Archive for December, 2008

It’s a Wonderful Career

December 25, 2008

In my first job out of college, my boss stated emphatically that only under adverse conditions do we see what people are made of.  We’ve all heard some variation on this theme before.  In this light, what decisions do we make when times are tough?  How do we persevere and keep life’s unexpected twists and turns, downfalls, and seemingly insurmountable challenges from getting the best of us?

At this time of the year, I always watch the 1946 movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  Though dated and hokey at times, this movie contains some timeless pearls of wisdom about taking on life’s trials and tribulations.  Whether you’re a struggling business leader, a resource constrained hiring manager, or a relentlessly searching candidate, there’s a bit of George Bailey in all of us.  I believe there are many insights that can be gleaned from this character.

For starters, there’s much that’s beyond our control.  In the movie, there is the unexpected death of George’s father, a run on his savings and loan, a heartless nemesis in the form of Mr. Potter, and Uncle Billy’s carelessly misplaced bank deposit.  All of these challenges happen despite George’s best laid plans.  If I had to sum up George’s life, and for that matter, life in general, in one word, it would be “Circuitous.”  In difficult times, a sense of losing control of matters can become far more pervasive and overwhelming.  We certainly witness that downward spiral with George Bailey, culminating with an all-consuming embittered feeling of life gone astray combined with utter hopelessness.

Despite the lack of full control over our endeavors, in times of adversity, we simply cannot afford to lose hope.  I met a consultant last week who, in the context of discussing the many socio-economic challenges these unprecedented times bring, viewed these critical days, weeks, and months ahead as an opportunity we must seize to prepare for the next upturn.  So, what can we do to get through these tough times with such a healthy outlook?

This isn’t so much about putting on the rose colored glasses and trying to fool ourselves.  But rather, identify any and all opportunities, however small, and formulate ways to incorporate them in the next steps we take.  It’s maintaining the hope needed to avert a fall into the depths of despair.  And something George Bailey could have done much more of – letting your friends, family, colleagues, and network know what you’re trying to accomplish and ask for help.  Naturally, if people know what you’re trying to do, they’re more likely to help you.  Besides, it doesn’t take a heartwarming holiday to elicit thoughtfulness and help.  Humanity is not just a fair weather friend.  It’s part of the human condition to want to help others, Mr. Potter notwithstanding.

This is also an ideal time to get introspective and put some thought into the path you’re on.  Are there other decisions you can make?  Could trying a new idea on for size help you determine the efficacy of your current direction?  Is there another perspective you can take on your current situation?  And, of course, take a moment to look back at all you’ve accomplished.  After all, we all could use a confidence booster to help us get through tough times.  Don’t forget how you overcame adversity in the past.  As my mother points out, life is like a wheel – at times you’re headed downward, but invariably you’ll turn back up.  I suppose that if a wonderful career were wonderful all the time, perhaps we wouldn’t appreciate all we had to endure, improve, and rectify to get there.

Action Items:

*  Tell people what you’re looking to do – to gain feedback and help

*  Although the paths you take may be a circuitous in nature, if you continue to focus on your high level objectives, they invariably will lead to you to a place that works for you

*  Get introspective and take an honest look at your direction.  Are there opportunities or new paths right in front of you to consider?

*  Don’t forget how far you’ve come.

*  Keep the faith.  Without hope, what’s the point?