Sunday, April 13, 2008

What’s It All About, Mark?

Several weeks ago, I connected with a friend and former colleague after more than a two year absence. When she responded to my e-mail asking how she was, she told me about her 48 year old brother who had died suddenly of a heart attack several months ago. She gave some of the details and concluded her story with the line, “What’s it all about, Mark?” Her question was particularly poignant because her work and life, from an external view, are filled with success and meaning. Her question brought up a couple of things worth considering.

The first is that her inquiry and the related questions of “Why am I here”” and “What meaning does my life have?” are profoundly human questions that we all grapple with at various times in our lives. Are they challenging questions? Yes. So tough, in fact, that many of us choose to deal with them only when forced to during times of duress, pain, or crisis. Do they have certain, final answers? No. And this makes many of us feel lost or life has little or no meaning because we can’t find answers to them.

I understand the need to answer life’s “big” questions, but it’s important to remember that it is in the asking and the struggle with the questions themselves where our sense of significance comes from. Virtually all spiritual traditions remind us that the questions can never fully be answered, but we can choose to engage them with our full being. As the poet Ranier Maria Rilke said, “Be patient with all that is unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in foreign tongues . . . . Live the questions raw.”

The second thing that came up for me is the importance of staying connected and just how challenging that can be. We get so busy and caught up in the urgencies and dramas of the day that we simply forget about the importance and power of our connections with others. In moments of quiet we think, “I should call or e-mail so and so,” and the thought passes, time passes, and before we know it, we have lost contact with the very people who add richness and meaning to our lives. In more pragmatic terms, job and career transitions are much easier and smoother if we stay connected to the important people in our lives. Perhaps, it’s time to call that one special person we haven’t talked with in a long time . . . . Best wishes.

Mark Guterman

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Listen to others, but stick to your own career plan

Job search candidates and career clients of mine often ask me how much they should be making, and what level within their organization they should be at, given their experience. These are important questions, because generally salary and growth are two of the top five biggest reasons people change jobs. In previous blog entries I’ve encouraged people to do research, find out their worth in the marketplace, as a tool for career planning.

At the same time, is the information you’re given by third parties about what you should be making, or what position you should hold within your organization, enough to influence your career decisions. The point I’m making is how much stock should we put in other people’s opinions, when it comes to our own career planning?

As a recruiter, I run into this situation all the time. People often say things to me like “my friend, (who is in the same career), makes 10% more than I do, but my experience is much stronger then theirs.” “I want to get to the salary level where I should be.” Or, they might say, “how is it that is my old colleague is now a director, while I’m still a manager, yet I have more years of experience managing a team?” I usually respond to these types of questions, by saying it all depends.

Why people who have similar backgrounds and years of experience don’t stay on the same paths for salary and position growth depends on many factors. It can depends on their exposure, their performance, the relationships they’ve build, timing, market conditions, industries they’ve worked in, and luck. People forget how far a little luck will take you.

With these points in mind, yes, it’s still important to network, know what your peers are doing, how much they are making, and where you stand within your field. At the same time, it’s also important to remember not to put too much emphasis on comparing yourself to others. Everyone has had different experiences; they bring different talents to the table; and they’ve had different degrees of luck! Heed the information you receive, yet remember your career belongs to you. Your path is unique. Stick to your plan. Make your career choices based on what’s best for your individual values and goals, not what your peers say you should be doing. Staying true to your own career plan will bring you much more happiness in the long run, even if your friend with less talent makes more than you.

--Steve Hernandez