You were thrilled to be handed your diploma. Your school years were behind you, and, most likely, you were excited about starting your first job. This was the launch of what you believed would be a rewarding and glorious career.
But something unexpected happened on the way to your flourishing career: it didn’t happen. You took your first job. You expected to rise through the ranks quickly. Instead you are doing exactly what your boss tells you. You receive good performance reviews, but you are still stuck in the same job.
What happened to the thriving career you anticipated?
The school system imparts factual knowledge. This training might land you a job, but it can’t create a successful career. The rules of success changed dramatically after they handed you that diploma, but no one bothered to tell you.
1. When you were in school, it was easy to distinguish who were the better students. Everyone in the class was given the same test, and everyone was ranked in relation to everyone else. The workplace is not objective. No two workers get the same assignment; everyone gets a different piece of the puzzle to complete. When it comes to promotions, awards and raises, you are being compared with your coworkers like apples to oranges. Whether the apple is better than the orange is a matter of perspective. It depends on what your boss values or who was given the better assignment.
2. “Keep your nose to the grindstone” is not necessarily a good career strategy. You expect that as long as you work hard enough and with enthusiasm, you will reap the rewards for your efforts. Employers want workers to put in longer hours and get more work done. When I started in engineering, I was asked to work double shifts to get an important project completed on time. I know new hires in law firms that are asked to work long hours to meet clients’ deadlines. We aren’t paid any more for our efforts, nor does it make our careers move forward. The problem is that there will always be another project to be done. So when do you do the work that creates a career and not a job? This is the fallacy of “working hard, but not working smart.”
3. “It’s not whether you win or lose that matters. It’s how you play the game.” Winning really does matter. Would you hire an attorney who loses all of his cases? Would you want to go to a doctor who never cures his patients?
4. “Money can’t buy you happiness.” Maybe it can’t, but once you get out of school, you find out that money really does matter a great deal. Some of your dreams require money, and money does make your life easier. This is coupled with the ridiculous notion that if you do what you love, the money will follow. Just ask an artist about this one. My daughter’s summer school teacher was a sculptor with graduate degrees in art. He was teaching elementary kids pottery – and he definitely was not cut out to be a teacher. So now that he’s spent all those years in college, he’s realized that he can’t make a livable wage doing what he loves to do.
5. Every year in school, teachers ask you what you want to be when you grow up. Did anyone ever follow that up with the question, “So how do you plan on doing that?” One of the biggest missteps is not setting and planning goals beyond your diploma. Did anyone ever teach you how to plan out goals? Most of the time, I find that people engage in forward planning. They start with today and then plan out the next step and what’s after that. When is the goal reached? Do you make vice-president when you turn 90? Planning backwards acknowledges where you are today and pegs your goal out in the future, working from the goal backwards to today. This way, at least you’ll have a chance of making vice-president by 40!
Cynthia Kocialski is the founder of three tech start-ups companies. In the past 15 years, she has been involved in dozens of start-ups. Cynthia writes the Start-up Entrepreneurs’ Blog www.cynthiakocialski.com. Cynthia has written the book, “Out of the Classroom Lessons in Success: How to Prosper Without Being at the Top of the Class.” The book serves up tips, insight, and wisdom to enable young adults and parents of kids to know what it will take to forge a successful career, no matter what their academic achievement.
Other books by Cynthia Kocialski: