Advancing in your career from “junior” and small-sized jobs to more “senior”, large and powerful jobs has been the raison d’être of organized jobs and employment in India. With our long history of feudalism and colonialism, the obsession with hierarchical progression is even more accentuated here in India. Most of us can’t think of growing in a career in any way other than climbing up the rungs of a long hierarchy. And while many seem to be obviously interested in this ambitious journey, there are some who dismiss it as “rat race”—implying that this pursuit is mindless, unduly competitive and even futile.
So, is career pursuit a mere rat race? Not really. What makes it a rat race is our inability to run the race more elegantly and that is what we need to understand when we strive for designations.
I have watched, over years, the career pursuits of many types of employees: the elite IIT/IIM (Indian Institute of Technology/Indian Institute of Management) category to “rustic but good at job” types, across sales, delivery, project management and general management. I find most of them making the same mistakes which drive them into a rat race eventually.
I believe what we need is a more poised approach to developing our career growth which calls for a fundamental shift in our mindset. Let me outline three major shifts in attitudes that I think will help.
Band to bandwidth
Some call them bands, others grades. Call them what you like, all organizations have levels that create a long hierarchy with ladder-like steps stacked over one another suggesting a vertical progression.
Progressing from one band to another has become synonymous with advancement and one expects people at higher bands to have a higher bandwidth and hence the ability to deal with more work. We all know that it is the capability to handle higher, more demanding and larger range of tasks that distinguishes the “superior” from the “subordinate”. A contemporary word for this enhanced capability is “bandwidth”. Your career grows as you increase your bandwidth. When you can take on more and deliver more, you climb up. With more bandwidth to perform, you create a compelling case for your career growth. Acquire more bandwidth, the next best opportunity will come seeking you.
Not just network, net worth matters too
Most professionals consider “networking” as a prerequisite to career growth. “Who you know matters, not what you do” believe many a wannabe CEOs. So parties are organized; birthdays are remembered on BlackBerrys; social media sites are mastered and hours are spent on being seen, noticed and known by hundreds of people in the belief that some may be useful for your career at some point in time. With today’s obsession with networking, I am sure the biggest beneficiary is the visiting card printing industry!
In major corporations, people are taught how to network. As new employees seek to network, several old boys’ clubs make entry more tough for them. Sure, networks might help to spot opportunities but only those who have the capability will breakthrough. Those who have the skill, talent and commitment to a job are the ones who eventually make their way to the top. Despite all your networking, someone is going to seriously determine if you are grain or chaff, so work at being the grain. And at that time when the rubber meets the road, what matters is your inner worth and nothing else.
Speed to pace
The frequent change of jobs by many professionals is reminiscent of rats running helter-skelter in a granary. It’s a pity that many run through a series of jobs with no time to pause and savour their achievements. This worsens when people try to reach the pinnacle of their career as early in life as possible. This “get-to-the-top-quickly” urge is further fuelled by the unnecessary celebrations of the “young achievers”. The hype surrounding these events is enough to make you feel guilty if you are not a CEO by 27! However, look at life in its totality and your attitude will change. The CIA World Factbook estimates India’s average life expectancy at 66.8 years. Most middle-class folks can now hope to have an active life up to 65. Thus even if you start your career a little late at 25, you have 40 years to exploit your total potential. Most people do not notice this long horizon and rush through jobs and give in to the perception that the market only wants young blood in all the roles.
V. Raghunathan, in his book Don’t Sprint The Marathon, wisely advises how we must see career as a marathon and not rush through it. We need stamina, renewable skills and long-term thinking to pursue a 40-year career within a 70-year life.
Believe in the importance of a poised and paced career pursuit.
Finally, let me leave you with the ever impressive and inspiring imagery of how eagles handle hunger as opposed to rats. When an eagle is hungry and longs for its next meal, it does not frantically run about like the rat. It first soars high in the sky, surveys the large landscape, carefully selects a prey, mediates on it for long, maps out other competing birds, plans carefully and in one deep and long swoop descends on the prey, grabs it and flies again to a safe haven perched high and eats at leisure. Think of the eagle, not the rat, whenever you contemplate a career move.