Career Advice

Whose Career Plan Are You On?

My friend Angela called me. “Do you find me a risk-taker?” she asked. “I’ll be honest, Angie,” I said. “I adore you, but the first word that springs to mind when someone mentions your name has never been ‘risk-taker.'”

“Exactly!” she said. “I lay low. I follow orders and keep a smile on my face. That’s my deal.”

“So what’s going on?” I asked her.

“Listen to this,” Angie said. “I’ve been at my job for six years, working hard, trying to please the boss. Today my manager says to me, ‘Angela, you’ve been selected for a very desirable training program.’ He had to pick one person for this very sought-after training course, and he picked me.”

“So that’s good, right?” I wondered.

“It’s not that great,” she replied. “If I begin this training program, I’m giving up my Monday and Wednesday nights for six months. The company pays for the course, but not for my time. I could deal with that, but the other part of the deal is that I’m being trained for a specific, very specialized job. Once the course is finished, I’d start this job, and pretty much be locked into it for the long term.”

“And this job — it’s not your cup of tea…?” I prompted her.

“It’s a totally boring, pigeon-hole job that would bore me to tears in three minutes,” Angela said. “Plus, if I micro-specialize like that, I’m limiting my career possibilities like crazy.”

“So you told the boss to give the training course to someone else?” I asked.

“That’s right, and he was shocked,” she said. “He was actually speechless. Finally he said, ‘I can’t believe it. I hand-picked you for this role.'”

“How do you feel?” I wanted to know.

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m sorry for my boss, but he’ll find someone who’s dying to do the highly specialized work that the new job requires, and I’ll do the sort of work I should be doing.”

“But you asked me if I think you’re a risk-taker, a few minutes ago,” I said. “What does risk tolerance have to do with it?”

“Well, I’ve never been a risk-taker, as you said,” she answered. “I would never have questioned my career path, if it hadn’t been for this incident. My mantra has always been ‘If the company thinks I’m right for the job, I guess I am.’ But when my boss laid this training program on me, it hit me that I’d better take control of my own career path. My boss knows what’s good for him, but not what’s good for me. I’m in charge of my future. I can’t leave my career path up to my boss, or anyone else.”

“You’re driving the bus,” I added.

“You got it,” Angela said. “Now that I’ve had a thunk on the side of the head, I’m going to make some goals and start ticking ’em off. My boss did me a huge favor today, even if it did require a minute or two of unpleasantness.”

“He’ll be fine,” I said.

“We all will,” said Angie.