There are two ways to build a career. The first, and most common, is to let others present challenges for you to overcome. These challenges come from your boss, clients and shareholders. Deliver this project. Beat that target. Launch this product. Run that business. You can make a big difference, and garner much satisfaction and wealth, from doing a great job meeting other people’s expectations within an organization. It’s an honourable way to earn a living.
The second path, not so frequently trodden, begins with setting your own goals. I suppose it’s no more difficult to achieve your own goals than someone else’s. The added work, and risk, comes from defining them in the first place. I’m not talking about the difficult “hows” we grapple with inside an organization (as in, how to grow the business?). I’m talking about the daunting “whats” of an entrepreneur’s existence (what business do I want to be in?). While it takes talent to meet and exceed objectives in general, it takes a person of special intelligence and confidence to define those objectives herself.
I’ve spent my career meeting other people’s objectives. I think, overall, I’ve done a pretty good job. People still knock on my door looking for my services and pay me well for the results I achieve. But when I think of my daughter, and reflect on what career advice I might provide, though it’s not my way, I’ll be sure to mention that there’s another path to follow, if she has the ambition.