The point is that you can't be too greedy. - Donald Trump
Trump’s excess aside, this quote does challenge typical thinking. Is it wrong to want more? Do we censor our desires because we don’t want to be greedy…or because we don’t think we deserve them? When we keep our desires in check, are we combating greed…or sparing ourselves from disappointment? It’s okay to want a better life. It’s okay to want more, even as you appreciate what you have. We continually should push our boundaries outward.
Do you think you are only worth the salary you are getting? Can you imagine 10% more, 50% more, double your pay?
Do you assume that you need to work 8 or 12 or 16 hours a day at your job? Can you imagine that there is a more productive way? Can you imagine the flexibility to choose when you do your best work?
Are you satisfied with two weeks’ vacation or would you ideally want more? Is there a scenario where you could have summers off? Maybe you want to live in two locations, six months at a time.
The point of such musings isn’t to make you unsatisfied with what you have, but rather to stretch yourself to imagine a different way. Doubling your income, halving your work hours or increasing your vacation won’t be easy. For some people the extra effort isn’t worth the reward. However, for people who are interested in something different than they have now — something more, something unconventional — the first step is to imagine it. Pinpoint specifically what it is you want, even if it seems a bit “greedy”. Only then can you figure out the right strategy to achieve it.
At some point in all of our careers, we need to ask for something – a job, a sale, a raise. For many people, asking is uncomfortable. For many people, it is uncomfortable because, except for experienced salespeople, asking is unfamiliar. Therefore, in order to master the ask, we need to practice asking. Barring a transition into sales, we need to ask for things on a regular basis. Here are some opportunities to ask:
On an annual basis, ask for a formal review. Ask your direct reports for a reverse review. Ask for a bigger raise. Ask for a promotion. Ask what you need to do to get a bigger raise and promotion. Ask your boss out to lunch just to catch-up. Ask for training opportunities – classes in conflict management, negotiation, communication, listening, and team-building help you master the ask, while making you a more valuable employee. Ask a trusted recruiter in your field how the market is doing.
On a quarterly basis, ask for informal feedback to position you for your formal review. Ask your industry colleagues in different companies about their challenges to keep you abreast of your market. Ask senior colleagues out to lunch to get information on the company and to attract potential mentors. Ask your boss for a preview of upcoming projects to lobby for the one that fits best with your career.
On a monthly basis, ask colleagues out to lunch to get used to networking. Ask a cold contact (e.g., a college alum, a writer from an article you just read, a newly promoted person featured in your trade journal) questions about their world. This will let you practice your information gathering skills. Ask direct reports for a status update and feedback on who’s interested in doing what, so you know what to delegate. Keep asking for feedback.
A previous coaching client, thinking of switching from acting to accounting (that’s right, acting to accounting, NOT the other way around!) recently asked me how she’d know for certain when a career change is right. For big life changes (as career changes often are) most clients are excited during the self-assessment process, stay pumped up for the planning phase, and then get petrified to make the actual leap. To get past the fear, ask yourself one question:
Which will you regret more: trying something and potentially failing miserably; or staying where you are and never knowing what might have been?
The answer changes over time. When you first consider change, the prospect of failure is often scarier than the prospect of regret. You can improve your readiness with smaller changes – e.g., adding new skills, making contacts in your new field. However, keep in mind that being scared off by potential (but by no means guaranteed) failure might indicate this change is not really for you. Maybe the fear is signaling that you are unwilling to make this change a reality, and you might need to go back to the self-assessment stage.
However, as dreams of change keep calling you, the fear of failure wanes. You might be scared, but you consider the change anyway. You might be like my client, looking to others for certainty about something only she could decide for herself. For this client, and others getting scared out of making a change, I propose you scare yourself INTO the change. Use the power of fear – but fear of regret, not failure. Move towards change because your fear of regret outweighs your fear of failure.
Remember, you can earn back your career, your reputation, and your money after almost any setback, but you cannot ever regain the time you let pass by. Yes, change is scary. But, if you think change is scary, try regret.
During the acting period of my career, I had met with a top commercial casting director. For the audition, he assigned me a script for a laxatives commercial. Thankfully, I’ve never had to use laxatives, but then I had no inspiration. I needed to convey that these laxatives were the greatest thing since sliced bread, though the thought of them, well, was just not as great as sliced bread.
