My personal $.02. Just because you asked...
Note: I read Harvard Business Review (HBR) front to back every month. One of my favorite features is the "HBR Case Study" where HBR presents a fictional case on a business issue. Responses are gathered from the top business minds in the world. Problem is, I don't always agree with the responses. My grandfather always says, "you can't complain about something that you've yet to do a thing to improve" and I agree. So I will provide my own commentary to each month's business case. I exercise my mind, you exercise yours. It's mental push-ups.
Special thanks to Jim Dockery for the image. Let us know if you want the image removed.
Alan Wilson has a decision to make. The CEO of his company, Grepter, wants him to relocate to Zurich, where he can gain valuable experience for a rise to the top. Karl, his best friend, hopes to lure him to a hedge fund that promises big money fast. Shiori, an enticing former girlfriend, wants him to join her in delivering medical care to patients in developing countries. Alan knows for sure only that he wants to make an impact.
Which career should Alan choose to make the biggest difference?
First, I want to say that while I agree with the respective commentaries of Laura Scher, Daniel Vasella, Barbara H. Franklin, and Christina C. Jones, I have to say that they all say the same thing: "find what aligns with your personal values". Not that every piece of advice has to be groundbreaking, but this is pretty cookie-cutter stuff. It's the same advice Alan can read in Dear Abby. No matter which angle they come from, they all point to the same PC outcome. As Paula Deen would say, "no matter how you cut the cake, the slice still contains the same ingredients - chocolate, pecan, and butter, y'all!" *heh heh snort snort*
My take on the issue stems from being mired in the same conundrum as Alan on a daily basis. And instead of saying what medicine to take, I'm going to take it deeper and dive into what I assume is the root problem: Alan has hit the Summit Syndrome.
George Parsons (President of Parsons Group) and Dr. Richard T. Pascale (Associate Fellow of Oxford University and faculty at Stanford Business School for 20 years) have written about Summit Syndrome ad nauseum and I subscribe to their theory (in fact, it's a tool that I utilize with our own overachieving bunch of Gen X/Gen Y eBoosters). As Parsons and Pascale posit, the career path for your 21st century YUPpie isn't a straight line anymore. It's a series of S-Curves and it afflicts extreme overachievers who thrive on challenge. The rush of pushing beyond their limits tends to dissipate once the new territory has been mastered; and "an identity built around the galvanizing effects of meeting and conquering daunting challenges loses its purchase as such people near the summit of a job's learning curve."
In Parson and Pascale's Summit model, I'd venture to say that Alan is in the "plateauing" phase. This stage is "manifested on the peak of the climb. Perfect fit to the role sows the seeds of mischief. This can precipitate inner turmoil and mounting confusion about career direction."
Sound like Alan? Sound like you? But this isn't about you, so stop being so self-absorbed for cryin' out loud.
Internal symptoms of "plateauing" include:
- Loss of enthusiasm.
- Fear loss of career momentum and legacy.
- "What happened to my goals?"
External symptoms include:
- Working harder to do the basics
- More serious distractions
- Climbing Mount Everest-type adventures beckon
- Intensive curiosity about alternative lifestyles and intimate relationships
- More vacations
- Unorthodox career choices attract disproportionate consideration
Take away everything else from the case study and focus on every passage in the HBR article where Alan is deep in internal thought. His inner battle hits most, if not all, of those aforementioned internal and external symptoms. First, he's intrigued by the new job in Zurich. Second, he's entertaining Karl's job offer after being pitched for years on M&A opportunities. Third, he's contemplating supporting his mother's legacy... a full 10 years after her death. Finally, he's thinking of Shiori's - an ex-girlfriend - request for him to work with her. Convergence of options isn't by chance here. It's something that Alan allowed to happen.
So my advice to Alan is to a. recognize the Summit Syndrome (I'd walk him through it) and b. take steps to move off the summit. Parson and Pascale recommend going through a four-part inquiry which I think is as good as any:
- Understand your winning formula and the vital part it plays in feeling stale or losing your edge.
- Reconnecting with your core purpose.
- Recasting your current or future job to better align your inner aspirations with the external requirements of your work.
- Create a developmental path.
As you can see, the other respondents (Laura, Daniel, Barbara, and Christina) start the process from step 3 onward. But without the framework to understand the "why", then you can bet that Alan won't get the most meaningful thing which is the tool that he can take to enable himself going forward. This is true of most overachievers; they've got to understand the "why" to make the message stick. Otherwise, whatever steps he takes will be on the next S-Curve, going through life in a roller coaster fashion. With the tool in hand, however, Alan can recognize the symptoms and "self-vaccine", especially since a lot of organizations don't take preventative action into consideration when doing performance reviews for overachievers (but they should, and that will be outlined in an article I'm submitting to HBR next month...you heard it hear first people).
Bada bing, bada boom...that'll be fiiiiiiiiiiiiiive dollars...
- Alan's age (which I think has direct correlation to Summit Syndrome).
- How "enticing" Shiori really is (which has correlation to everything).
Agree? Disagree? New take on the issue? Post your thoughts to the comments section.
Special shout-out to Eric Jensen, aka E.J. aka "Magic" who just got turned onto HBR. I love reader feedback and I'm particularly looking forward to your response, bud-bud.