I had lunch recently with a friend in a career transition mode. I am no career coach and this topic was not the subject of our lunch, but my EQ instincts convinced me that irrespective of what the formal agenda was, his next career move was top of mind to him and nothing else we would discuss would really be of any substance. So I asked him what it is he wanted to do moving forward. He shared a very insightful point of view on his career.
He said he had managed the past 20+ years in defensive mode. He never took any risk that was not thoroughly vetted, and had enough air cover in the event things did not work out. He did his job first to keep it, then to bring value to it. He always knew what he was doing, so this was very much a conscious mode of work. He gave me an example of countless occasions where some difficult conversations needed to be had, but almost all were avoided or dealt with significant dilution so that nothing really changed. He said he got exactly what he wanted out of his career – a steady raise in compensation, responsibility, title, and tenure at the three companies he worked for. He got feedback from his bosses and peers that he was a good team player and had excellent leadership attributes.
Then he said that he regrets almost all of it. He regrets all the great ideas he had that he did not have the courage to push forward. He regrets not thinking ‘out of the box’ more, becoming too comfortable with the same, and not really making anyone around him better. He called this “defensive career management.” And he was tired of it. He admitted that those that were more on the offensive career management path were not always successful, but everyone seemed to admire them.
As we wrap up 2012, ask yourself what kind of a career year it was for you: a defensive one or an offensive one? Any regrets on either? What will your strategy be for 2013? Finally, as I left our lunch and headed back to the office, it occurred to me that the same conversation and these same questions would apply if we substituted the word “career” for the word “life.”