Every time I sit down to write a young professional column, my intention is to urge young minds to realize the considerable upside that stands before them, but also to warn them to tread carefully. In other words, if you are already an ambitious and driven person, keep thinking with your heart, but act through your mind. This balance will allow you to maintain lofty goals and ambitions, but you won’t run the risk of having your wings clipped just as you’re taking off.
However, if you’re a conservative person who doesn’t like to rock the boat, then maybe you should start acting with your heart. To paraphrase the words of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, well-behaved men rarely make history. In other words, it doesn’t hurt to stir up some waves and rock the boat. Otherwise, you’ll never get what you want in life, let alone get ahead.
Sometimes, getting ahead means more than just rocking the boat; sometimes a complete career change is in order. Feelings of professional discontent can oftentimes stem from impatience or the notion of the grass being greener on the other side — legitimate concerns, but ones that frequently prove to be ephemeral nonetheless.
More urgent action may be required when events occur that make you realize that, no matter what positive spin you try to put on things, you’re not all that happy with where you are, and could in fact be much happier. It’s at this time that you realize that only you can make something happen. The day that you acknowledge that you are in control of your own destiny is the day that you can begin to realize your potential. Simple acknowledgement is only half the battle, however; before actually realizing your potential, you have to pull the trigger on it.
The benefits of discontent
I came across an interesting quote from uber-investor and entrepreneur Jim Clark. Clark founded Netscape Communications, Healtheon/Web MD and Silicon Graphics. Not only does he have a stellar track record as an entrepreneur, Clark also possesses the uncanny ability to find, recruit and manage top talent. In a recent article with Business 2.0 , Clark was asked what traits he thought every good entrepreneur should possess.
Clark’s answer reverberated through my mind all week: Entrepreneurs, he argued, possess “discontent and anxiety. Most entrepreneurs are not content with the way things are. But if they’re smart, they are extremely anxious too. Most ideas are going to happen whether you do them or someone else does. It’s the person who feels most anxious about it and builds the prototype who is likely to win. The best entrepreneurs tend to move quickly and efficiently. They don’t waste a lot of time making decisions.”
Entrepreneurs don’t always strike out on their own…
Clark’s answer applies to both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs — those who demonstrate entrepreneurship within existing organizations. In other words, you needn’t start your own venture in order to innovate within a profession. After all, in all likelihood, you’re not alone in wanting more within your existing reality, and if you don’t recognize an opportunity within your existing organization, someone else will.
To the victor goes the spoils. Don’t fret, and you’ll eat dust.
If you do fret about having to eat dust, then read on.
Act with your head
If you’re unhappy with where you are in your career and don’t like the direction that it’s headed in, first — in the spirit of thinking with your heart but acting with your head — pause for a second before making any brash moves. Then, ask yourself these questions:
Where am I now?
It’s acceptable to strive for more and yearn for more accomplishments, but it’s important that you don’t jeopardize a good thing you have going for the mere potential of something better. Yes, risk-taking is crucial in business, but being dumb is not.
Success is both absolute and relative. It is absolute in the sense that if you have interesting responsibilities, work with good people, make a good living, and have room for upward mobility, then you should be happy with what you do. It is relative in the sense that everything in business — from a company’s track record to a department’s performance to individual contributions — is benchmarked to something else.
While you should never envy a neighbor for the material objects that he might have, it is acceptable to strive for more in terms of intangibles and accomplishments. Why? Materialism mainly deals with satisfying wants and desires, whereas accomplishments usually serve our needs. Actualization of needs helps you to become a better person; satisfaction of wants only makes you want even more.
How did I get here?
Some people map out their careers, whereas others bounce from one gig to another. Some are fortunate enough to find themselves in a good place, and others are not.
If you found yourself in a good place by accident, it’s unfair to complain about being there. Sure, luck is always a part of the recipe for success, but if it was the crucial component in getting you where you are, then you should be content.
What was my rude awakening?
People react differently to events. Some may need a series of events to trigger a reaction, while others may react brashly to one singular occurrence. The key sometimes is to recognize that while one straw might break the camel’s back, the backbreaking was still a matter of when, not if.
Am I overreacting?
Finally, before blowing up the bridge, you should really ask yourself whether or not you are overreacting. Reflect on some of the things that are causing you distress, ponder over the pros and cons of your options, and ask yourself whether or not you might be thinking of applying a tourniquet when a band-aid would suffice.
E-mail of the week:
I work as an A&R at a popular record label and am looking to get my own demo in front of people here, and then in front of other record labels. There’s the potential for a perceived conflict of interest — how do you think I should proceed?
Perceived conflict of interest? As an A&R (artist & repertoire) employee, your job is to scout the landscape and find the next great star. You cannot be the star yourself! Trying to push your own career will definitely be seen as a bad career move, especially because, as you well know, a record label will only take on a given number of artists per year. That being said, Ludacris was a DJ, and he eventually used his platform to secure a deal with a label.
I would suggest that you pursue your own dreams and let people know that you have a demo, but be subtle about it. If there is merit to your work, someone will recognize it. But, whatever you do, do not hit up competing labels — unless you have a great agent.
In the end, if your game is that good, then you may be coming to the end of one road and on the verge of becoming the A in A&R. Good luck, and remember to thank me at the Grammys.
Ash Karbasfrooshan is also the author of Course To Success, available at www.CourseToSuccess.com. His new book, The Confessions of Alexander The Great: 33 Lessons in Greatness, is available at www.AlexanderTheBook.com.