Career Inspirations

Wednesday, August 1, 2007 - 11:26

Career malaise and a lack of enthusiasm are a big concern for both the individual and the organisation they work for. But there is inspiration to be found from those who have worked through the same challenges. By Jennifer Alexander

At a recent breakfast hosted by the Australian Institute of Management NSW and ACT, former Wallaby Captain John Eales explained the rationale behind his new book, Learning from Legends. A collection of interviews with sporting greats, these individuals share their powerful stories of persistence through adversity, and the ability to deal with pressure and maintain a balanced life. Five-hundred managers and businesspeople attended the breakfast for one simple reason – inspiration.

Throughout my career, I have spoken to managers at two very different stages of their career life cycle – “starting out and raring to go”, and “complacent and losing steam”.

Many professionals find their initial excitement, which inspired them to embark on a career, waning with time. The profession that was going to let them follow their passion ends up as the daily drudge.

So what do you do when your enthusiasm for your career is fading? Seek inspiration from those who know what it’s like to work through the challenges.

Business gurus and sporting inspirations alike offer three consistent pieces of advice that help reignite the spark in you and your career, and remind you why you chose the path you did in the first place.

Believe in yourself

Self-doubt is a crippling factor. If you don’t believe in yourself then why should your colleagues, managers, investors or even those supporting you in your career such as family and friends?

Many managers say they start out with a strong belief in their abilities and ideas but, little by little, their confidence erodes when things don’t go the way they planned: a new product that fails, the company’s financial performance is adversely impacted by a wrong decision, or the company loses a key client to a competitor. Most managers know what it feels like when all eyes are on them and everybody is asking, “What happened?”.

Australian Netball Captain Liz Ellis says, “You’ve got to have a huge amount of belief in yourself to stand up when something goes wrong and make it right the next time you get an opportunity.”

Believing in yourself builds perseverance in times of adversity because you know in your heart that you’re on the right track. You may fumble from time to time, but on the whole you believe in the reason why you chose your career path in the first place, and you are willing to work through any challenges because you know there is light at the end of the tunnel.

If failure is causing your self-confidence to fade then the next piece of advice from master of business reinvention and management guru Tom Peters will allow you to see “failure” in a whole new light.

Failure equals success

If you think failure is a “bad” thing, think again. Peters believes failure equals success, and he even encourages his large corporate clients to reward unsuccessful business outcomes: “In the current ‘disruptive age’, we will – by definition – be screwing up far more frequently and embarrassingly than ever before. Enterprises that tolerate or even celebrate failure… that encourage the bold bid for greatness that fizzles or goes down in flames… will succeed.”

By no means is Peters suggesting you go down with the ship; instead he’s encouraging you to be bold, follow your passion and believe that what you’re doing is right for the organisation you’re working for and your career. If it’s not, you can always change the situation with another choice and learn from your mistake. The key is not to wallow as that will affect your confidence.

Everybody is afraid of failing, but the fear itself is a barrier to success. If you’re not happy with the way your career or the business you are managing is going, then you have to do something courageous. Remember, it makes no sense to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result; you need to take different steps to achieve a different result.

One of my favourite quotes from Eales at the breakfast was, “It’s how you prepare, when nothing matters, which determines how well you’re prepared when everything matters”. And failure, learning from your mistakes, persistence and remembering why you chose your line of work in the first place are all part of that preparation.

Passionate and positive

Passion is one of the primary reasons why people choose their career path. It may have been passion for an idea, to make a difference, or a hobby that turned into a job.

Passion is an excellent driver and necessary ingredient for success as it keeps you going when things get challenging. Do you think champion swimmers are passionate about getting up at 4am in the middle of winter to go training? Absolutely not, but it’s part of the process of achieving what they’re really passionate about – winning a gold medal, breaking a world record or improving on their personal best.

Being passionate and positive are two key ingredients to career success. Not only is it important to watch your thoughts to ensure they have a positive intent but we must also be mindful to avoid “success strippers” that can inhibit success. I’m sure you know them, they’re the “You can’t do that” or “Why don’t you just get a ‘real’ job?” bunch.

Former Australian cricket coach John Buchanan acknowledged that in order for him to succeed he had to have the right attitude and the right people around him: “To actually get near my potential, I needed some other support around me, I needed people that properly understood me and helped me to understand myself better than what I did.” Would he have gained the success he did with “success strippers” as his support network?

Marshall Goldsmith, author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, the No.1 business book on The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal best seller lists, states: “‘Negativity’ or ‘Let me explain why that won’t work’ characteristics are major achievement inhibitors because people don’t want to be around negative people, and that includes colleagues, customers and future employers”. He suggests monitoring your statements and thoughts as well as the attitudes of those around you to make sure you stay clear of “negatron” views.

There is always light at the end of the tunnel, and if you can’t see it, look to others for inspiration.