This Is How You Know You’ve Found the Right Career
Warren Buffett claims that he tap-dances to work every day. And why not?
In 2013 alone, he made $12.7 billion. That’s $1.5 million per hour –
even while sleeping. Clearly, Buffett picked the right career – not just
for himself, but also for those lucky enough to have picked up a few
shares of Berkshire Hathaway.
My father bred new strains of onions, carrots and cucumbers as a
professor and research scientist. Having grown up as a farm boy, he was
in heaven, developing high-beta-carotene carrots in a quest to keep
500,000 kids per year in developing countries from nutritional
blindness. He believed he had the greatest job in the world and would never have traded careers with Warren Buffett.
Cecile Pelous was an executive in the fashion industry nearly 30 years
ago, working with the grand couturiers in Paris, when she sent a letter
to Mother Theresa. “Can you use me?” she asked. Mother Theresa wrote a
one-word response, “Come!”Cecile
sold her house to start an orphanage in Nepal. Before long, she had
legally adopted 79 kids and was raising and educating a hundred more
from the streets to help them lead productive lives. Cecile wouldn’t
trade places with Buffett either.
Whatever you’ve picked as a career, I hope it makes you want to tap
dance – at least a few times in your work life. When you look back and
survey where you’ve been, look ahead to the distant shore, or consider
the people who have rowed alongside you, take an occasional pause to
click your heels.
Few of us know what career is in store for us when we take our first
job. But here are some signs that you've increased the odds for a
spontaneous outbreak of tap dancing:
1. You've found something you can be really good at. I
recall taking up piano lessons at the same time as another young
hopeful would-be musician. It wasn’t long, though, before she was in
“John Thompson Book Three,” while I remained stuck in “Book Two.” Had I
stayed with piano, I’d have been as miserable as those on the receiving
end of my performances. My fellow student, however, went on to delight
others with her gift as she became a professional musician. Thankfully, I
merged into her audience – to the benefit of all. There’s no sense in
fighting Mother Nature on the career front if you ever hope to tap
2. You like the nuts and bolts of the job. Pick
something where you don’t have to fake it to make it. When I watch
natural extroverts gather energy from social situations, I recognize
they have something I don’t. Whereas Bill Clinton comes alive and is
energized by others, being on stage for too long drains my energy. I can
finally host events without anxiety, even enjoying the occasional party
– but I’m always happiest to retreat into a book or a private
conversation with a friend. This means that as much as I love policy
issues, governance and leadership, a career in elected politics would
have undone me.
3. The job lifts you. For
those doing what they were meant to do, the normal irritants of the job
become a kind of “atmospheric dust” that creates the foundation for
beautiful sunsets. Every career has its dust, but you might be in the
wrong one if that’s all you see. If you find yourself grousing, fussing
and fomenting, give yourself – and the rest of us – a break. In your
torrent of objections and cautions, you’ll never build a great career –
and you might just keep others from achieving their dreams. No career is perfect, but the right one for you will be filled with many uplifting sunsets.
4. You're in the thick of things. Life
in the backseat or on the periphery of the action rarely makes for a
great career. Naturally, there are lots of great support roles on the
edge of every industry, but if you’re determined to leave a mark, it
generally pays off to operate at the center. If you love accounting,
work for an accounting firm. If you're fascinated by the law, get into
the judicial system. If you’re an engineer, build cool new stuff. If you
love finance, work for a bank or an investment house. Build the motor,
buy the brake pads.
5. You're in an industry that fits your personality type. Engineers
are not like real estate developers, who in turn don’t think like
fashion mavens, who are wired differently from lawyers and accountants.
We all have psychometric preferences – ones that tend to make us more or
less like those in various industries. While this alone shouldn’t
determine what you choose (as there are many roles on every winning
team), make sure you understand your dominant traits and those of
industry leaders. Then get on a field with those playing the same sport
6. You like the other people in your field. My
best-ever career (and investment) decisions have come from genuinely
liking and admiring people I’m working with. Grappling with the
discomfort of interpersonal contretemps is never productive. It saps
everyone and it ensures suboptimal performance. Also, it can take down a
career faster than anything else. If you can handle snakes, you’ll be
OK getting into the viper pit; but if not, pick another industry.
7. You've found an inspiring mentor. Having
someone to look up to is a key to finding a meaningful career. Your
mentor doesn’t need to be your file leader – or even in your industry.
But if you would have a great career, find a mentor… then become one
8. You look forward to Mondays. Don’t
let your week become what Thoreau called a life of “quiet desperation,”
awaiting the weekends for rejuvenation. But this also doesn’t mean you
should be a workaholic. There is an emotional chasm between being a
workaholic and loving work. Workaholics are driven by fear; joyful
workers are motivated by passion. They both work hard, but it’s not the
same. So find passion. Eschew fear. I can still hear Trammell Crow say,
“Work is more fun than fun” – and mean it. And Confucius said, “Choose a
job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” This
is the essence of having found a great career – one that grows out of
passion, that merges work, life, family and friends into a whole with
few bright-line boundaries. This sort of “career” is a Friday-less and
9. You learn, grow, become, test, try. As
Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, “Alas for those that never sing, but die
with all their music in them.” Great careers test us, try us, stretch
us. We find out if we can hit the high notes and we learn to recover
from the low ones. But those who have figured out how to have a great
career – and not just a great job – don’t die with their music in them.
10. You're proud of what you do.
Once when climbing a mountain with a successful entertainment industry
executive, I apologized for what I was doing in my life at that point –
particularly as I compared it with his fame and fortune. He carefully
chose a moment to pull me out of the earshot of others to say: “Don’t
ever be ashamed of what you’re doing with your life. Life is not a
competition. Unless you self limit, you can make a greater difference in
the lives of the young people you work with than I’ll make in a hundred
lifetimes working with the world’s celebrities.” Finding the gold amid
the dross of my present situation became the key to an important
renewal. And it started by feeling proud of what I was doing.
If you're planning out your future, you're not likely to be satisfied
with a series of jobs that merely keeps food on the table. Instead, turn
your progression of jobs and assignments into a career that creates
relationships, promotes learning, and makes a difference – all of which
will send you tap-dancing to the office.