How did I get through it? Whenever the copy called for me to say the product name, I substituted my daughter’s name in my mind. So whenever the script called for laxatives, I cracked a smile, my body relaxed, and I got a twinkle in my eye at just the right moment. Behold the power of substitution.
Substitution is a technique I encourage my clients to use when going into a situation that might make them freeze and not do their best. The idea is to substitute something that gives you the desired effect for the actual thing that makes you freeze. A business application of this would be at an interview. One client was interviewing at a top consulting firm. She was prepared but would completely fall apart at the start of the case interview. (Consulting firms give interviews called “cases” which are business problems the interviewee needs to solve.) These cases are similar to research projects, which this client was comfortable with after two years of graduate school. Therefore, I coached her to substitute a professor for the interviewer and a proposed research topic for the case question. She still needs to know how to do cases, but the substitution gets her relaxed enough so that the preparation she has done has a chance to show.
If you are in an audition, interview, business meeting, sales call, etc. for which you are prepared but during which you might get rattled, use substitution. You will not forget where you actually are. You will still be able to harness the adrenaline and the energy of the moment. You will also still need to prepare. However, you will have a powerful technique to keep you grounded if you feel the need. At the very least, you now know how to sell those laxatives.
When I ask my clients to list 100 dreams they would like to achieve in their lifetime, most protest that they have nowhere near 100 dreams. However, when I coach them to think beyond professional goals and to include personal goals, the number is much less daunting. Include the things that you most want, even if you have already achieved it. If it helps, break up the exercise into categories:
10 professional goals
10 family goals
10 financial goals
10 creative goals
10 places to visit
10 skills to master
10 books to read
10 events to attend
10 subjects to research
10 things you’ve always wanted to do (e.g., bungee jumping).
In this exercise, professional dreams are on par with the rest of your dreams. You do not have to squeeze your life in and around your work. There are dreams for our career and dreams for our lifetime, and we need to honor them all.
It’s been said that you can have it all, just not all at the same time. This is true for our dreams. Revisit your 100 dreams from above. Some might be done, some in progress, and some put on hold. Now that you are reminded of them, don’t expect to pursue all of them at the same time. But, have you actually planned out which ones you want now, rather than later? Look at your list and assign a broad timeline for when you want to work on them.
Think in terms of now, soon and into the future. NOW dreams deserve your attention now. For example, if you want a career in banking, and you just graduated from business school, then now would be a unique and opportune time to work on that particular dream.
SOON dreams have a two- to five-year time frame, so you might do some planning now, but nothing else day-to-day. For example, if you want to take an Alaskan cruise within the next five years, you might save money now, but you can wait to plan logistics.
IN THE FUTURE dreams have a longer time horizon. These are dreams that are meaningful but not time-critical. You want to have a checklist of these to remember them. But, don’t fritter away your NOW time thinking, “I’ve always wanted to…plant a garden.” If planting a garden is a life dream, but not compelling right now, don’t waste time watching gardening shows and dreaming about the possibilities. Just acknowledge that it’s on the list and that you will get to it when time frees up.
Having a broad timeline for your dreams ensures that you won’t feel so overwhelmed by your interests that you end up squandering your energy in too many directions or feeling guilty because you’re not getting enough done. Having a timeline ensures that time-sensitive dreams won’t expire with neglect. Having a timeline acknowledges that all dreams have a rightful place in your life, even if not at this very moment.
As CEO of your life, you have clients. In a business, clients are the source of cash revenue. Your life’s clients also provide revenue — emotional revenue. All clients require time and energy. Because a business relationship between employee and boss has an obvious cash value, most people remember to mind this client. However, we also need to mind our personal clients — our significant other, family, friends, and ourselves.
Do you move around social engagements because of your job? Is every meeting really more important than lunch with a friend, or is it just easier to move your friend?
Do you cancel family obligations more readily than work ones? Do you push back on scheduling a vacation because you’re needed at the office, but don’t push back on a project to keep a promise to your kids?
Do you keep appointments with yourself to eat a proper breakfast, exercise, feed your passion?
