I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of Yahoo CEO Melissa Mayer, and the spate of recent articles about her stealth layoff approach (here’s one) remind me of one of the things I like best about being an independent information professional (i.e., no one’s going to lay me off).
But as I read the articles, I was struck by what a terrific approach the Invest/Maintain/Kill mantra could be for your career. If you’re the type who regularly (okay, at least annually) does a career review, sorting out your priorities along these lines can help focus your efforts in ways most likely to keep you moving toward your goals. What might the invest/maintain/kill approach look like?
As Omaha financial sage and gazillionaire philanthropist Warren Buffett has stated, “The best investment you can make is in yourself.” Based on his track record, I generally assume that Mr. Buffett knows his stuff, but in this case, I’m not just taking him at his word. Based on first-hand experience, I’ve found that every career/professional investment you make in yourself will sooner or later pay off in more career opportunities. And “more” isn’t just in amount – it’s likely to be more interesting, more rewarding, more impactful, and more enjoyable opportunities.
What kind of investments could be most useful for you at this point in your career? Some options that might really boost your career include:
Investing in an association. Joining and becoming active in an association is a great way to increase career opportunities by expanding your professional visibility and community of colleagues (i.e., network). But it does really needs to be an investment of time and engagement to deliver these benefits, so you’ll want to make sure you’ve got the bandwidth available to participate.
What association might you become part of?
Investing in learning. One of my favorite quotes comes from writer/ social philosopher Eric Hoffer: “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” Given the disruptive forces crashing their way throughout the LIS profession, I’d vote for continuous learning as our survival skill, the one that will enable us not just to inherit the future, but to play a major role in creating it.
What could you learn?
Investing in others. I tend to believe that you build your greatest success by helping others build theirs. Whether you become a mentor, help people connect, share information that helps resolve a problem or create an opportunity for someone, or find some other way to contribute to others’ well-being, investing in others is often the only way you have to repay all of the investing others have done in you. It not only helps your career grow, it keeps the good karma going.
Who could you reach out to?
Sometimes simply maintaining a steady state is an amazing feat of will, as anyone trying to give up smoking, diet Cokes, or binge-watching British mysteries will attest. It can be tough to get motivated for maintenance – all the exhilaration of achieving a goal has worn off, so neither adrenaline nor endorphins are coming to your aid. “Maintaining” sounds like you’re not making any forward progress. But often in life and careers, simply maintaining positive changes you’ve made through previous efforts is a huge, if invisible to others, accomplishment. Here are three you might want to focus on:
Maintain your best attitude. Having spent about 18 months immersed in a positive psychology project, I’m still not sure how sold I am on some of its basic concepts, especially the one about always shooting for happiness. But I do believe that striving to maintain a positive attitude when possible will bring other benefits along with it, most specifically confidence and resiliency. Put the three of them together as career enablers, and the odds will be stacked in your favor.
If you could identify one thing you’re grateful for (gratitude gently encourages a more positive attitude), what would it be?
Maintain your relationships. The longer your career, the more colleagues with whom you’ll establish connections. The challenge, however, is maintaining those relationships as they grow in volume. The good news is that there are so many ways to stay connected even when a cup of coffee together is out of the question, due to time or geography. Maintaining these ties is important, because also the longer your career, the richer the relationship rewards become. Those connections will help support your career opportunities, but perhaps more importantly, there comes a point when the sheer pleasure of having those people in your life greatly transcends the career benefits.
What steps can you take to maintain your professional relationships, and by so doing continue to grow your career’s meaning and joy?
Maintain your commitment to yourself. This seems to be one of our toughest challenges, yet also one of our most important ones. Given the diversity of roles we’ve all assumed, it’s easy to get caught up in being a good student, an excellent employee, a terrific colleague, an always-willing-to-step-in volunteer. All of these roles may be important to you, and understandably so, but if others’ goals and agendas are always superseding your own, we’ll lose the unique professional contributions that only you can make.
What are you doing to make sure that you regularly focus on and honor your own career priorities?
What have you been doing for years that no longer merits your time and attention? This happens easily and often. In a smart career strategy, i.e., exploring as many options as possible, you may have joined organizations, signed up for electronic discussion lists, followed relevant thought leaders through social media, or in other ways created an information surround of multiple professional pathways. Again, this can be a really smart approach when you’re building your LIS career. But as your career becomes more focused, it may be time to prune back those areas serving more as a distraction than a true resource for moving your career forward.
As Greg McKeown points out in his excellent Essentialism: The Discipline Pursuit of Less (Crown Business, 2014),
Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less, either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.
The concept of lost opportunity cost says that by choosing to focus on one thing, we are making a decision not to focus on something else. But similarly, by not choosing what essential thing to focus on, you can lose all opportunities to create the career you want.
The question to ask yourself is “Do I still care about this enough to continue to devote time, learning, and attention to its existence in my career?” Some items to evaluate might include:
Association memberships. Yep, I believe that getting involved in associations is a killer career strategy as long as they’re the right groups for you. How do you know? Easy. Are the associations you belong to bringing you ongoing, important career benefits? Are you creating new relationships, gathering knowledge useful for advancing your career, finding ways to build your professional visibility among your fellow members? If not, it may be time to save some money, free up your volunteer time, and let that membership go.
Information feeds. This may be LinkedIn groups you belong to, RSS feeds you signed up for years ago, newsletters that seemed interesting at the time, or any other source of incoming information that’s not “earning its keep.” If a career information resource doesn’t either help grow your current career expertise or provide useful intelligence for the direction you want to head, kill it.
Low-potential/low-interest career options. One of the joys and challenges of having an LIS career is that you can do so many things with this skill set that often you don’t want to close down any options. But the reality is that as you progress through your career, you’re likely to get closer and closer to your “sweet spot,” the thing you love to do and are getting pretty darn good at. As that starts happening, you need to let go of all the other options you’ve been keeping open “just in case.”
Think of your career trajectory as being one of exploring lots of options early on, focusing on perhaps a few paths that you’re really interested in and have a natural gift for midway, then really building to your core strengths and passions as you mature in your career. This doesn’t mean that you don’t change careers or bridge to an exciting new opportunity, it just means that you’re learning what to jettison as you move through the career waters.
What will you let go of so you can create more space in your life for your essential investments?