Up and Coming or Upside Down?

Most of us are interested in the topic of careers, from one angle or another. Most of us either have, will have or have had what we loosely call a career. Some of us pursue one particular career track, others “change careers” and end up working in several different fields, and some others yet have strings of jobs or occupations we engage in at different times of our lives.

What is a career anyway? In the past, the definition of a career used to be very clear. A career was a succession of jobs associated with more and more responsibility, and pay, in one particular field or specialization – and quite often in one company/organization. Today it is much more difficult to define a career. Very few people can count on long-term engagement in one company/organization, and far from all of us can count on a life-long career in our chosen field. The economic structure has changed, the job market has changed, and with them the concept of career has changed. Career is no longer seen as only moving upward, but now also includes moving sideways, thus broadening our competencies and experience. And sometimes it means completely changing the field where we work. Today, many young people have a difficulty to “start” or even envision a career because the opportunities just aren’t there waiting for them when they graduate.

I have never really had a personal career plan or pursued a career. But looking at it now, with the benefit of a longer term view, it certainly looks like a career . The truth, however,  is that it just happened to me, the work always found me. And most of the time,  I was humble about my so-called achievements.  When I was called to do something, I accepted it if I thought I could do it. And I am still reacting the same way. I credit much of that attitude to some of my early learning experiences and humbling “career highlights”.

The “highlight” I’m particularly thinking about happened many years ago, when I was a “green horn” in my first management job. I was very proud to have been asked to be one of five panelists at a huge two-day conference for very reputable doctors. Actually they were not “just” medical doctors, they were heads of specialty departments with responsibility both for patient care and management of the hospitals they worked in. I was to talk about strategic planning. And if I’m completely honest, it got to my head,  at least a little bit.

I took my place at the high podium, in the last chair to the right, just because I was the last speaker. Everything went fine, everyone delivered their prepared speeches before we were to have the Q & A session.  I also delivered my prepared speech very successfully. Then I sat down. Only that the chair had moved just an inch to the right – and it tipped over to the floor almost a foot below the podium when I sat on it. And down I went! My feet were suddenly pointing up, I was literally upside down on the floor. And this was a doctors’ conference. In a few seconds, I had a dozen doctors bending over me. The orthopedic specialists were elbowing themselves to me, was anything broken, how was my hip doing? They wanted to examine me right there in front of the conference audience of hundreds of other doctors! But I said I was fine. Firmly and several times. I really wasn’t. It was hurting everywhere,  but I felt nothing was broken. I would not take an ambulance ride out of the doctors’ conference. Just wouldn’t.

It was much easier to remain humble after that incidente. And later on I developed my skills on counseling and coaching others on their careers.  In a future post, I’ll come back on some of the advice I’ve been giving to my clients. But it’s been a good ride so far, I have to say. Being upside down when you are up and coming, is probably good for you.

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