Career Advice and Consulting

Apply the principles of sailing to your professional life

One of the most important things in life is keeping your career in the proper perspective. When you steer a sailboat, you always have to keep your eye on the horizon. Focus on the bow of the boat and you’ll start veering left and right, trying to correct your course. But if you keep your eye on a fixed point on the horizon and tack now and then in the general direction you need to go, you’ll stay on course.

Your career is much like sailing a boat. Many people focus on what’s right in front of them, striving for the next raise, the next promotion, the next job. They micromanage their careers. Follow this kind of short-term strategy and you’ll not only be constantly distracted but you may ultimately find yourself pointed in the wrong direction.

Successful professionals take a longer view. They macromanage their careers, keeping their eyes on the horizon, their long-term goals, while simultaneously navigating short-term conditions. The extraordinary executives are significantly more likely to focus on long-term goals, while less successful employees focused on the short term. That’s not to say that the attention of successful executives isn’t intensely focused on the task at hand; adding value to their current assignment is a way that differentiates their performance, of course.

But their eyes are just as equally focused on the long-term prize. They understand the fundamental forces that drive their careers, the underlying patterns of success we’ve identified. They focus on the core values that drive their long-term career path, rather than on the peripheral distractions that influence their short-term career moves.

Why would anyone in their right mind turn down a great job?

Because “great” is often a matter of someone else’s definition of success, not yours. Successful people position themselves in jobs they know they’re going to do exceedingly well at, where they will be excited to come to work nearly every day, rather than situations where they are likely to perform in a mediocre way. They even allow themselves to drift along in the early stages of their career, gathering experiences in a wide variety of functional areas and naturally gravitating toward the things they do best and like the most. They don’t try to force themselves up someone else’s career ladder.

They “drift strategically,” however, testing out different points in the workplace to determine where their true strengths, passions, and fit lie.

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Life Manager