for on–the–job learning – unless this is a direct promotion. They don’t see the benefit of ‘Zig Zag careers or trying to create a new role which is designed for their personal development. While 75% of people want to be promoted, only a small percentage do anything positive about it – normally waiting like a schoolboy (or girl) for the next job opening to be posted. For sure, some people put time and effort into going back to college (which is great). But don’t overlook the development opportunities under your nose. And make sure that you are not just ‘hiding out on campus’ – stalling for time because you are finding the ‘real world’ too difficult to navigate.

The ‘Fix’:
Here’s the recipe:

(a) figure out a key job that would be a real stretch or development assignment & why the organisation should let you do this

(b) put a ‘business case’ together on this. An Albert Reynolds (‘1 pager’) usually works well

(c)  make the sale internally and step into those new shoes.

Alternative Views:
I’m conscious that this particular view of the world will not be shared by everyone. Perhaps you are already ‘fully stretched’ and using 100% brain capacity. Or you might be cash rich with tons of positive equity and don’t need the moolah. You might even have traded off ‘corporate bullshit’ against minding the kids every afternoon, watching Coronation Street or growing organic cauliflowers. These are all legitimate alternative ways of looking at the world. But none of them will deliver success if you really want to be a player at work.

New Parable:
It’s time to re-write an old parable and apply this to work as follows: When it comes to getting promoted: ‘The meek shall inherit the shit’. Empowerment is a state of mind.  If you think you are, you are. Now, stop moaning about lack of opportunity in your organization and do something positive to change it. The prize = putting rocket fuel on your career. Because, on the job is where it all happens!



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