“I know for sure that in the final analysis of our lives – when the to-do lists are no more, when the frenzy is finished, when our e-mail boxes are empty – the only thing that will have any lasting value is whether we’ve loved others and whether they’ve loved us.” — Oprah Winfrey
In business, if you don’t care for your clients, they go elsewhere. Relationships need tending. Although personal revenues may not be the quantifiable kind, they often prove more valuable. Would you be more upset about losing a job or a loved one? It’s not just business. It’s personal. Mind your personal clients too.
“Whenever I feel like exercise, I lie down until the feeling passes.” — Robert Maynard Hutchins, writer
That quote not only makes me laugh, but also underscores how easy it is to overlook what is important to us. With exercise, if we don’t do it, there is no immediate consequence. We can lie down or read or whatever till that free time for exercise is gone. We may feel a little guilt but otherwise no consequence. It is only much later, after the weight gain, the bad back or the aching knees, that we realize we should have paid more attention.
Instead we pay attention to the obvious clients, but not necessarily the most important ones. You might have a very demanding boss who gets all the attention. But other department managers also determine raises and promotions. Other colleagues know the best projects in the pipeline. You don’t spend time with the other managers or colleagues because you’re too busy with immediate demands. A year later, you don’t get the promotion, but don’t know where else to move, and your network is dry.
There is a popular saying about the squeaky wheel getting the oil. Of course, you have to fulfill your obligations to your immediate boss, often the squeaky wheel, just not at the expense of quiet but important clients: other management, colleagues past and present, your personal well-being. The temptation is to keep busy and let things take care of themselves. But just as giant businesses can get overtaken by smaller rivals (think Kmart v. Walmart), your life can be determined by clients you took for granted. You don’t want to realize that while you were oiling the squeakiest wheel, it wasn’t on the car headed your target direction. Where do you want to go? What wheels will get you there? Oil the quiet wheels, too.
People have different ideas of what is fun: skydiving, performing on stage, or reading a dense book can all be fun to the right person. Understanding what is fun for you is useful for career management. If you can keep the fun in your life, you’re more likely to stick to your goals, to have energy for your work, and to be a good colleague.
The first step to exploiting your fun factor for maximum career advantage is to identify it. Is there something in your job that is particularly fun (e.g., meeting with clients, giving presentations, crunching numbers)? Can you do more of what is fun? If there is nothing at work, is there something you can do outside of work to have your fun? There will still be indirect benefits to your career in terms of increased fulfillment and the passion and energy that comes from that. If there is nothing at work and you decide that there needs to be, then use your fun factor to help guide your next job search.
Secondly, make a commitment of time, energy and money for your fun. At work, use your most productive hours for the things you enjoy. You might think that your extra productivity should be spent on the tasks you don’t like so you can muscle through them. But you need to work on your strengths as well as your weaknesses. Doing your fun work when you’re energized means you’ll throw that much more passion and interest behind your work.
It’s okay to look for the fun in the work. Fun is not a superficial need. Having fun increases your focus, your energy and your connection to what you’re doing. Fun people are nice to be around. The benefits of fun yield career benefits as well.
When you think of investing money, you probably think of retirement planning, college funding options, or saving a cash reserve. Your job gives you the money to invest. You might not think of your job as a place to put back your money. Yet, what you do with your money has repercussions on what you can do with your career. See how you spend your money, and see if you are investing in your career:
Do you subscribe to trade journals and newspapers to keep abreast of industry trends? Is it worth $25, $50, $100 a year for information that might close a thousand-dollar sale or get a bigger raise?
Do you use your lunch hour to catch up with colleagues within the company, the industry, and your overall network? Is it worth $10, $20, $50 to find a mentor, figure out what’s emerging, or hear about a new opportunity?
Do you regularly update your professional wardrobe? Is it worth $250, $500, $1,000 for a look that might contribute to a promotion?
Do you pay yourself first and set aside a cash reserve? Is it worth one less evening out per week for security in a downturn or freedom to capitalize on an unexpected opportunity?
Do you attend career seminars and other professional training? Is it worth $100, $500, $1,000 for skills that contribute to more effective time management, work/life balance, or faster career progression?
Your money can make a powerful investment in your career. How much are you investing back into your career? How much is your career worth to you?