How to Take Control of Your Career
By Wim Dodson
Freddie (not his real name) had scaled the corporate heights to achieve a senior VP role at one of the largest banks in the world. Before that he had been a VP of a division at a manufacturing multinational. He was based out of Chicago for both roles.
What makes the roles he assumed so remarkable is that he is Asian. Born and raised in Shanghai, he came to the United States for his MBA. The companies he worked for and his base of operations after graduation are overwhelmingly non-Asian.
I once asked him over dinner at his home what he felt was the secret of his success. A warm and modest fellow, he said, I had to learn early on that Life Isn’t Fair.
I have thought about that statement for many years, using it to frame and re-frame my own professional experiences and those of others. One of my most immediate revelations was that the statement definitely applies to minorities and women in and out of the workplace in the United States.
Another consideration was that I would have to take control of my direction and development; I could not rely on others for the benefit of the doubt.
And I would have to practice practice practice what I was best at and generate the opportunities others took for granted to achieve what I wanted.
The American Workplace is not a Level Playing Field
The workplace and job market in America is not a level playing field for minorities. That is a simple fact of life that we (including your columnist) have to accept. It is dramatically tilted toward white males between the ages of 25 and 45 years of age in most sectors. The tilt is reinforced by those who hold and control capital in the United States — mostly older white males.
Job seekers and current workers who harbor the illusion that if they just work hard enough like those who guard the gates and hold the reins of organizational power are wasting a huge amount of energy and are sapping their self-esteem.
Minority job seekers and those who are employed need to broaden their thinking when it comes to the concept of career. The career is dead: the reality of lifetime employment at one, maybe two companies is no longer viable today. The new norm for millennials is 10- to 12-jobs in their lifetimes.
“Career” in today’s job-hopping market means acquiring the skills and experience from your current employer to fulfill what you value. And if you do not have a current employer from which to acquire those skills, manufacture opportunities on an almost-obsessive level to incrementally gain knowledge and experience.
Think Like an Entrepreneur
During a recent ride in an Uber car a young driver told me he was between jobs. His previous job was in warehousing for a small company in Seattle. He saw, though, huge inefficiencies in the way the business worked, so he taught himself how to write programs for simple operations to make things easier for the staff.
Over time, he developed a number of computer applications for the company and gained experience as a trainer and internal consultant who helped staff re-engineer their business processes. When the owner said he was putting a freeze on salary raises, the fellow told the owner the fellow would have to leave the company: he would not be able to support his young family on the current salary for long without the prospect of increasing his salary. They parted on good terms.
The fellow is working on his associates degree in IT management and will be joining a company as an insurance salesman. Before he is 30-years old he will have accumulated a basket-full of skills he will be able to apply in many professional situations. And I would bet that sometime down the road hell start his own business to reduce the risks involved in relying on others for his welfare.
So once you let go of the fantasy that the American workplace is fair and a level playing field, the world becomes simpler in some ways. You realize pretty quickly that you will have to take responsibility for your life, your development, and the realization of the values that make you who you really want to be.
What does the statement “Life Isn’t Fair” mean to you?